Barge Handling Systems Tackle New Frontiers

The huge waterways of Europe and North America are familiar territory for the world’s leading makers of barge loading and unloading systems as Ray Dykes discovers…

The highly developed inland waterways of Europe, for example, offer a 37,000km network connecting cities in a congestion-free, less polluting system that requires far less energy per tonne carried than rail or mad. Over 50% of the sea tonnage from Antwerp in Belgium and Rotterdam in Holland is carried inland by barge. Most of the European barge systems are well established and new development is not common. In the United States, nearly 20,000km of inland waterways is maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers and it’s no surprise that the busiest ports by tonnage in the US, the Ports of South Louisiana and Houston, are feeders of the river-canal network. Barges carry 20% of US coal and over 60% of its grain exports with a fleet of almost 4,000 tugs and towboats and 27,000 barges. In Canada, man-made canals have helped commerce for over 200 years centering on the St Lawrence Seaway. But, at least one major barge handling system manufacturer is excited by a new frontier in the world of barging – South America, which has some of the longest rivers on the planet. E-Crane International North America has noted the emergence of a new barge industry in countries such asArgemina,Chile and Colombia.

Hot spot

“We think South America is going to become a real hot spot in the next couple of years,” says Steve Osborne, a mechanical engineer and part of the Belgium-based company’s North American sales and marketing team. “ln the last six to 10 weeks we have experienced a big uptake in project inquiries from South America, particularly as the steel industry comes back on line.” Osborne was in Argentina in August commissioning an E-Crane® on the Parana River in the north, the second largest river on the continent after the mighty Amazon. The Parana runs 4,880 km through Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina and so far has two E-Cranes on it handling barges carrying iron ore and agricultural products such as soy meal and wheat. Two other E-cranes work in area steel mills handling scrap metal. The latest commissioning is a triumph for patience as the contract had been put on hold after delivery in 2008 when steel production began to slump. But, now it has been revived and E-Crane® sent a team to Argentina a few weeks ago to help in the equipment clean-up ready for startup this summer of a crane with a 24-ton lifting capacity and a production rate of about 1,000 tonnes per hour. Barges are being built in South America in growing numbers, according to 0sborne. They are wider and longer than North American varieties and are towed by tugs, offloading their products near the mouths of rivers where processing plants and the bulk of the population are located. It presents a new frontier for those making barge handling systems such as E-Crane®, which made a deliberate push,into barge handling in 2008 following the world-wide success of its balanced crane systems in ship loading and unloading.

Australia success

Elsewhere, E-Crane Europe has supplied two 2,500tph E-Cranes mounted on a barge to a Citic Pacific magnetite project at Pilbara in northwest Australia, reports Bas Tolhuizen, the company’s International Sales Manager. It’s Australia’s largest magnetite project and the dual crane system will be used to unload the material from 16,000 tonne, flat-bed barges into hoppers; it will then travel by conveyor belt to a boom conveyor which will load the material onto Cape-size vessels. A further two cranes mounted on a second barge are expected to be in operation by 2012. And in Bangladesh, E-Crane Europe will deliver a barge-mounted crane to a sugar refinery. In another contract, E-Crane Europe supplied a barge-mounted dredger with a 400 cubic meter an hour capacity, which is now in service around Rotterdam and Ostend.

Source: World Port Development, International Journal for Port Management, September 2010, p.23-25


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