A Return Ticket – Shanghai and Back

Before the drums are shipped in containers, employees secure the load with belts.

22 Meters Above Ground

With a 360° view from roughly 22 meters above the newly arrived containers, Gerhard Kaiser sits waiting in the operator cab of his fixed gantry crane. Kaiser moves the joystick slightly to maneuver the crane toward the freight train. Using his hoist, he picks up each individual container and places it in its designated position, accurate to the centimeter. Kaiser loads a few containers onto waiting trucks, but places most in the storage area next to the track for an indefinite period. At the very end of the process, he turns to a gray container marked OOLU 115453-8 (from the OOCL shipping company of Hong Kong), which currently contains 25 metric tons of raw silicon metal in shiny silver blocks referred to as “chunks.” In just a few days, however, the same container will hold hyperpure polysilicon from Burghausen, stacked neatly on pallets and ready for shipment to Asia where the photovoltaics industry will convert it into solar cells.

At Burghausen’s combined road and rail terminal, roughly one quarter of all of the containers handled for WACKER contain silicon chunks like these, making them one of the company’s most important raw materials. The chemical group requires roughly 150,000 metric tons of metallurgical-grade silicon each year as the basis for its silicon and silicone products. One third of this raw material comes from the company’s own silicon plant in Holla, Norway, while the remainder is imported from Asia in maritime containers.

The Burghausen’s combined road and rail terminal accesses the seaports of Hamburg and Bremerhaven by rail. The Nünchritz site sends its containers via the terminal in Riesa on the Elbe river to the German seaports.

Just a few hundred meters from the terminal, in the middle of the WACKER production site, a dump truck noisily unloads the precious cargo from the gray container. Within a few seconds, the plant’s silicon warehouse is full again. A few stray chunks remain in the container, stuck in its grooves and cross braces, and its interior walls are covered with a thin coating of gray silicon dust – a situation requiring a thorough cleaning back at the terminal. Here workers gather up the big pieces of silicon that were caught during the unloading process, and the dust caused by abrasion is collected in industrial vacuum cleaners. The stray pieces and dust are put in another container and returned to WACKER – this raw material is too precious to waste. The container is clean once again with very little effort and is ready to be reloaded. Shortly after arriving on train No. 50337, it was listed as “available” in the logistics system.

The Challenge of Maritime Transportation

Facts

  • 762,000 metric tons
    of downstream products were produced at the WACKER site in Burghausen in 2014.
  • 14,000 containers
    and 40,700 truck shipments leave the Burghausen site every year.
  • 5,800 containers
    were transported to German seaports by rail and inland waterways from the Nünchritz plant in 2014.
  • 30,000 shipments by road
    are replaced annually by container trains that travel between the Burghausen and Nünchritz sites and the ports of Bremerhaven and Hamburg.
  • 2,100 metric tons
    of carbon dioxide emissions are avoided each year because WACKER almost exclusively uses the railroad for transporting containers within Germany.
  • 600 meters
    – that’s the length of the WACKER container train that has traveled to Bremerhaven and Hamburg on a daily basis since 1999.

Behind all this is a complex planning process that takes advantage of synergies between the Procurement and Shipping departments at WACKER. Maintaining a balance among contracted shipping companies is the foundation that makes integrated logistics processes possible in the first place. “Procurement and Shipping agreed years ago on the shipping companies we would contract to transport our raw materials and products,” Dr. Bronnert explains. WACKER began the job of optimizing container transport back in 1999. The biggest challenge, he says, is the constant growth in maritime shipping, which is increasing at an annual rate of up to 10%. The key force behind this growth is the booming Asian market – the company’s largest, accounting for 42% of sales.

Today, WACKER works with a total of six shipping companies in order to handle its global logistics. Shortly after arriving in Burghausen, containers that had been fully loaded with metallurgical grade silicon or other raw materials can be shipped back out with WACKER products – the only way that a closed logistics loop can work.