HAMBURG, Germany , Dec. 10, 2019 (Press Release) -Wholesale distributor Igepa in Aalter, Belgium receives approximately 4000 lorry loads of paper annually. The company now intends to replace 500 of these lorries with inland water transport. Why contribute to road congestion when you can use shipping instead? Igepa performed some calculations and then called on De Vlaamse Waterweg for support. On 10 December, the first paper barge made its trial run to Aalter.
In compensation for the declining paper market and to prepare for the future, for many years now the business operations of wholesaler Igepa, originally a paper supplier, have been firmly founded on three pillars; diversification, digitisation and sustainability. To achieve the latter, Igepa regularly takes on projects of a social or environmental nature. For example, they recently planted 2,500 new trees in Aalter in support of ‘Paper is nature’, referencing the campaign of the same name.
Every year, Igepa is supplied with over 10,000 tonnes of paper by The Navigator Company, a Portugese supplier known for their care for the environment. The loads arrive at the port of Rotterdam by container ship and then travel the rest of the way by lorry. As Aalter features its own waterfront, they gradually came to consider an alternative solution; piloting the ships to the port of Antwerp instead and then continuing by barge down the Ghent-Bruges canal to end up mere hectometres from Igepa in Aalter.
‘Many practical challenges must be overcome before dreams become reality,’ as Igepa CEO Dirk Salens is well aware. ‘We therefore made sure to engage professional consultants from the beginning. Not just due to functional considerations, but also to monitor the costs. There isn’t much point to setting up a new supply chain that operates at a loss, after all.’ Igepa met with transport specialists from De Vlaamse Waterweg, who presented them with extensive calculations as to load capacities and available quays. They also made grateful use of the expertise of Tieleman, a local crane hire company. Igepa’s greatest challenge may have been the logistics, as their former two lorries a day were to be replaced by a single massive 400-tonne load every 2.5 weeks, the equivalent of 25 lorry loads. Availability of additional labour, the necessary warehouse space, how to achieve a smooth transfer from the barge to the trailers; these were all issues that needed to be addressed. They worked out the entire process in detail, and looked forward eagerly to seeing the results in practice on 10 December.
What’s the idea behind the new LCT concept for container transport and transhipment?
Christine De Groef and Carl Verhamme, external transport consultants for De Vlaamse Waterweg, explain, ‘With an LCT you don’t need expensive transhipment equipment; traditional cranes suffice. To stay competitive, the transhipment process is ‘lean’. That means all movements and locations are planned and timed meticulously. Compare it to a Formula 1 pit stop. Until a few decades ago, a tyre change required several minutes; now it takes them less than a second. Just like that
A flawless analysis, collaboration, well-coordinated operations throughout, and in all its simplicity, a very innovative project!’
‘This pilot project has attracted attention from several other companies, and Voka as well,’ elucidates Dirk Salens. ‘The project as a whole aligns well with De Vlaamse Waterweg’s waterways optimisation policy. Moreover, there will be new industrial estates on the canal’s opposite bank, creating new opportunities for waterbound enterprise. Are these activities lacking due to inadequate port infrastructure, or is the quay underused because the companies aren’t interested? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? We wanted to change that. We made use of existing facilities; Igepa has always had a ‘can do’ attitude. A careful review of the timing, emissions, efficiency and costs will reveal this transport system’s economic viability, and whether synergy with other interested parties can further improve that. We received funding for the pilot project, though we invested resources of our own as well, of course. Either way, the system must pay for itself at some point. However, we prefer to be pro-active and not just sit back. By setting an example as to sustainable entrepreneurship, companies can lastingly inspire other parts of society, or even the government. That pioneering role suits us well; it’s our company’s DNA.’
‘The pilot project’s success reveals companies’ growing confidence in the future of inland waterways. More than ever, business managers are looking for logistics solutions and ways to improve sustainability. This pilot project’s initiators have shown the possibilities of transport by water. Furthermore, besides being an exercise in sustainable transport, this is a joint investment by Igepa and De Vlaamse Waterweg nv,’ states engineer Chris Danckaerts, managing director of De Vlaamse Waterweg nv.
Lydia Peeters, Flemish Minister for Mobility and Public Works, also hopes that more enterprises will make the mental shift and follow Igepa’s example, ‘The Flemish government has invested heavily in the expansion and improvement of our inland waterways in recent years. I call on all entrepreneurs to look beyond the traffic jam under their noses and seriously consider making the leap to the waterways. Inland waterways allow freight to be transported more efficiently and at a lower cost. Besides, each load of freight that travels by water is one less on the road.’
De Vlaamse Waterweg nv manages and operates the inland waterways; a powerful network that contributes to the Flemish economy, prosperity and quality of life.De Vlaamse Waterweg nv supports inland waterways transport, provides water management and works to increase the waterways’ appeal for recreational activities, tourism and the enjoyment of nature.Approximately 1,350 members of our organisation work to maintain an intelligent, versatile and prosperous network of inland waterways from our Hasselt headquarters and offices in Willebroek, Brussels, Antwerp, Merelbeke and Mol.