ABP: Adapting to the UK’s dynamic dry bulks sector

The world of dry bulks is forever changing, which means that the port industry must also continually expand its abilities to create a flexible customer-centric approach and innovate in equipment and services for this vitally important industry.

Associated British Ports (ABP) is the largest port operator in the UK, with a network of 21 ports nationwide. We also operate the Hams Hall rail terminal, the country’s busiest inland rail freight terminal, which has deftly adapted its approach to handling a growing range of materials being imported and exported by its customers.

Maintaining world-class infrastructure to offer the best services available to customers is key, as, together with our partners, we handle more than 40 million tonnes of dry bulks every year. The majority of our ports have a rich heritage and unparalleled expertise in handling a wide range of dry bulk cargoes, routinely and expertly servicing biomass, coal, cement, aggregates, powdered chemicals and ball clay.

It was a very proud moment when our Port of Immingham won ‘Best Dry Bulk Port’ at the International Bulk Journal awards in 2018. Also during 2018, our South Wales Ports of Swansea and Newport achieved ISO 9001:2015 accreditation in relation to their Quality Management System for ‘Loading & Unloading Bulk Carriers and Storage & Distribution of Bulk Products’.

Investment in handling facilities
ABP has invested millions to enhance our handling equipment and storage facilities. As part of this upgrade, more than 20 new cranes, some of the most efficient in the industry, have been introduced across our port estates, increasing the speed at which dry bulk cargo is discharged or loaded.

Other investments include new conveying systems, particularly in our larger ports in the Humber and South Wales, focusing on specialist minerals for the steel and power industry, which have generated significant improvements on vessel turn around journeys. Following various industry engagements, we have purchased new grabs, which are designed to handle dusty, mineral-type materials, and devices needed for feed and grain have also been introduced, thereby ensuring the right grab for the right material is at hand.

Underlying our investment is our continued commitment to working flexibly and collaboratively with our customers to give them the facilities and the room they need to grow their businesses. As part of this, we strive to attract the very best people who can work effectively with the latest in equipment to maximise operational capabilities.

We have some of the largest dry bulk handling facilities in the UK and Europe, such as our award-winning Immingham Bulk Park (IBP) which offers 1.5 million sqft of undercover storage and our Humber International Terminals – HIT 1 & 2 – also at the Port of Immingham, which allow cargoes of up to 100,000 tonnes to be discharged and stored in dedicated compounds.

Other significant recent terminal investments include the introduction of the new in-house haulage team and state-of-the-art tipper trucks for the Port of Hull in July 2018 and £65 million in our Immingham terminals to support steel manufacturing on the Humber.

Our world-class infrastructure includes the latest in state-of-the-art mobile cranes and continuous ship unloaders, which are operated to maximum efficiency by our expert teams.

Constant investment in our business allows us the flexibility to handle larger volumes and support our customers’ growth. In March this year, our Port of Hull celebrated a milestone for its Dry Bulks Terminal as it handled its biggest shipment of biomass to date. As part of the operation, ABP’s expert team successfully discharged nearly 30,000 tonnes from the 200 metre Isadora vessel, destined for the Drax Power Station in Selby.

The shipment was large enough to generate enough sustainable electricity to power almost 18,000 homes for an entire year. Lasting over 77 hours, the operation required a great degree of skill and involved the loading of weather-sensitive compressed wood pellets directly onto lorries, with the remainder of stock stored in the port’s state-of-the-art 26 Shed.

Hull’s Dry Bulks Terminal is seeing increased business in other sectors too, and in 2018 saw a strong performance with the UK’s leading crop production and grain marketing business Frontier Agriculture. The terminal was able to handle up to three times more throughput than planned with Frontier last year, at times exceeding the expected tonnes-per-hour performance rate by up to 50 per cent.

Investment in storage facilities
We continually invest to enhance the warehousing facilities we offer to our customers in the dry bulks sector. Recent examples include a new £2.2m state-of-the-art grain terminal at the Port of Ayr in Scotland, announced in 2019, and a £700,000 de-mountable warehouse facility in Ipswich.

This is an innovative new approach to the provision of additional and flexible warehousing space. Our demountable warehouse can be constructed far more quickly and moved to different locations, compared to legacy construction methods. The shed can be adapted to be used for dry bulk or packed materials very quickly, utilising five-metre-high stelcon walls, with the design and construction times as little as four months from conception to completion.

Construction of the new portable warehouse began in 2018 and was completed on schedule to provide extra storage space to accommodate the growing business needs of ABP’s customers, Clarksons Port Services.

Returning to the new grain terminal in Scotland, work on the new 4000 sqm agribulk facility began in 2018 to support South West Scotland’s growing agricultural sector. The new terminal is located on the west side of Griffin Dock at the port of Ayr.

Protecting cargo, protecting the environment
ABP was one of the first port operators to introduce a new standard bulk walled storage design. We have also built a new set of six-metre high bulk walled covered storage sheds over the last five years. The design means that less floor space is required to hold bulk cargo compared to the older style of facilities seen across many ports in the UK. Security of stock, reduction in contamination issues and full traceability for sensitive cargo are only some of the multiple benefits this approach gives.

Of further critical importance is how ABP ensures that the material we handle does not interfere with other port users or the wider community around their ports. As our customers require higher standards of environmental compliance, we have also invested in systems that improve cleanliness, dust suppression and appropriate monitoring of air quality, giving further comfort to customers that dealing with ABP is the right choice.

Connectivity is key
Efficiency and flexibility is also maximised by our proximity to the UK’s transport infrastructure. ABP’s network of ports around Britain benefits from excellent marine access. Our ports also offer efficient road and rail links, providing swift access to destinations throughout Britain.

Of strategic importance is the location of many ABP ports that have rail-linked facilities. This key differentiator means that large construction bulk materials can be delivered to the quay and railed to their final destination, far more quickly than vessel-to-truck operations.

The increase in the use sea-dredged materials for the construction industry, and the reduction in terrestrial aggregate availability over the coming years, mean that ABP will be well-placed to provide confidence to an industry that requires a flexible approach, backed by world-class infrastructure.

Associated British Ports

  • The largest port operator in the United Kingdom
  • Massive investments in equipment and facilities
  • ABP’s locations offer efficient road and rail links