The bigger, the better
Sao Luís, Brazil . Sandvik PL400, the biggest shiploaders in the world; Vale, the world’s biggest iron ore producer; Carajás, the world’s biggest open pit iron ore mine; Valemax, a fleet of the world’s biggest bulk cargo ships. Everything about the Pier IV operations at the Ponta da Madeira Terminal is big. With Vale’s S11D project under way, it is set to become even bigger.
The colossal Sandvik PL400 shiploaders move with extreme precision on South Pier IV at the Ponta da Madeira Terminal in the harbour of São Luís, just south of the equator in northern Brazil. The shiploaders are the biggest ones in the world and position themselves alternatively over the cargo ship’s huge loading compartments. As one of them moves towards a new compartment, the other is already in place over another and immediately starts to jet iron ore onto the ship.
Within 48 hours, the Valemax ship, the largest ore carrier in the world with a transportation capacity of 400,000 tonnes, is fully loaded and ready to leave for destinations in Asia (China, Korea and Japan), the Middle East (Oman) and Europe (Germany and England). The efficiency of these huge ships results in a 35 percent reduction in CO2 emissions per tonne of ore transported.
Vale has been exporting iron ore from the Ponta da Madeira Terminal for nearly 30 years. The company is the world’s largest producer of iron ore and pellets (small lumps of iron ore particles), essential to the manufacture of steel
Its partnership with Sandvik has been going for 10 years.
“Sandvik equipment makes things run a bit more smoothly,” says Jorge Candreva, operational leader, Vale. “It’s a good partnership. The communication between us is very straightforward, and we benefit from the high-quality products and deliveries from Sandvik.”
Vale has signed contracts for two berths, South and North, at Pier IV with a total of four Sandvik PL400 shiploaders. The South berth is already in use and has boosted annual exports to 150 million tonnes. When the North Pier IV is ready, that number will increase to 230 million tonnes per year.
The export increase follows the S11D project at Carajás, Vale’s biggest operation, located in the Amazon region in northern Brazil. The project, a USD 19.5 billion investment, was started in 2013 and aims to mine iron in a less expensive and more environmentally friendly way.
Vale, a Brazilian multinational mining company, is the world’s largest producer of iron ore, with a system capacity of 423.4 million tonnes per year. It supplies customers all over the world. It currently employs more than 100,000 people globally, including outsourced workers.
The Ponta da Madeira Marine Terminal is the second-largest port in Brazil in terms of cargo loaded. The terminal handles ships with capacity up to 400,000 tonnes. Pier IV, with the fifth and sixth shipping lines completed, will increase Vale’s export capacity from 110 million tonnes a year to 230 million tonnes.
Best in class
The iron ore from Carajás is considered the highest quality in the world, and production is expected to start in the second half of 2016. By 2018, production will reach 90 million tonnes per year.
Right now, 504 kilometres of new railway are being built, and 226 kilometres of existing railway are being upgraded. Once finished, the project will use rail systems – which are better for the environment and also solves the costly issue of finding skilled staff in the remote area. The project will result in less consumption of water and fuel – reductions of 93 percent and 77 percent respectively – which in turn will cut greenhouse gas emissions in half. Electricity consumption will also be reduced by 18,000 megawatt-hours per year.
Iron rocks from Carajás are already being delivered to the port in São Luís by the longest trains in the world, measuring 330 railroad cars. The material is dumped in the stockyard in São Luís by the railcar dumpers, and reclaimers put the material on the Sandvik PC200 in-plant conveyor belts that transport the iron ore some three kilometres out to the pier. Operations are carried out 24 hours a day, every day.
“The operations require a large staff,” says Ricardo Fonseca, manager of the port operations at Vale.
One of the people involved in this giant operation is operator trainee Sonale Lima. Supervised by Fonseca, she is working in the cabin some 25 metres above the ground in one of the Sandvik shiploaders at South Pier IV.
Lima is supervising the iron ore streaming right below the command cabin at the end of the long boom. The boom can turn from side to side, back and forth, and up and down to distribute the product evenly in the ships.
“The shiploaders are very easy to use,” Lima says. “The cabin is comfortable, and it’s simple to operate the bridge.”
Suddenly she stops everything and stands up, leaning forward to get a better look into the cargo space below. The ore waits on the loading belt until she sits down and restarts the process.
She was checking that the material is loaded evenly, an extremely important part of the process. As the shiploaders move above the compartments on the big vessel, they distribute the ore in perfect balance and get the most material possible into the cargo space. Operations are managed by two joysticks and are automated through a touch-screen computer that tells the exact volume of iron ore that is loaded onto the ship.
It’s precision work executed by mammoth equipment.
The Serra Sul S11D and CLN S11D projects, consists of development of a mine and processing plant located in the Southern range of Carajás, in the Brazilian state of Pará, with an estimated nominal capacity of 90 million tonnes of iron ore a year. The CLN S11D project includes investments in railways and ports, increasing the estimated nominal logistics capacity of the Carajás Railway and of Ponta da Madeira maritime terminal to about 230 million tonnes a year.
Back on the ground, equipment operator Jose de Oliveira describes the novelty of having two alternating shiploaders load ore onto the ship.
“As we can see, one of the shiploaders is positioned over the hold and the other shiploader is finishing loading a hold on the other end, thus eliminating the time of switching holds,” says Oliveira, who has worked at Vale for 28 years.
“The traditional switching operation demands the iron ore flow to be interrupted, and during this time there can’t be material on the belt conveyor, so that they can manoeuvre the loader to the next hold,” he says. “At Pier IV, since we have two loaders that work alternately, we can eliminate the switching time. While one is operating, the other is already positioning itself in the next hold, and then switching is done without interrupting the iron ore flow. The change between loaders can be made without idle time. This is a significant gain for the company in terms of productivity, because it makes the process faster and more efficient.”
The shiploaders each have a capacity of 20,000 tonnes per hour. The loading sequencing is done with the help of a loading plan, which is executed by the operator and the ship’s master along with the port’s boarding inspector.
“We receive a document with the hold sequence, and from that moment on, the loading is completely commanded by us operators, who switches holds and calculates the amount of cargo that must be put in the hold,” Oliveira says. “The process is accompanied by the inspection on the ship.”
This monitoring and exchange between operator and inspector occur throughout the loading process, until the ship is loaded with the right amount of cargo. Oliveira points to the huge equipment towering behind him.
“Now the boom is advancing, positioning itself above hold number one, which is one of the most difficult to operate because it is operated at the loader’s limit of reach,” he says.
The end of the load demands extra attention. The operator needs to make sure the load is to the client’s specifications, so big efforts are made to match the amount of loaded ore with the amount allocated by the automated system.
All the space in the cargo holds need to be filled, so that the material is well stowed to ensure that it doesn’t move during the sea voyage. The iron ore needs to be completely secured and distributed evenly throughout the hold.
During the day as the tide comes and goes, and the ocean surface rises and sinks, the shiploaders are adjusted so that they reach the right height to operate above the large ship as they follow the ups and downs of the waterline.
The scale that weighs the ore flow is located about two kilometres from the shiploader. “We do the totalizing over there and the diverter change is here, done automatically by the system so that the exact cargo that was weighed gets to the hold,” Oliveira says.
At the busy workplace, on-site safety gear is worn at all times, and safety regulations are to be followed to the letter. “Vale pursues excellence in health and safety,” says Magno Silva, Health and Safety Implementation Leader of the Offshore Project at Vale. “Some safety equipment is common in all areas, like helmets, goggles and safety shoes. Other safety gear is determined according to each area’s risks, which means there are differences between different areas.”
Silva explains that the company’s productivity benefits from the attention to safety, as that reduces the chance of losses from accidents. “Vale’s main value is life, and it always prioritizes this principle,” he says. “When there is no loss, productivity remains intact.”
A productive package
Pier IV at the Ponta da Madeira Terminal in São Luís, in Brazil’s Maranhão state, operates 24/7. There are no breaks other than for scheduled maintenance.
The collaboration between the companies is detailed. Sandvik has worked closely with Vale from the very beginning of the project and strongly supported the dual-shiploader solution, helping Vale to get a system with the highest productivity.
In the supplier’s package for the fifth shipping line (with a sixth shipping line currently in production), Sandvik has provided two PC200 belt conveyor systems with a capacity of 20,000 tonnes per hour and a dual quadrant ship-loading system, consisting of two Sandvik PL400 shuttling-boom shiploaders with spillage conveyors, also with a capacity of 20,000 tonnes per hour. Sandvik conveyor components such as pulleys, rollers, belt cleaner systems and a sampling system were also included in the delivery, as well as automation, erection services, commissioning, testing and training of personnel.
“Even though the shiploaders are big, complex pieces of equipment, they are very easy to maintain,” says Marco Antonio Salgado, engineering manager for Pier IV. “The design is very well thought-out, and the maintenance can be executed very simply.”
Sandvik shiploaders, including radial quadrant models, are equipped with advanced PLC control systems and can be tailored precisely to protect the environment. Sandvik quadrant bridge type shiploaders are constructed in proven eco-friendly designs. Central to the Sandvik philosophy is minimal disruption of the port during installation of the shiploader and its supporting equipment. The process for off-site construction, assembly, testing, commissioning and heavy-load transportation is highly advanced and follows the eco-friendly philosophy of Sandvik.
When the PL400 shiploaders were erected on Pier IV, the Sandvik team was in place and assisted through the whole process, giving Vale peace of mind. “The participation by the Sandvik representatives was crucial because they monitored everything from the beginning of the manufacturing, and this avoids the need to later correct or add to the safety system after the equipment is assembled,” Silva says.
Cesar Martini, electromechanical erection manager at Vale, has been involved in the process to get the shiploaders in place at Pier IV. “The most impressive part of the Sandvik equipment is the simplicity of the maintenance,” he says.
Antonio Martins, Sandvik site manager for the São Luís project, agrees. “Much of the electric equipment in the machine has been moved to an outer substation,” he says. “Normally, machines such as shiploaders, reclaimers and stockers carry that substation inside them. In this case, with the substation on the outside of the machine, it makes maintenance much easier.”
The partnership between Vale and Sandvik at the São Luís Pier IV Project has been very successful, and both parts express pride in how the project has developed. “The big challenge in this site was the pre-assembly of all the parts of the shiploader, especially the bridge, which was pre-assembled in seven parts, transported to the assembly site and finished there,” Martins says.
Jorge Candreva, pointing with both hands at the magnificent view of the shiploaders out on the pier, says, “This is what we want to show. It is a very important step for us. A big step.”
But then, everything about the project is big.