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PORTS: 70 guys in Nivelles: VIGAN Engineering industry report


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Pulling up at Vigan’s gates in Nivelles, just outside Brussels, there is not much initially to catch the eye. Other than the company name and logo above the entrance, and the knowledge gleaned from its website that the facility contains 10,000 m2 of floor space, there is little to give away what kind of company lives and works within.

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PORTS: 70 guys in Nivelles: VIGAN Engineering industry report

  1. 1. Digital Re-print November | December 2013 PORTS: 70 guys in Nivelles: VIGAN Engineering industry report Grain & Feed Milling Technology is published six times a year by Perendale Publishers Ltd of the United Kingdom. All data is published in good faith, based on information received, and while every care is taken to prevent inaccuracies, the publishers accept no liability for any errors or omissions or for the consequences of action taken on the basis of information published. ©Copyright 2013 Perendale Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior permission of the copyright owner. Printed by Perendale Publishers Ltd. ISSN: 1466-3872
  2. 2. PORTS 70 guys in Nivelles: VIGAN Engineering industry report by Richard Sillett, deputy editor P ulling up at Vigan’s gates in Nivelles, just outside Brussels, there is not much initially to catch the eye. Other than the company name and logo above the entrance, and the knowledge gleaned from its website that the facility contains 10,000 m2 of floor space, there is little to give away what kind of company lives and works within. Entering the factory, which doubles up as Vigan HQ, what it is that sets the company apart becomes apparent. The building’s office space, corridors and meeting rooms are dominated by photographs – floor-toceiling in some cases – of the many projects the company has taken on at ports around the world since 1968. A map of the world on Vigan’s website tells a similar story: details, images, technical drawings and addresses of over a hundred of the company’s 1,200 total projects are marked across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. It demonstrates that although they are based in Brussels and within easy reach of some of Europe’s biggest ports, Vigan is not only a regional player. It also demonstrates a level of transparency and willingness to credit the customer first that is rare in any industry. “A few things are crucial for Vigan,” explained managing director Nicolas Dechamps. “We put ourselves in our customer’s shoes, we’re not hiding from anyone. We know all our customers by name, we know the machine that’s at their port, and we know the people who operate it. We’re just 70 guys in Nivelles, but we’re reaching out to the world.” Agribulk specialists Vigan Engineering operates in the highly specialised field of agribulk handling in ports. Their core business – though not their exclusive one – is manufacturing unloaders for ships and barges in grain terminals. Corrosion is enemy number one for port equipment. Most parts are hot-dip galvanised, but for larger pieces where that would be impractical – like the crane cabins – the metal is shot-blasted and treated with anticorrosion paint before the final colour layer is applied. Vigan components are shot-blasted prior to painting 34 | november - december 2013 The Engineering Department builds detailed 3D drawings for customers Each port is different in terms of geography, capacity, and the markets they serve, so each job demands a different approach, and a bespoke design from Vigan. Smaller ports, like many European canals, only require Vigan to cater for smaller ships and barges. These require shorter booms, which in turn does away with the need for a counterweight. The machinery can be lighter, cheaper and simpler, and the need for a mobile gantry is usually removed. Finished components after painting &feed millinG technoloGy Grain
  3. 3. Vigan equipment is pre-assembed on site before shipping Larger ports can contain larger ships, which means longer booms and counterweighted unloaders. Gantries are a must to raise the unloading equipment to the height required, which brings the additional question of how many. Port authorities have been careful to try to save money by loading high capacity machinery on the smallest gantries possible, in order to maximise the unloading efficiency and to reduce tie-up delays. major competitors, the company provides both pneumatic and mechanical systems for unloading. The solutions aren’t only different in terms of technology, and when used effectively they can have distinct and complementary functions. Vigan’s mechanical unloaders work by the combination of a feeder and two belts which sandwich the grain. The feeder consists of a central paddle wheel, with side screw con- Towers in the process of pre-assembly: they will be broken back down and prepared for transportation And which agribulk material is passing through the port? Grain is abrasive and dusty, and pneumatic unloaders require significant filtration. Substances like urea are quite sticky, and can only be coaxed into flowing freely with mechanical action. These are all worries which port operators hope to be able to pass on to their bulk handling specialists. Pneumatic vs mechanical? The problem of sticky and non-free flowing cargo also serves to highlight a strength of Vigan’s core product range. Unlike its &feed millinG technoloGy Grain veyors making sure it receives a continuous flow of grain. Upward pressure is applied by the feeder to bring the grain away from the vessel and towards its destination. Pneumatic unloaders, which form the vast majority of the company’s sales, use turboblowers direct-driven by high-speed electric motors. These create a 0.5 bar vacuum to suck the product out of ship holds. It’s a maritime vacuum cleaner: indeed, Vigan has brought well-known brands of domestic vacuum cleaners and industrial turbines into the factory to strip down and test. The unloader's cabin is pre-assembled before shipping to the customer So what’s the difference? At peak level mechanical has a much greater flow rate (up to 1,500 t/h, compared with a current maximum of 600-650 t/h for pneumatic), and is more energy efficient, since the conveying system acts directly on the grain, rather than on the surrounding air. However, this doesn’t tell the full story. Peak loads are one thing, but pneumatic races back into contention at the end of the process, during hold cleaning when most of the grain has been picked up. The mechanical device must work at full power trying to scrape up the last bits of grain, and afterwards the vessel still requires cleaning. The pneumatic system, meanwhile, is optimised for these situations. Taking an average across the whole process, Vigan believes that their pneumatic system is in fact more energy efficient. “Think of a small spoon and a big spoon,” commented Dechamps. “You go with the big spoon first, but you still need a small spoon at the end.” There are other engineering challenges to getting the most out of pneumatic conveyors. The pipes must be telescopic while maintaining an airtight seal between inner and outer pipes, to allow effective suction. Across 25 metres of very hard steel, this is a unique undertaking for designers and fabricators alike. Air speed must be kept down in order to keep the grains in pristine condition. A change to boom design allowed wider pipes, which maintained the suction force on the grains while reducing the stress placed upon them. Although the greater complexity and number of moving parts in mechanical unloaders increases the likelihood of breakdowns, pneumatic unloaders suffer from wear more, which creates its own maintenance and logistical challenges. Ultimately, some customers require a mechanical solution, often because of the need to integrate unloading technology with other equipment already on site. Dechamps is willing to keep a foot in both camps, as a look at Vigan’s product range will indicate. “People are always asking, ‘pneumatic or mechanical?’ We say ‘pneumatic and november - december 2013 | 35
  4. 4. PORTS Factory philosophy It is the philosophy within the factory that Dechamps believes sets his company apart from competitors. One reason for Vigan’s huge facility is that all equipment is pre-assembled there before being shipped to their destination (usually having been broken back down again into their constituent parts). “It’s a huge amount of work,” he Managing Director Nicolas Dechamps (left) with explained, “because we do a colleague from the production line the job twice.” “We’re unique because mechanical. If you have a port, use both. The we control everything here at the factory. From drawing, to welding, to the final two can complement each other.” Vigan fights hard for market share with on-site assembly, everything comes through the likes of Bühler and Neuero, who favour here. It’s a pain when you have to make mechanical and pneumatic solutions for changes here, but a bigger pain to make the continuous vessel unloading respectively. changes on site. We’re not just sending a The decision to supply both reflects a larger set of parts to be assembled in Africa, Asia split in port handling between continuous or anywhere else around the world. Our and discontinuous unloaders, such as grabs. customers know what they’re buying.” Sitting around the table at Vigan HQ, Versatile, relatively low-tech and suitable for a wide variety of bulk goods, salesmen Dechamps appears genuine in his desire to for all those companies have a job on their build his company around his customers’ hands to emphasise the efficiency and loss- needs. After all, he’s in the business of feeding the world. A recent project in Djibouti minimising benefits of continuous systems. There’s a huge silo and a huge vessel. And we are the link in between involved an unloading facility handling 85 percent of Ethiopia’s wheat imports. “The people coming to IAOM have a mission to mill and to feed, and we’re proud to be part of that chain. Our growth markets are where the population is growing and where the population is hungry. We are very proud to be part of such a ‘good’ business.” Dechamps points to a photo of a ship docked by an unloader. “There’s a huge silo and a huge vessel. And we are the link in between. And that part of the chain has to be reliable.” ite we b s ou r Vi sit www. VIGAN manufactures dry agribulk materials handling systems: Latest references • Portable pneumatic conveyors or grain pumps (100 - 250 tph); • Pneumatic Continuous barge & Ship Unloaders (160 - 800 tph); • Mechanical Continuous Ship Unloaders (up to 1,500 tph); • Mechanical loaders (up to 1,200 tph). as well as complete storage systems in ports and the agricultural industries. PYEONGTAEK PORT South Korea 1 NIV 400 tph On rails with cable reels LATTAKIA PORT Syria 2 Mobile T200 2 x 250 tph From project design to complete turnkey bulk handling solutions and port terminals with mechanical and/or pneumatic reliable and cost effective equipment. SWINOUJSCIE Poland (BUNGE GROUP) 1 Loader 600 tph An affiliate company of VAN DE WIELE group. VIGAN Engineering s.a. • Rue de l’Industrie, 16 • B-1400 Nivelles (Belgium) Phone : +32 67 89 50 41 • Fax : +32 67 89 50 60 • Web : • E-mail : 36 | november - december 2013 Ann A5 victam 0212.indd 1 &feed millinG technoloGy 21/02/12 15:37:04 Grain
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  6. 6. LINKS November - December 2013 This digital Re-print is part of the November | December 2013 edition of Grain & Feed Milling Technology magazine. Content from the magazine is available to view free-of-charge, both as a full online magazine on our website, and as an archive of individual features on the docstoc website. Please click here to view our other publications on first published in 1891 • • Fit-for-purpose grain and feed packaging: an environmental perspective • • Organic feeds: the future for sustainable poultry farming? • See the full issue Visit the GFMT website • Contact the GFMT Team • Subscribe to GFMT In this issue: • Single or twinscrew extruder: what are the options? • Animal feeding in the future: reaching genetic potential through smarter nutrition? PORTS: VIGAN industry report • Market-aware farming: commodities training at Writtle College INCORPORATING PORTS, DISTRIBUTION AND FORMULATION A subscription magazine for the global flour & feed milling industries - first published in 1891 To purchase a paper copy of the magazine, or to subscribe to the paper edition please contact our Circulation and Subscriptions Manager on the link adove. INFORMATION FOR ADVERTISERS - CLICK HERE Article reprints All Grain & Feed Milling Tecchnology feature articles can be re-printed as a 4 or 8 page booklets (these have been used as point of sale materials, promotional materials for shows and exhibitions etc). If you are interested in getting this article re-printed please contact the GFMT team for more information on - Tel: +44 1242 267707 - Email: or visit