Transultra S/A Carves New Niche -- Hauling Bulk Plastics in Brazil

Jan. 1, 1999
Bulk shipments of plastic pellets and powders are expanding in Brazil, providing new opportunities for one of the country's largest tank truck carriers.

Bulk shipments of plastic pellets and powders are expanding in Brazil, providing new opportunities for one of the country's largest tank truck carriers. While still in its infancy, bulk shipments of plastics hold tremendous potential for the future.

Transultra S/A Armazenamento e Transporte Especializado in Santo Andre, Sao Paulo, has geared up for the emergent bulk plastics market by establishing a new division and purchasing 17 tilting dry bulk trailers. The new additions bring the total number of tank trailers in the fleet to 345.

"We are building this new plastics hauling business together with our clients," says Daniel Lisak, Transultra dry bulk manager. "It's a new market, and we are all pioneers. It's exciting to be helping plastics users move out of bags and sacks into bulk shipments. We're doing a lot of experimenting to see what works best.

"We're talking with dry bulk haulers in countries where bulk plastics ship- ments already predominate. For instance, we have visited the Bulkmatic Transport headquarters in the United States, and Butch Bingham (Bulkmatic president) has visited our main offices. We have learned a lot from those exchanges.

"We also went to Europe to see how companies handle dry bulk there. We are using European-style equipment, such as tipping trailers, because that is what works best in this market."

Transultra has made a serious commitment to the plastics operation. Investment includes about US $2.5 million in vehicles and facilities to meet the needs of the broad shipper base that was assembled. Efforts to broaden the base are underway.

"We have built a diverse customer base of companies that are supplying plastics to the Brazilian market, and that diversity is helping us stay busy despite the current economic slowdown," Lisak says. "We're working with the biggest players in this market."

Plastics hauled in bulk include polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, and polyethylene terephthalate. Consumption of products made out of plastics is growing, and more production capacity is being built. Brazilian chemical industry officials predict that 1999 growth will increase 12% for polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride will be up an estimated 7%.

Total plastics production is in the 3.2-million-tonne (3.5-million-US-ton) range, and about 8% of that is shipped in bulk. Trucks do most of the bulk plastics hauling-even the long-distance runs-because the railroads were not able to provide efficient service in the past.

"Privatization is helping to improve the rail service, but our average length of haul for plastics is around 300 kilometers (180 miles)," says Ricardo Uchoa Alves de Lima, Transultra superintendent director. "We recognize that the railroads will be more of a factor in the future, and we plan to work with them. We're looking at rail transfer facilities that will be similar to those in the United States.

"Railcar loading systems for liquid chemicals have been installed at our Tequimar storage terminal in Bahia, and we plan to add dry bulk loading systems in the near future. However, we're still in the developmental stage with the railroad links."

Ultra Group Tequimar and Transultra are part of the Ultra Group, which was officially established as a holding company in 1953. The company actually got its start in 1937 as Ultragaz S/A, a propane distributor with three small bulk plants in the Sao Paulo area. Today, Ultragaz is one of the three largest propane distributors in Brazil.

Ultra Group expanded its involvement with transportation and storage when Transultra was started in 1966. Tequimar followed in 1979. Today, Transultra and Tequimar are grouped as part of Ultracargo, one of the primary operating units of the Ultra Group.

Both of the Ultracargo subsidiaries have a strong presence in Brazil, and management sees good growth opportunities due in part to privatization of Brazil's chemical industry. Over the past three years, the Ultracargo units were reengineered to focus on core clients.

"Our Tequimar and Transultra operations are growing at about 10% a year in size, and profitability is even better," says Paulo de Tarso Martins Gomes, Transultra director. "We want to reach 20% annual growth in the next three years."

In 1997, a total of 1.8 million tonnes (1.9 million US tons) of chemical and petrochemical products were shipped through Tequimar's storage terminals. The Transultra fleet traveled over 26 million kilometers (16 million miles) that year.

Strategic Locations The Tequimar terminals are strategically located for the chemical industry-Aratu, Bahia; Maceiu, Alagoas; Santos, Sao Paulo; and Suape, Pernambuco. Total storage capacity is in excess of 180,000 cubic meters (47.5 million gallons) and includes stainless steel and carbon steel tanks for liquid chemicals and spheres for liquefied gases.

The storage terminals employ more than 200 workers, who use some of the latest computer technologies to operate the facilities. Tank levels are measured by radar. The entire Tequimar system has received ISO 9002 certification.

As was stated earlier, the Bahia terminal has been upgraded to offer transloading of railcars. "We plan to set up more transfer operations as the rail system in Brazil is privatized," Alves de Lima says. "We want to be a multimodal operator."

Fleet Role The Transultra fleet is an important component in the multimodal effort. "Multimodal logistics is a key factor in our growth plan for Transultra," Gomes says. "We don't want to be just another tank truck carrier. We believe we can be most effective by focusing on niches.

"As one of the first chemical haulers in Brazil, we have been working with the chemical industry for many years, and we have built very strong relationships. We have been serving the chemical companies since they first started asking for specialized carriers."

Transultra received ISO 9002 certification in its mono ethylene glycol hauling business in 1997. Most other parts of the fleet operation will be certified by March 1999. However, certification of the LP-gas and dry bulk units won't be completed until 2000.

The carrier's 176 tractors and 345 tank trailers operate out of primary terminals in Santo Andre and Paulaenia, Sao Paulo; and Camaiari, Bahia. In addition, the carrier has six satellite facilities.

The fleet operates throughout Brazil, and international shipments are growing as the Mercosur trade agreement boosts intraregional chemical industry trade activity. The 1991 trade agreement slashed import tariffs by as much as 60%, and multinational chemical companies are now rationalizing their production throughout South America.

Longer Hauls Typical length of haul for the carrier is 300 to 500 kilometers (186 to 310 miles). However, some loads are taking Transultra rigs on runs of 1,800 to 2,000 kilometers (1,100 to 1,200 miles) from Sao Paulo to Santiago, Chile. The longer trips are one reason some tractors have been fitted with satellite tracking units.

Only the most experienced drivers are assigned to the long international runs. The carrier employs more than 170 skilled professionals as drivers. Basic requirements are a minimum age of 25, at least three years experience driving chemical tankers, and successful completion of Brazil's hazardous goods transportation course.

Initial training lasts 20 to 30 days with an instructor. During that time, the newly hired driver studies about the company quality improvement program, operating procedures, Brazilian transport law, and customer relations guidelines. The importance of safety is stressed constantly.

Instructors stress that the legal speed limit for trucks in Brazil is 80 kph (50 mph), and drivers can't exceed 10 hours a day driving. Transultra trucks run with their lights on for safety. "Daytime running lights are not required in Brazil, but we've seen a 25% reduction in minor accidents since we started doing this," Lisak says.

Drivers are thoroughly drilled on Transultra's emergency response plan. They study the emergency manual, which contains details on what to do in case of an accident, who to call, how to avoid news media, and steps to take to minimize environmental damage.

Accident response is coordinated by Transultra's SOS team. In the case of major accidents, the team will go to the site with its own response trailers. One trailer is at the terminal in Santo Andre, while the other is in Camaiari. The trailers are stocked with portable pumps, generator sets, protective clothing, fire extinguishers, couplings, and tools.

Newly hired drivers receive a lot of on-the-job training to learn about the equipment. They are shown driving techniques intended to maximize fuel efficiency. The fleet objective is 2.2 kilometers per liter. The average today is 2.1 kilometers per liter.

Tractor Choices Tractors are purchased from Volvo and Scania, and the carrier is working toward a four-year replacement cycle. Horsepower ranges from 320 to 360. The carrier operates both two-axle and three-axle power units. The trailing axle on the three-axle tractors can be raised.

"The lift axle is an important feature because it reduces the amount we have to pay on toll roads," Lisak says. "Tolls are calculated on the number of axles on the ground, and they arehigh. For instance, we pay 80 reals (approximately $66) for the 99-kilometer (61-mile) trip from Sao Paulo to Campinas. Of course, the axle is only raised when the trailer is empty."

The tractors are specified to handle maximum gross combination weights of 45 tonnes (99,000 pounds). When paired with the new dry bulk trailers, the objective is to carry a 30-tonne (66,000-pound) plastics payload.

Constructed of aluminum, the tipping dry bulkers were built by Recrusul, under license from Spitzer in Germany. Transultra is using 59-cubic-meter (2,000-cubic-foot) trailers for polyvinyl chloride and 39-cubic-meter (1,300-cubic-foot) units for polyethylene terephthalate. Catalyst is transported in six 53-cubic-meter (1,800-cubic-foot) trailers.

"We like the tipping dry bulkers because they unload quickly and are easy to clean," Lisak says. "The trailers are performing very well for us.

"We have mounted electrically powered Drum blowers on three of the trailers, and we have another 15 stationary blowers in place at customer locations."

Stainless steel and carbon steel tank trailers are used for a wide variety of liquid chemicals. Single- and multi-compartment tanks are used. Capacities range from 17 cubic meters (4,400 gallons) to 36 cubic meters (9,500 gallons). Fourteen aluminum trailers are in dedicated service hauling 95% nitric acid.

Pressure vessels make up a significant percentage of the trailer fleet and are used to haul propane, ammonia, butadiene, vinyl chloride monomer, and refrigerants. The largest pressure vessels in the fleet hold 51.2 cubic meters (13,500 gallons).

Wash Rack Tank trailers are cleaned in-house at a four-bay wash rack at the main terminal in Santo Andre. Designed and built by Transultra's engineering department, the wash rack has cold and hot water, detergent, caustic, and steam. Nitrogen for drying and purging is supplied by pipeline from an adjacent gas products plant.

Cleaning solutions are reused, and steps have been taken to minimize effluent as much as possible. Wastewater is collected in a storage tank and must be hauled to an industrial treatment plant for disposal.

Vehicle maintenance is coordinated and monitored from the headquarters terminal, but Transultra also has shops in Camaiari and Paulinia. Preventive maintenance forms the framework of the program. Tractors are serviced and inspected at 15,000-kilometer (9,000-mile) intervals, and tank trailers are checked every three months.

Tire life is monitored by computer, and tires generally are replaced at 70,000 kilometers (43,000 miles). The mandatory replacement program helps reduce the potential for downtime resulting from tire failures.

Running dependable, well-maintained equipment helps ensure that Transultra can meet the service requirements of its customers. That attention to detail is helping the company achieve success as it carves out a new niche in plastics hauling.