UNIKAI Lagerei- und Speditionsgesellschaft mbH, a subsidiary of Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA), has developed a worldwide unique technology for preparing vehicles for pest-free transport to Australia and New Zealand. The process involves converting forty-foot reefer containers into heating containers – a flexible, mobile and ecologically sound solution that is also attracting great interest outside Hamburg.
Around fifteen millimetres long, black- and brown-speckled, and the nightmare of Australian agriculture – it’s the brown marmorated stink bug. This insect, which originated in East Asia, has made its way via North America to Southern Europe, where it has already caused considerable damage. In Italy alone, this type of stink bug has destroyed up to 40 percent of the kiwi harvest in recent years. Concerned that the introduction of this bug may have a similar impact on their agriculture, countries such as Australia and New Zealand are determined to keep this pest out at all costs.
As the stink bug made it across the Alps this year for the first time, the Oceanic countries immediately tightened their import regulations. Since 1 September, export goods from Germany headed for Australia and New Zealand must be specially prepared, i.e. either gas- or heat-treated. This includes all vehicles that the Hamburg multi-purpose terminal Unikai send Down Under.
“We had just eight weeks to come up with a practical solution,” explains Hartmut Wolberg, Managing Director of Unikai. Heat treatment is the most popular solution for vehicles. Constructing a warehouse where the vehicles could be parked before shipping and the surrounding air could be heated was not an option. This would have been impossible in the short time available, would have required an excessive amount of energy and would have been ecologically inefficient. It also would not have been flexible enough, considering the different types of vehicles that would need to be treated.
The vehicles are heat-treated at over 50 degrees Celsius for several hours. Three probes are used to determine whether the minimum temperature has been reached throughout the vehicle from under the hood to under the foot mats. Wolberg: “Our technical department came up with the clever idea of converting conventional reefer containers to heat containers.” Reefer containers have the ideal dimensions for vehicles and are well insulated and conducive to air circulation. “They’re also very flexible to use; each container can be heated according to the type of vehicle. Reefer containers are readily available. And if they’re not needed they can be stacked and stored away to save space, or even converted back to normal reefer containers. These are all advantages compared with an expensive warehouse construction,” adds Unikai’s Managing Director.
Unikai technicians came up with a corresponding concept, carried out the technical conversion work and connected external heat sources to heat the containers. Software solutions to control and monitor the heating system as well as for documentation of the process were also developed. A mobile app allows employees to follow all processes in real time.
Unikai currently has 28 forty-foot heating containers on site. Around 1,500 to 2,000 vehicles are heat-treated before each transhipment. “We treated around 16,000 vehicles for customers in Oceania using this system in Hamburg in the first season,” explains Wolberg. And more heat containers can be added if necessary.
Because Unikai is registered with the governments of Australia and New Zealand as a certified company, this intelligent system, which has also been registered at the patent office, is gaining considerable traction. Wolberg is convinced that vehicle exporters from Japan, the US and even France could apply this system. Other logistics providers have also taken an interest in this system because export goods such as machinery also have to be treated against the little pest. Double containers that can house larger items are already available. Since November of this year, the HHLA subsidiary also has a warehouse that has been approved by the authorities for goods that need to be treated with gas rather than heat. “We intend to develop the service portfolio for our customers further, making Unikai a centre of excellence for exporting goods to Oceania,” explains Wolberg.