Just the right temperature

Digitalisation now influences Bertschi’s isocyanate fleet planning

MMDI Tanks

Bertschi’s isocyanate container fleet is to be equipped with Nexxiot telematics boxes for tracking, and Quantum thermometers for product temperature monitoring. 

Following an analysis of container flows (MDI/TDI) and the available capacity in in-house workshops, seven locations for the equipment were determined: Antwerp, Birsfeld, Delfzijl, Duisburg, Cologne, Schwarzheide, and Tarragona. 

The iso­cyanate fleet comprises almost 2,100 containers. The devices were ordered and allocated to the sites on the basis of various aspects. After the first ones arrived on 6 February 2020, the set-up was successfully initiated at all locations. As of end March this year, 80 percent of the isocyanate fleet is already equipped with the new devices and in operational use.

Isocyanates are temperature-sensitive products that must be heated or cooled to a customer-specific unloading temperature in transit or at the latest before delivery. Thanks to the new telematics system, operational processes have been greatly optimised, says Bertschi. The shunting, handling and manual temperature checks that used to be necessary have thus been largely eliminated, transferred to the computer of the responsible planner and made more efficient. What used to be an enormously time-consuming and cost-intensive process has been replaced by just a few clicks, thanks to the advancement of digitalisation.

With the now consistently available temperature data, Bertschi’s planners can send precise heating orders via a heating app. Moreover, the approximate heating requirement can be estimated and vehicles planned more efficiently, meaning long waiting times for drivers are reduced to a minimum. In addition, the heating progression can be conveniently tracked from the office, thus avoiding constant calls to the heating personnel. A truck is immediately scheduled when a tank is at the target temperature, resulting in much more efficient route planning.

Temperature-sensitive products can be monitored and controlled while in transit. In this way, any malfunctions in the equipment are quickly detected and, ideally, rectified directly. If a container is not accessible, the receiving terminal can be proactively informed of a malfunction. The necessary steps can be initiated and implemented immediately on arrival, thus preventing product degradation. The temperature evaluations enable easy analysis and processing of customer complaints due to quality deviations caused by temperature factors (too warm or too cold). The available data enables us both to protect ourselves and to document problems at loading and unloading stations, and has allowed the logistics company to disprove claims that could have been lodged against Bertschi in the past.

The advantages of the new technology are clearly visible, the company says. It is therefore important for Bertschi to be able to equip the remaining 20 percent of the isocyanate fleet as quickly as possible. The company hopes to achieve this goal by the end of 2021.


Bertschi is also responding to current container supply chain crunch. 

Over the past few months, it has become increasingly expensive and difficult to ship containers by sea. Persistent capacity bottlenecks and high demand for goods are putting many supply chains to the test.

Bertschi is working with Hupac to transport containers via the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok, from where they are shipped on a shortened sea route to Asian ports

Producers and consumers alike are confronted with exorbitantly high sea freight rates and ships that are fully booked for months at a time. They are thus consistently exposed to the risk of having to shut down production lines due to a lack of material supplies. Air freight is often considered as an alternative, but is only suitable for smaller quantities and is also much more expensive.

To counteract this, Bertschi is working with its partner Hupac to provide customers with a solution. In a combined rail and sea route, containers are transported via the Trans-Siberian Railway network to Vladivostok, from where they are shipped on a shortened sea route to Asian ports. 

In contrast to direct rail transport via the new Silk Road, which still requires several months of preparation in order to obtain the necessary permits for tank containers, the route via the eastern Russian port of Vladivostok is both a proven option and one that is available at short notice. Despite the long transit time of approximately 35 to 40 days, rapidly available capacity enables delivery to the recipient several weeks earlier than if the containers were delivered by conventional sea transport. Since December, Bertschi has been able to transport a larger number of containers from Europe to Asia and vice versa in this way, thus expanding the company’s knowledge and increasing the reliability of the route.

In the next, longer-term step, Bertschi is working on a viable solution for crossing the land border between Kazakhstan and China, since rail transport on the new Silk Road takes much less time than transport via Vladivostok – transit times of roughly 25 days are conceivable. Until this new route is established, however, the corridor via Vladivostok is suitable as a sensible, fast alternative to sea and air freight.

500k handlings in Saudi 

Meanwhile, in the Middle East Bertschi was awarded a contract in January 2017 by the world’s largest chemical complex in Saudi Arabia to manage its empty containers. The company had to make all the necessary preparations and get to work, as the project was set to start in March the same year.

Some 50,000 sqm of land had to be prepared; field divisions, lanes, offices, and much more. In addition, the administrative staff, container inspectors, and operational staff, who are responsible for all container handlings, had to be trained. The equipment and work processes were completely new for the employees, and learning the new tasks accordingly required some effort.

In Saudi Arabia Bertschi is managing empty containers for the world’s largest chemical complex

The operational staff learned to operate and control the large machines, initially without containers, on a specially-built course. At the beginning of March, the site received five 40 ft containers from the customer for training on the machines with containers. For days, the containers were moved from one field to another, stacked and loaded onto a truck. The whole process was repeated until all employees were well versed in this handling. On 17 March, the project finally got off the ground with the first 50 containers.

By early April, the number of containers had risen massively, and Bertschi shifted to 24-hour operations. The condition of every single container was inspected, photographed, and inventoried. The container inspections were made extremely difficult by the high summer temperatures and sandstorms in Saudi Arabia. At the end of every March, temperatures reach 40 degC, and rise to 50 degC by midsummer. At such high temperatures, employees who carry out the container inspections can only work outside for 20 minutes at a time.

After working in the heat, a short break in an air-conditioned lounge is needed; although, even there the temperature is still over 30 degC. In October 2018, the customer conducted a week-long stress test in which production was ramped up to 110 percent, and all suppliers were tested for delivery and transport capacity. With an output of 796 containers in 24 hours, Bertschi passed the test without any problems. In 2020, the contract was extended for another year.