Plastics producer Sabic recently upgraded its unloading facility in Genk to further improve safety, based on lessons learned from an unusual but serious accident. Thorough analysis, in close cooperation with suppliers, led to a solution that is both practicable and effective.
A clever safety-improving project
The Sabic operation in Genk, Belgium produces polypropylene compounds, mainly for the European automotive market (see also ‘Sabic’), a process involving the mixing of polypropylene pellets with a variety of other materials such as rubber and fiberglass. The raw materials are continuously supplied by bulk or container trucks at an average of perhaps ten trucks per day. Although the unloading facility was organised in accordance with the highest safety standards, an accident occurred a few years ago where a bulk truck tipped over on to its side, severely injuring the driver. “Safety is our top priority, so the accident definitely triggered us to critically re-examine our unloading process,” says Sabic Project Manager Stefan Gielen.
Additional physical barrier needed
Preliminary investigations revealed that this type of accident was less uncommon than previously thought. “We learned that in Europe there is about one incident per month where an unloading truck tips on to its side,” says Gielen. “This could be due to the container not being attached correctly or perhaps a sudden gust of wind. We analysed these occurrences and came to the conclusion that only an additional physical barrier could provide absolute security.”
Tight manoeuvring constraints and large area
Sabic had seen such a solution during a technical visit at another company in the Netherlands. “The idea was to build a robust steel structure above the truck unloading dock,” explains Gielen. “With the truck container raised to the unloading position, this structure would act like a cage, preventing any lateral movement. It’s a simple idea, but we saw straight away that smart engineering was required to make it work, given the tight truck manoeuvring constraints and the large unloading area to be covered.”
Scanners, signalling and alarms
The first stage of the project included developing the technical solution: “We wanted a steel constructor with first class engineering credentials for the task,” says Gielen. “So we hired TCS, especially given their strong expertise in both steel construction and site logistics. Meetings were arranged with two of our main suppliers to develop and test a number of unloading scenarios. These were evaluated against feasibility, practicability and, above all, safety criteria. One of the things we decided was that the structure should be equipped with a comprehensive safety system to prevent any collisions. This system needed to be robust as well as compliant with trucks of different lengths and wheel bases. TCS engineers developed a workable solution for this, using laser scanners to detect the truck position, signalling equipment and audible alarms.”
Effective and comfortable
In the end it was TCS who also carried out the project. Gielen: “We invited several firms to tender, but we were most convinced by TCS, not least because of their approach to safety, and their smart organisation of construction work, which had to take place while the plant was in full operation.”
Construction, which started in May 2015, was completed within twelve weeks, and the project proved to be a success. “Our truck drivers are very happy with it,” says Gielen. “They confirm that the system works well and haven’t reported any inconveniences. Quite the contrary, they are pleased to be working under a roof now, which is much more comfortable than before.”
Unloading scenarios were evaluated against feasibility, practicability and safety criteria.
Ranked among the world’s largest petrochemicals manufacturers, Sabic is a public company based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 70% of the company’s shares are owned by the Saudi Arabian government, with the remaining 30% held by private investors in Saudi Arabia and other countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Sabic’s manufacturing, sales, technology and innovation facilities are located throughout the globe and are managed by four regional offices: the Middle East and Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe. The facility in Genk, Belgium produces polypropylene compounds as well as the patented product Stamax, a fibreglass-reinforced plastic.
- 600 m² unloading facility with five unloading points.
- Height 12 m.
- 70 tonnes of structural steel.
- Laser measurement scanners at each unloading point register the exact position of the truck driving backwards into the unloading space.
- Traffic lights signal the current position, from green (entering) over orange (approaching) and flashing orange (near target) to red (on target).
- Once the truck is on target position, the tilting can start. An additional scanner detects the tilting position and activates a danger sign which is automatically lowered in front of the driver cabin, warning the driver not to drive.
- Once the container is back in horizontal position, the danger sign is automatically lifted, indicating the driver that it is safe to leave the unloading point.