Timber handlers branch out

There's a need to expand timber storage facilities in ports. Credit: Sam Beebe
There's a need to expand timber storage facilities in ports. Credit: Sam Beebe
There's growth in advanced wood products suitable for a wide range of structural applications. Credit: Port of Loviisa
There's growth in advanced wood products suitable for a wide range of structural applications. Credit: Port of Loviisa
While containerisation is growing, at least half of global timber movements still travel as bulk cargo. Credit: Flore de Preneuf/PROFOR
While containerisation is growing, at least half of global timber movements still travel as bulk cargo. Credit: Flore de Preneuf/PROFOR

With healthy demand growth, timber handling has a strong future, finds John Bensalhia

Eddie Floyd once knocked on it. Geppetto made a living from it. It's also a commodity that's holding out considerable promise for both the economy and for ports.

The commodity in question, wood (and in particular, timber) has recently hit the headlines. But in a past news year full of doom and gloom, the reports have been remarkably positive around the world.

For example, a report from the European Timber Trade Federation (ETTF) says that the UK Timber Industries' All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) members are aiming to promote timber as the one of the most sustainable and renewable materials, with a view to developing measures to grow the timber supply chain in the UK.

Furthermore, the Confederation of Timber Industries (CTI) claims that the UK's timber sector contributes an estimated £10bn per year to the country's gross domestic product. CTI chair Roy Wakeman commented: “The timber sector represents a major engine for growth and development of the UK economy and, with the help of the APPG, we can deliver this message straight to key decision makers in the [UK] Houses of Parliament.”

The ETTF also reports that the Belgian timber industry has enjoyed a recent period of positive growth. Deputy general manager of the Fedustria trade organisation, Filip De Jaeger, said that turnover in 2016 developed well, and in the first quarter of 2017, performance of the sector, particularly woodworking, remained “better than satisfactory”.

“Growth from 2015-16 was 6.3% and the first quarter of 2017 was up 10.4% on the same period in 2016.” Mr De Jaeger added that construction and renovation remain important drivers as key markets for Belgium’s timber sector, along with residential and commercial building.

Timber trades

All of this is good news for ports handling this bulk material. Take the Port of Loviisa, one of the biggest ports in Finland to operate conventionally loaded timber.

“Timber is the fifth most marketable export product in Finland and it is growing,” says Tiina Vepsäläinen, managing director. “For the Port of Loviisa, timber is very important as about 40% of traffic consists of it. The port location is very good for timber products: 24/7 congestion free access by truck from all directions, railway connection and fairway allows handymax vessels to enter. The port has warehouse space of 54 000 metres squares and a lot of outside storage.”

“The Finnish economy is growing and one of the biggest export products is timber as sawn wood, and various boards, CLT, LVL boards, as well as poles,” says LFS (Loviisa Forwarding and Stevedoring) managing director Petteri Sammalisto. “There is growth in advanced wood products suitable for a wide range of structural applications.”

“Timber cargoes are important for the Port of Loviisa. They are loaded conventionally to vessels for European and African markets, even a test shipment to China in breakbulk has been made. Very proven and economical methods of loading are used and no common problems exist. Timber cargoes, sawn wood and boards, are also shipped in containers in constantly growing amounts.”

The Port of Gothenburg has also seen recent healthy activity in the timber sector. Stig-Göran Thorén, senior manager, business development, comments that the port has seen increasing export volumes, especially to Asia and specifically China.

Mr Thorén says that in Sweden, the forest industry is one of its major base industries which produces large, reliable timber volumes. “Swedish timber maintains high quality and has been sought after in the market for a long time and continues to be in high demand. When demand is high and stable, it gives advantages on the logistics side.”

Container bound

A notable recent trend has been an increasing degree of containerisation with approximately 50% of all timber shipped as bulk cargo today and the rest containerised, says Mr Thorén.

The Port of Koper has also seen an increase in containerisation: “In the last years, we have seen that more timber is being shipped in containers,” says Rok Štemberger  of the Port of Koper's PR department. “Consequently, we are providing more container-stuffing services directly in the port area.”

Mr Štemberger adds that the Port of Koper's timber terminal has a long tradition in handling and storing timber, mostly for Austrian business partners. “We are one of the largest ports for export flows of timber in Adriatic, mostly from Central Europe to North Africa, Red Sea and Persian Gulf. In 2017, we reached around 800,000 cubic metres of total volume (breakbulk and containerised).”

Reports from Cameroon's National Port Authority have found that since 2011, raw and sawn timber have been the top non-oil products exported, with volumes mostly exceeding 50% of total exports. Recently, the International Tropical Timber Organisation(ITTO) found in its sectoral report that exports of mahogany from Cameroon to Canada had more than tripled by the end of October 2017. The report also found that Cameroon was one of the top suppliers of tropical timber to America, due in part to the exports of Sapelli (Sapele). With regards to Sapelli exports to America, the ITTO report found that Cameroon was on a level leadership footing with neighbouring Congo.

Import growth

Meanwhile, positive import findings have been reported for 2017 at China's Taicang Port. Between January and November 2017, 10.29m cubic metres of timber went through the port, a rise of 27%. In fact, this was the first time that imports broke the 10m cubic metre barrier. These comprised 7.26m cubic metres of logs (which was a year-on-year increase of 41%) and 3.04m cubic metres of sawn wood (a growth of 10%). The five principle sources of timber were from Canada, New Zealand, Russia, Australia and America.

Timber also played an important part in increasing throughput at Hong Kong Port by 5.3% in the third quarter of 2017. The throughput figures rose to 70.9m tons, and in the case of timber, there was a notable double figure improvement on the third quarter for 2016, with tonnage of inward port cargo seeing an increase of 21.7%. While figures for the same period of outward timber cargo were not quite as high, there was still a healthy double digit growth of 12.9%. Comparing the first nine months of 2017 with the year before, the figures for imports and exports of logs and timber were just as encouraging. Inward figures were noted at 39.3% while outward numbers also saw a rise, with a figure of 25.9%.

With the need to expand and increase the level of timber storage and handling facilities, this is a positive sign that the timber sector looks set to grow further for ports. In Sweden alone, the timber sector is set to continue as a profitable one for ports, as Mr Thorén explains: “In the future, we will see further growth and higher containerisation, and thus better opportunities for Swedish timber to reach its customers in an even faster and more cost-effective way. Swedish wood has a bright future.”



CHOPPING DOWN THE TIMBER IMBALANCE

A question facing ports is how to accommodate and manage the growing volumes of timber. “New ways of balancing container volumes for the growing export amounts are being sought as the amount of import loads in containers is not sufficient for supplying empty containers for the new export loads from Finland,” points out LFS managing director Petteri Sammalisto. “Perhaps there is potential for short sea breakbulk shipments from Finland to mainland Europe to grow for further stuffing into containers closer to ocean ports.”

In some cases, expansion of port facilities has been an option for storing and handling the greater numbers of timber.

In Gävle, high quantities of timber (as well as steel and paper) are produced each year within a 250-kilometre radius. With many of these exported and containerised, the Port of Gävle and Yilport Gävle have joined forces to add a second dock as a means of accommodating more container vessels, with the expansion enabling the Port to manage four ships at the same time (the dock will also be able to welcome larger sized vessels).

With a due completion date of late 2019, the expansion will allow the port to import and export greater amounts of timber, as well as the other materials.

Meanwhile, new facilities have been created to store greater volumes of timber at Shoreham Port, one of the major timber handling ports in the UK. The project was requested in December 2015, with Edburton Contractors Ltd and REIDsteel approached to construct an extra 6000 metres squared of covered storage for the timber handling facilities which already occupy 40,000 metres squared of covered area on the Port's 46 acre site. The large storage shed facilities were completed on time and on budget.

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