Post date: 01/10/2011 - 04:00
Molson moves tanksFrank DeVries had a problem. Actually, he had six, and they were made of stainless steel.
Type: Forum topic
Frank DeVries had a problem. Actually, he had six, and they were made of stainless steel.
DeVries is the man in charge of transporting six beer fermenters to the Molson Coors brewery near Pearson International Airport. The tanks are gigantic: Even lying horizontally, each is seven metres tall and can hold nearly one million bottles of beer.
They were shipped to Canada all the way from Germany, but the final leg of the journey is the most challenging. The Atlantic Ocean has its rough gales and swells, but cities are urban jungles with bridges, low street lights and traffic to overcome.
“What the customer doesn’t want to hear is I can’t. You need to find a way that you can,” said 46-year-old DeVries, who works for Challenger Motor Freight.
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The tanks were far too large to fit on any cargo plane, so they needed to come by boat. Toronto’s port, the obvious choice for a starting point in Canada, was out of the question. The large fermenters couldn’t slip underneath the Gardiner or the bridges that block off the rest of the city.
DeVries had the tanks shipped to Hamilton, but the solution added thousands of complications to the journey, which is one of the largest convoy moves in Ontario’s history.
His plan, which will be put into action on Friday, is a feat that involves moving 250 traffic lights, manoeuvring around 1,614 service wires, and slowing down nighttime traffic for four nights as a 40-vehicle convoy crawls through a meticulously planned route through five municipalities. All this for beer.
The Molson Coors brewery has 60 fermenters already, but the company decided to boost production. Last spring, they went shopping for new tanks and wound up in Germany.
Tim Young, a project manager at Molson Coors, had seen other big moves at the brewery. But this was his first time at the helm.
Young and his team placed the order for the tanks with the German company Ziemann in August. The company has been synonymous with beer since 1852, when coppersmith August Ziemann made a name for himself with brewing vessels. These days, copper is mostly used for optical reasons, said Michael Kurzweil, head of sales at the German company. Only a few breweries, like Sam Adams, insist on it. Most of the custom tanks Ziemann produces are made of stainless steel, including the six destined for Molson Coors.
The Ziemann factory is the size of 20 football fields and is located on the river Main in Bürgstadt, a town in a densely forested pocket of northern Bavaria. The tanks made there are manufactured in an assembly line of 250 people who weld, insulate and install piping. They make one gigantic tank a day. It would take the Ziemann team six months to replicate the assembly line in Canada, and it would also be more expensive, Kurzweil explained from the ski slopes in Austria. He was on vacation relaxing with — what else? — a beer.
Molson Coors had budgeted $24 million for the project. Based on what they heard from Ziemann, it made more financial sense to ship the completed tanks, but they knew the move would be difficult. The brewing giant needed the help of a specialist, skilled in the art of cohesion and permits. Challenger, a company based in Cambridge, Ont., got the job.
By a stroke of luck, DeVries, who works for the company’s SuperLoad division, was in Germany when the company got the contract. He travelled to Bürgstadt and examined the cargo.
“I always like challenges and this looked like it was going to be one,” said the 28-year veteran.
DeVries started out transporting “overdimensional” goods and his career grew axle by axle, from homes to wind turbines.
On Nov. 4, 2010, the tanks left the German factory and travelled down the Main and Rhine rivers on a barge. When the barge arrived in the busy port of Antwerp, Belgium, the tanks were moved to the Federal Pioneer ocean vessel chartered by Canadian-based shipper Fednav International Ltd.
November is a rough month on the Atlantic Ocean, said Dennis Pfeffer, a liner manager with the shipping company. The Federal Pioneer, loaded with little else but beer tanks, at times faced winds of up to Beaufort 10 — the kind that churn the ocean into a frothing white foam. Visibility was reduced and six-metre waves and four-metre swells crashed against the ship. The captain reduced the speed by 10 knots at points, but the tanks and crew arrived safely, and on schedule, at the Federal Marine Terminal in Hamilton on Nov. 24.
But the high winds continued, making it impossible to unload the tanks for a few days. Once unloaded, the tanks had everyone buzzing, from the receptionist right on up to the harbourmaster. Lots of big cargo comes into the Hamilton port, but very few shipments have the capacity to hold 5.86 million bottles of beer.
While the tanks were rocking across the ocean, DeVries and his team were solving the next puzzle: How to transport the tanks through five different municipalities while avoiding underpasses.
In November, 75 people met in a boardroom to sort it out. It took all day.
Twenty different service providers, with phone, cable, and fibre optics would need to move their wires.
To the untrained eye, the route looks like a random hodgepodge of roads. Although he is not very good at Sudoku puzzles, DeVries’ work is essentially that. Every road is selected with a reason, and each selection is made with the others in mind.
Experts surveyed the route 70 times, and walked it just as often. They decided the convoy would travel at night to minimize the inconvenience. During the day, the vehicles will park on the side of the road, blocking one lane of traffic, while the drivers sleep in motels mapped out nearby.
For people who live along the route, the move means certain interruption. Traffic going in the same direction will be unable to pass, and smaller two-lane roads will be closed completely to let the bulky vehicles through. Cable, phone and hydro service along the route will go down for half-hour to two hour periods.
The convoy will creep forward at a walking pace. Technicians will move wires and traffic lights as the trucks reach them. Corners will be especially slow — a tiller operator at the back of each truck will walk behind and steer the load with a remote control.
The move has already been delayed. In mid-December, DeVries wasn’t happy with the heavy-duty fixture that supported the fermenters on the trailers. They fixed it, but by then it was close to Christmas, a bad time for a big move.
By now, all the small details are worked out. There are only two things left for DeVries to worry about: the Twitter account he has to set up to document the voyage, and the weather. Every person who played a part in the trans-Atlantic journey will be watching with interest.
“To a person not in the industry, this opens their eyes to what international shipping is about,” said Pfeffer, from his office in Montreal. “We handle all kinds of stuff like this, but for the general public, it’s phenomenal.”
Molson Coors will likely celebrate the move along with the 50th anniversary of their Toronto brewery, but the date hasn’t been set. Frank DeVries isn’t waiting that long. Even though 6 a.m. is a little early for a beer, it doesn’t matter.
He’ll probably have a few.