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Working on the dock by the day

Posted on:2015-03-10 09:50:59    Source:    Editor:Cathy Xia

The General San Martín Port Workers’ Cooperative in Argentina moves over six million tons of agricultural exports a year, its dockers helped by a fleet of 79 Volvo machines. 

The L90F wheel loader measures up against the mountains of soy flous.

Lying on the banks of the Paraná River, 300km upstream from the Atlantic Ocean is Rosario, Argentina’s second city and home to San Lorenzo. The area is known for its food processing industries such as edible oil, flour, soybean, wheat and maize – as well as ceramics factories and petrochemical plants.

The San Lorenzo port is one of the largest and busiest export outlets in Argentina for raw food products. An incredible 85% of the country’s crops, oil and by-products pass through San Lorenzo and the ports of Greater Rosario. Argentina was once referred to as ‘the breadbasket of the world’, and with agricultural exports booming, this is a demanding market.

With a series of port terminals stretching more than 50km, the shipping companies need quick and efficient partners to dispatch cargo. In total about 1,000 people work 24 hours a day, every day, at the General San Martín Port Workers’ Cooperative.

“The town moves at the rhythm that the port dictates,” says Herme Juárez, president of the cooperative since 1969. “The port plays such an important role in the local community.”

Juárez started out in the industry more than 50 years ago, loading and unloading the boats as they docked. After experiencing the reality of a dockworker’s life, he started organizing the cooperative and at that time, its 45 members.

His aim was to give dockworkers a better life, as well as providing an efficient service to the companies that use the port. Everyone worked hard, winning more clients and the business started to grow.  In 1996, Juárez realized that if they used good quality machines, they could load boats quicker, so the cooperative secured credit to invest in 10 Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) L70C-Series wheel loaders. The decision marked a milestone in the company’s history.

“Due to the speed at which we can now load the boats, we are saving our clients hours of time,” adds Juárez.

Working close to the epic sand wall.

Horsepower replaces manpower

However, the time saved has turned out to be days not hours. Before machines were available it would have taken 20 days to load a 56,000 ton boat in tough conditions but now using Volvo wheel loaders, it takes 72 hours. And today, with the recent incorporation of 10 more Volvo L90F-Series wheel loaders with 7m3 buckets – bringing the company’s total to 79 Volvo machines – the same vessel can be loaded in about a day, with each machine moving around 800 tons an hour.

Last year, the company loaded a record 6.3 million tons of goods on to boats at the San Lorenzo and Greater Rosario ports. The company was so happy with its Volvo machines that at its end-of-year celebrations, there is always an L90 wheel loader present – its bucket filled with iced champagne!

“We have achieved everything we have with Volvo – but obviously the Volvos don’t drive themselves, they are operated by people,” says Juárez. “There are many occupational hazards in dock work, but ‘people over profit’ is the rule by which any decisions are made, particularly with regard to safety and operations.”

“It’s a privilege to work with General San Martín Port Workers’ Cooperative,” says Gustavo Casas, manager of key accounts in Argentina and Uruguay for Volvo CE. “With its vision and prioritization of its workers, the cooperative is an ideal partner for Volvo CE.”

An avalanche of advantages

One job at the docks is loading agricultural produce onto conveyer belts, which carry the products on to the ship. A single warehouse, where four Volvo wheel loaders work, houses 180,000 tons of soy flour, piled a mountainous 40 meters high.

“We use the machines to push the flour through a grille in the floor on to a conveyer belt which takes it to the boat,” says operator Pedro Fydrizswski. “The job used to be dangerous because the towering mountains of tightly packed flour could have been sitting there for as long as a month and is prone to loosen unexpectedly, causing an avalanche of flour on to the machines and workers. Incorporation of the wheel loaders had reduced accidents by 95%.”

To increase safety further, operators have been using a crane extension on the front of wheel loaders to help loosen the products they are moving, meaning the machines don’t have to work so close to the flour mounds.

Better safety means improved efficiency and more profits for the cooperative, which have been channelled into both social and community outreach projects, as well as the recent new emergency rescue center. Complete with helicopters, ambulance boats and land ambulances, the center is the first of its kind in Latin America, and was designed to deal with occupational hazards at ports. 

Juárez is certain that Volvo will be an integral part of the company’s future. “The next move may be to add some L120 wheel loaders with 12m3 buckets to the fleet. But only if our conveyor belts can keep up!”

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