Blog October 13, 2014

Tanks, Learning and Competence: Why the Asian tank container service sector still needs TLC

By Nicola Byers

Intermodal Eye takes a quick look at how tank container operators can maintain quality assurance when operating in Asia.  Our guest blogger Holly Birkett reports:

There has been ever-increasing demand for tank containers in Asia over the past few years – and now the supporting service industry needs to play catch up, as the most recent meeting of Asian Tank Container Organisation (@tco) highlighted.

Asia’s chemical industry is maturing, which has boosted demand for tank container transport of bulk liquids in the region. The region is now producing more complex and high-value chemicals, rather than feedstocks. The new chemical output tends to be in smaller volumes, lending itself to transport in quantities suitable for tank containers.

Problem: Lack of local expertise

Many depots in Asia suffer from a lack of knowledge, as Darrell Lee, Regional Manager of Technical Services with Stolt Tank Containers in Singapore, told the @tco meeting. She used her presentation to challenge depots to improve the quality of their services.

There are now more than 110 tank depots between Japan and Indonesia, and what Darrell called an “astounding array” of facilities throughout Asia. Those in Japan and Singapore are as good, if not better, than those in Europe, she said. Many depots elsewhere in the region, however, need to focus on quality rather than quantity if tanks are to leave their sites clean and within spec, ready for the next load.

Solution: Require quality assurance or an audit

Attendees were advised to seek quality assurance and advice via @tco’s own depot audit scheme. Taking those steps will help improve quality, Darrell said. @tco was specifically set up to promote the availability of quality tank depots for cleaning and repair in Asia, and plans to use its website to promote its audited depots.

Problem: Lack of experience in ‘special’ tanks manufacture

Asia – particularly China – has come to dominate the manufacture of standard tank containers. A relatively new development is that manufacturers in the region are also now producing ‘special’ containers, which had previously been the preserve of more experienced producers. Quality assurance of the build of these ‘special’ tanks remains an issue.

‘Special’ tank containers comprise swap bodies, lined and baffled tanks, as well as cryogenic and high-pressure tanks for transporting gases; food-grade tanks, powder tanks, and electrically heated or refrigerated units. Service providers capable of applying linings and coatings, such as zinc linings for tanks for liquefied gases, are also now active in the Asia region.

Solution: Employ competent inspectors on your behalf

The regional skill base for the manufacture of these ‘special’ tank containers continues to grow, which is reducing the price of such tanks and increasing their availability, as Graham Wood, @tco’s Technical Director and Managing Director of Davlis Ltd, told the Singapore meeting. It is therefore extremely important to have experienced and competent third-party inspection agencies to act on the owner’s behalf during construction.