Unikai, a subsidiary of Hamburger Hafen and Logistik AG (HHLA), has developed a technology that prepares vehicles for pest-free transport to Australia and New Zealand as import regulations tighten.
Since September 1, 2018, export goods from Germany headed for Australia, including vehicles that the multi-purpose terminal Unikai sends out, must be specially prepared – for example, either gas or heat-treated.
Fear of the brown marmorated stink bug, a 15 mm long black and brown speckled pest, which infiltrated Southern Europe for the first time this year, contributed to the stricter regulation.
The bug, originating from East Asia, found its way to Europe via South America and has already caused considerable damage to the region’s agriculture.
In Italy alone, it has destroyed up to 40% of the kiwi harvest in recent years and, in an attempt to escape the same fate, the Oceanian countries are determined to keep this pest out at all costs.
To help fight the stink bug and with a short time frame of only eight weeks, Unikai developed a process that involves converting 40 ft reefer containers into heating containers.
Hartmut Wolberg, managing director of Unikai, explained that reefers have the ideal dimensions for vehicles, are well insulated, conductive to air circulation and offer flexibility as the equipment can be heated according to the type of vehicle.
He added: “Reefer containers are readily available and if they’re not needed they can be stacked and stored away to save space, or even converted back to normal reefers.”
In the converted reefers, vehicles are heat-treated at over 50°C for several hours and three probes are used to determine whether the minimum temperature has been reached throughout the vehicle from the hood to under the foot mats.
Software solutions to control and monitor the heating system, as well as for documentation of the process, were also developed and a mobile app allows employees to follow all processes in real time.
At present, Unikai has 28 40 ft heating containers on site and around 1,500 to 2,000 vehicles are heat-treated before each transhipment with the option of more heat containers if necessary.
With heat treatment being the popular option Wolberg explained that the alternative, which involved the construction of a warehouse where vehicles could be parked before shipping and the surrounding air could be heated, was not an option.
“This would have been impossible in the short time available, would have required an excessive amount of energy and would have been ecologically inefficient. It also would not have been flexible enough, considering the different types of vehicles that would need to be treated.”
The system, which has been registered at the patent office, has gained considerable traction and Wolberg is convinced that vehicle exporters from Japan, the US and France could apply this system.
According to the company, other logistics providers have taken an interest in this system as expert goods such as machinery also have to be treated against the stink bug.
The HHLA subsidiary has also had a warehouse since November 2018 that was approved by the authorities for goods that need to be treated with gas rather than heat.