Every year, more than 10,000 containers are intercepted that may hold potentially hazardous gases and vapours, mostly as a result of fumigation or off-gassing. Fumigation gases are deliberately inserted into a container in the country of origin, for example to protect food against vermin. Upon arrival in Rotterdam, remnants of these fumigants are often still present in these containers. In most cases, the presence of harmful gases and vapours however is attributable to off-gassing: vapours that are emitted by the products during transport and that are related to the nature of the cargo. Take glued shoes that are left to harden for weeks in a closed container whilst being exposed to high temperatures, for example. In order to safely open a container, gas measurements (also known as gas-free measurements) need to be performed. EWS Group (hereinafter EWS) is one of the parties carrying out these gas measurements. To minimise delays in the logistics process, these gas measurements must be performed as efficiently as possible. The new API interface between the Modality gas measurement module and the system of EWS allows EWS and the terminal to exchange information in real time. In this article, Terence Carnegie, Project Manager at EWS, discusses the many aspects involved in the performance of gas measurements and explains how the API interface between our gas measurement module and EWS’ system significantly contributes to optimising this process.
Legislation surrounding the opening, unloading and loading of containers
The Dutch Working Conditions Act (Nederlandse Arbowet) stipulates that an employer bears responsibility for the safety and health of their employees. In addition, the European Union has established legal limits regarding the maximum permitted concentration of a substance to which employees may be exposed in the workplace: the so-called Threshold Limit Values. Because a container being unloaded is considered a workplace, the legislation regarding limit values is applicable. In addition to legislation related to the Dutch Working Conditions Act, companies also need to adhere to customs legislation when handling containers. Customs has drawn up a list of harmful gases and vapours for which a container must minimally be checked.
Compliance with legislation and regulations is strictly monitored. The Netherlands Labour Authority for example check whether policy is in place for protecting employees against gases or vapours in containers during their inspections. Together with the customer, EWS identifies these risks and next uses the ABC method to determine the number of gas measurements that needs to be performed. In the ABC method, measurements are randomly performed based on the risks involved. EWS makes an inventory of these risks using the information supplied by the customer – the nature of the products, packaging materials, country of origin, etc. A 100% measurement is carried out during the initial period, meaning all containers are assessed. EWS measures which gases and vapours are present in a container and reports this to the customer. Based on this detailed analysis, a statistically substantiated measurement protocol is drawn up in consultation with the customer. This protocol meets the legal requirements and takes into account the economic interest of the customer as well.
Procedure gas measurements import containers
At least three parties are involved in the performance of gas measurements for import containers; a terminal or logistics service provider, the specialised party that carries out the measurements (in this case EWS) and the warehouse that receives the container. Anywhere from a week to a day before their scheduled arrival, the terminal notifies EWS of which containers to expect. The terminal uses the gas measurement module within the Modality system for this. The Modality gas measurement module ensures that at-risk containers are automatically blocked; this selection takes place on a customer basis. The block is only lifted after the gas measurement has been carried out and the container has been issued the digital gas-free declaration. Data from the gas measurement planning is exported to Excel, highlighting the containers that need to be measured and their locations. The drawback of exporting data from Excel and sending this by e-mail is that the information is already outdated the moment it is sent; containers may experience delays, locations might change, et cetera. Modality customer BTT now uses a direct API between the gas measurement module and the EWS system. This interface ensures that EWS immediately sees any changes and always has a current overview of the containers requiring measurement as well as their respective locations.
Terence: “Even without API, the Modality gas measurement module already offered considerable advantages. But now that we are using the API interface, a whole new world has opened up for us. Being able to see what the terminal sees in real time makes such a difference!”
Each day, EWS draws up a schedule for the operational teams. Containers can be registered until 16:00 hours for measurement the next day. The containers that are measured are automatically determined according to the sampling methodology. For example, if ten containers pose an elevated risk and the agreement with the customer stipulates that five containers must be measured, these five containers are selected automatically. The planning department next informs the various operational teams at 20:00 hours at the latest. The operational teams begin work at the terminal the next day between 05:00 and 06:00 hours. Since containers are often not situated at ground level, the EWS teams use ladders and cherry pickers, allowing them to operate in stacks up to five containers high. EWS among other things uses SIFT-MS technology. With this technology, at least one litre of air is ‘drawn’ from a container and collected in a special air bag (Tedlar bag). Each air bag is labelled with a unique barcode. The air in this bag is next analysed using a SIFT-MS device. The operational teams of EWS always work in pairs. One employee continuously takes air samples and the other uses these samples to perform the analysis.
SIFT-MS Analysis of air sample from container
EWS performs gas measurements on 15,000 to 20,000 containers per month (within Europe). About 8% of these containers are flagged because the concentration of gases they hold exceeds the agreed-upon limit values. However, this does not automatically mean that these concentrations are directly hazardous to humans. The limit values are often based on an exposure time to the gases of eight hours or more (a full working day).
Any container that is flagged must be moved to the degassing section, the location of which is indicated by the system. The container is degassed by ventilating it. The ventilation method depends on the type of gas or vapour, the measured concentrations, the loading process and the volume of cargo. One option is to naturally ventilate the container by opening the doors and allowing the outside air to mix with that inside the containers. There are also several methods of forced ventilation, such as sucking in fresh air through the air vents, using fans or introducing (blowing) large volumes of air into the container. EWS recommends the ventilation method that is most suitable for a specific situation and specifies this in the measurement report. Once the container has been ventilated, the ventilation is switched off; after a couple of hours, EWS performs a re-measurement. The standard advice of EWS is to open (unload) a cleared container within 24 hours. If the container still fails to meet the applicable limit values, EWS recommends opening the container after waiting the same number of hours that have elapsed between the moment the ventilation was completed and the re-measurement was performed. For example, if a re-measurement is taken four hours after the ventilation has been switched off and this measurement shows safe values, EWS advises unloading the container within four hours.
Procedure for fumigating export containers
In addition to degassing import containers, EWS also focuses on the fumigation of export containers. In many cases, this involves logs exported from Europe to China. This fumigation is done at designated, safe fumigation locations, of which there are only a couple in the Netherlands. Most of these fumigation locations are situated at inland terminals, but they are also present at some deepsea terminals. EWS performs fumigation for various parties, such as terminals but also forwarders or cargo owners. The client ensures that the containers are delivered to the designated location, where EWS next takes care of the fumigation.
Benefits of API interface between gas measurement module & EWS
The first Modality customers started working with the gas measurement module about thirteen years ago. The advantage of this gas measurement module is that it allows for data to be exported according to a fixed layout, which EWS is next able to import one-on-one. This alone saves EWS a lot of manual actions compared to customers who do not use the Modality gas measurement module. However, as mentioned earlier, the downside of this data export is that the information quickly becomes outdated and that manual actions are still required.
Terence: “The speed with which we can communicate via the API interface is amazing. Delays cost money. The API interface truly offers the solution to this. We only need the container number, availability, cargo and position at the terminal. Thanks to the API interface, we only see the specific information we need.”
So, the API interface allows the required data to be shared much faster. Safety is enhanced as well. Previously, EWS employees had to manually indicate the containers that had been selected for a gas measurement using the Excel overview. The API interface automatically blocks these containers until EWS has submitted the gas-free declaration. This ensures that the container does not leave the terminal before the gas measurement has been carried out and it has been labelled safe.
The API interface offers EWS another significant advantage. When, based on the aforementioned example, ten high-risk containers arrive, all ten are automatically blocked in the Modality system. As per the agreement, gas measurements must be carried out on five containers. If these measurements show safe values, the other five will also be released automatically. However, if one of the containers is rejected, the system automatically indicates that the other five must also be measured. Without the API interface, this process is much more cumbersome. The gas surveyor has to contact the planning department, planning next reports this to customer service, customer service contacts the terminal, et cetera.
Making use of the API interface between the Modality gas measurement module and the EWS system ensures that container data can be exchanged quickly and that parties carrying out the gas measurements – such as EWS – always have real-time information at their disposal. As a result, measurements can be performed more efficiently, the associated administration can be processed more quickly and errors are minimised.
Would you like to know more about our API interface with EWS or our gas measurement module? Then contact our sales department at+31 (0) 180 531 035 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.