Graebener® struggles with deficient heavy-duty route from Gelsenkirchen to the Siegerland region

Significant additional costs due to the transport issue

2020 | January 16

Graebener® sets new standards with a new pipe forming press. "The most important thing is the enormous press power of several thousand tons which is necessary to manufacture thick-walled pipes with small diameters", emphasizes Fabian Kapp, Managing Partner at Graebener®. This machine will be installed at the company Erndtebrücker Eisenwerk GmbH & Co. KG. The numbers alone are impressive: the press weight is approximately 1,100 tons. The four main components, upper and lower traverse each consisting of a top and a bottom part have a length of approx. 16 meters, a width of 3.5 meters and a height of 2.5 meters. Each part weighs between 115 and 130 tons.

With its bending machines, Graebener® has been one of the world market leaders in the field of the production of large pipes, wind towers and vessels. Fabian Kapp: "We are able to design and manufacture extremely powerful and at the same time very large and heavy machines. This is a competitive edge attributable to the engineering skill and dedication of our around 80 employees. For many customers worldwide, Graebener® stands exactly for such technical know-how."

For many companies, however, the current road conditions in Germany are a huge obstacle. Graebener® regularly struggles with the limited transport options for heavy-duty transports as well. Despite statements to the contrary from politicians – the Werthenbach-based company has not seen any recognizable improvements of the roads so far. According to Fabian Kapp, this was also apparent with the transport of the current press. The components were welded in Aschersleben in Saxony-Anhalt and then loaded on inland waterway vessels for transport on the Elbe to Gelsenkirchen. Once they arrived in the Ruhr region, the transport was continued on heavy-duty trucks on the road. However, the transport did not get very far. "The first unexpected construction site was already encountered at the outskirts of Gelsenkirchen. This construction site should have been completed weeks ago but was delayed for unknown reasons. Hence, transport and assembly had to be postponed", explains Fabian Kapp. With considerable delay, the gigantic components ultimately arrived in Bad Laasphe where they are currently being processed mechanically by the company Jung Großmechanik. After that, they will be transported to Erndtebrück.

Another component was loaded for transport in Aschersleben with a slightly different schedule. At that time, however, the water level in the Elbe was too low so that the transport needed to be shifted to the Mittelland Canal. Fabian Kapp: "Even though the low water level was quite unusual for winter, such unpredictable conditions are everyday events for our forwarding agencies and to be accepted as "force of nature". The road conditions, however, are a real nuisance. Especially the dilapidated bridges are a major problem for us. The bridges often cannot bear the heavy loads any longer and therefore are blocked for heavy-duty transports."

For nine years now, the planning for a reliable heavy-duty route from Gelsenkirchen to the Siegerland region has been going on and the corresponding route has been modernized and expanded. Still, bridge statics need to be recalculated again and again driving up costs considerably. An application for a transport permit for a 176 tons component was denied by the approval authority. Reason for the denial was that the application would entail the recalculation of the statics for a total of 18 bridges on the route between Gelsenkirchen and Erndtebrück. And this, please note, on the heavy-duty route which was allegedly approved for 299 tons transports. The static calculations alone would have meant additional costs of approx. 60,000.00 Euro per transport. Additional costs which cannot be calculated reliably, neither by Graebener® nor by their customers. "In 2003", says Fabian Kapp, "transporting machine components with a weight of 180 tons to the Siegerland region was relatively simple and easy."

The poor transport conditions on the roads have long since been taken into consideration as early as in the design phases of the machines. "If the routes were in a condition appropriate and fitting for an industrial nation such as Germany, we would have been able to design and build the machine much more cost-efficiently", stresses Fabian Kapp.

If our derelict roads already were a major influence on the design of new machines, this would speak volumes about the condition of the industrial location, emphasized Klaus Gräbener, General Manager of the local Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK). "Each year, 14,000 permit applications for large volume and heavy-duty transports are processed at the district administration Siegen-Wittgenstein and Olpe alone. This concerns huge value-added chains with an estimate of 10,000 employees in our region and all of this is at risk due to the fact that the condition of our road has been neglected for years!" The condition of the bridges and roads was only one part of the problem. The other side of the coin was the bureaucracy which had gone completely off the rails. Together with the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), the IHK advocates for more political pressure in order to relieve the burden on the companies.

According to Hans-Peter Langer, Managing Director of the IHK, this also entails calling attention to sometimes horrendous conditions. Applying for a heavy-duty transport permit has become a "science of its own". Legislation has allowed transport escort by private companies so that the police can focus on their original task again. This, however, at a high price: "If entire road books need to be generated for permit applications; if forwarding agencies need to employ graphic designers to visualize tractrix curves for the authorities; if routes need to be flown over by drones beforehand; if forwarding agencies plan their routes specifically avoiding certain states because there the approval process usually takes ten or more weeks and the customers then would cancel the order, something is fundamentally wrong here."

Management and IHK representatives agree that stronger political commitment is needed for a tangible improvement of the framework conditions of heavy-duty transport. In the digital age a reliable, current and always available database for the transport planning should be as commonplace as a navigation system. This would also sustainably relieve the burden on the authorities and shorten the time for such transport permits considerably. Where continuous recalculations of buildings and structures become stipulation, costs are getting out of hand ultimately impairing the market situation of the companies involved.

Until the old motorways are once more available reliably for heavy-duty transports, each state should implement heavy-duty routes segueing into each other. Fabian Kapp: "It is our goal to provide our customers with top quality. To achieve that, however, an efficient transport infrastructure and a modern and less bureaucratic permit process are indispensable. But we are still very far from these things and therefore we hope for the necessary political support."

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