Heavylift / Breakbulk
Operating in Central America
In the rather heterogeneous Central American region the project logistics market is consistently performing positively – albeit at varying speed, depending on the country. Ralf Grosskopf tells Christian Doepgen about Daco Heavy Lift de Centroamerica’s set up as regards its business as well as the technology it deploys to satisfy customers’ requirements.
Mr Grosskopf, what exactly is your link to Daco Heavy Lift in Central America?
We hold a stake in the company through Dacotrans International SPF Luxembourg. Initially, Dacotrans de Centroamerica operated as a freight forwarding business, above all. This was followed by a gradual shift of its activities towards project logistics, which is why we now offer heavylift transport and project solutions for entire industrial plants, for instance, with Daco Heavy Lift de Centroamerica.
What did you learn during this extension of your activities?
We implemented an initial project, simply because we were forced to, and got virtually everything wrong that we possibly could. The task involved shipping a 90 t boiler for a sugar factory. We carried out the transport using hired hydraulics vehicles from the USA. Although it cost us a fortune, it did answer one crucial question for us: you can’t operate in this field without a suitable fleet of vehicles.
What lessons did you learn regarding the technical equipment?
We invested in 48 axle lines from Goldhofer, amongst other things, and in heavylift tractors from Mercedes. The latter manufacturer operates a representative office in Central America. Our most recent acquisition is almost our crown jewel; an FTV 300 Bladelifter from Goldhofer, which we have been using since the end of 2014.
But we don’t always need the very latest technology. We’ve also had very good experiences with used tractors, three of which we were able to take over in excellent condition from Friderici, for example. What’s important is that it’s possible for us to maintain the vehicles on site.
How much have you invested?
I would estimate that we’ve reached an investment volume of nearly USD 10 million today, including vehicles. A lot of our profits are reinvested, as we can sense the upswing in the market and want to strengthen our position.
What effect does the equipment have on the positioning of Daco in the market?
We can say that, with our 140 employees, we’re the biggest provider for Central America, south of Mexico down to Panama. But there aren’t any unique selling points – every order is fought over nowadays.
What are the trends in the Central American project market?
It goes without saying that developments differ from region to region. Apart from major projects, such as industrial plants, we sensed very early on that alternative energy, including wind power plants, are experiencing a strong upswing in this area.
What projects in the wind power sector can you tell us about?
In Costa Rica we transported the first modules for wind power turbines more than a decade ago. About five years ago, for instance, we shipped 50 units to Honduras for Spain’s Gamesa. Another customer is India’s Suzlon Group, for which we transported equipment from Denmark to Nicaragua. This market is an important pillar for our business.
What difficulties do you face?
I’d like to explain them by giving you a specific example. In 2014 we won the contract for a project to transport twelve turbines of a wind power park in the highlands of Guatemala. In most countries the infrastructure has barely improved over the past 30 years, and off the main highways we find ourselves having to reinforce carriageways and bridges in order to deliver 60 m rotor blades to their destination.
With the new Bladelifter from Goldhofer we can cut the costs of road construction considerably. These costs can easily come to USD 1.5 million per project. So far we are the only service provider in the region to have such a vehicle.
Does this only apply to wind projects?
By no means. We are currently involved in the construction of a cement plant in San Juan Sacatepéquez, near Guatemala City, which is set to reach a capacity of 4,500 t per day. Approximately 1,000 truck loads will be shipped in from Mexico for the steel construction alone. Machine components from Europe, which weigh up to 125 t and are 7 m wide, will also need to be brought to the site.
One plant is being erected at an altitude of nearly 2,000 m, because the raw material for the cement can be mined there. We not only have bad roads, but also slopes of up to 22% to contend with.
Did cooperation with Daco come exclusively off your own bat?
No. In 2013, in the framework of a share swap with a long-standing partner, we established an enterprise called the Central American Crane Company. We’re very busy with this new unit.
What are the benefits?
In the past, this company provided cranes with a lifting power of 40 to 120 t for projects. Now we have an enhanced stock of Liebherr cranes, with lifting powers of 80 and 400 t. The planning to purchase a crane with 200 t lifting power, to further enhance our range, is already on the table.
Central America is not only mountainous, but also vast. How do you solve the problem of distances?
We regularly move vehicles and cranes, amongst others by vessel, be it on ro-ro or on container units.
Do you go as far afield as the islands off the coast?
Although we predominantly operate on the isthmus, we also go out to the islands in our assignments, of course. In addition to the Cayman Islands and the Dominican Republic, where we’ve also been active, we currently have a project going in Surinam. Sixteen of our Goldhofer axles are being used there for a diesel engine plant.
How do you service your vehicles?
We have our own maintenance centre in Guatemala City. In addition to local service providers we successfully used the support of specialists from Senior Expert Service (SES) from Bonn (Germany) for organisational tasks during the construction of our own workshop.
Has there been a project that made your heart beat faster?
Off the top of my head I’d say it is the transportation of three diesel engines weighing 300 t, which are destined for La Chorrera and will be sent on their journey from Panama in the coming days. The engines will be transhipped to a prepared trailer on a barge in the port of Cristóbal on the Atlantic Ocean, using the vessel’s cargo-handling gear. The Panama Canal will be traversed on a heavylift pontoon, which will be pulled by tugboats.
In the Pacific Ocean the journey will then continue west. 60 km from the canal we’ve installed a 100 m jetty in a fishing port. We’ll dock during high tide, to ensure enough depth of water for the vessel. When the pontoon comes down onto the ground at low tide, we can then tranship the consignment using a ramp, which will be transported along with the shipment.
From the port to the building site, the final destination, the route covers another 30 km. We’ve fortified three bridges, reinforced the road and laid electric lines for the heavylift transport alone.
This is where all aspects come together nicely...
...and that’s why we plan to make a film of the entire progress of this major project.