A Return Ticket – Shanghai and Back - Wacker Chemie AG

A Return Ticket – Shanghai and Back

WACKER uses containers to send its products all over the world – with the disadvantage, however, that more intermodal containers leave the plant loaded with products than come back filled with raw materials. Thanks to an award-winning strategy, the Group has greatly reduced the need to ship in empty containers to its plant – an outcome that demonstrates how well WACKER manages its global logistics.

The Burghausen combined road and rail terminal that started operations in 2014 can process up to 40,000 so-called transshipments (between trucks and rail cars) per year.

With a monotone rumble, freight train No. 50337 from Hamburg grinds to a halt at the Burghausen combined road and rail terminal. The loaded maritime containers arrive right on time at this transshipment station, which is located in the Bavarian Chemical Triangle and situated just under one kilometer from the WACKER site. Nevertheless, there are no long lines of trucks waiting for containers to arrive here, and for the logistics specialists at WACKER, that is not just an advantage – it also poses a real challenge.

What visitors do not see at first glance is that most of the containers on train No. 50337 are empty. The containers are shipped from the northern German ports of Hamburg and Bremerhaven to Burghausen, where container scarcity is a chronic problem. One of the reasons for having to send empty containers on the freight train is a logistical imbalance. Business in the region around Burghausen – known as the Bavarian Chemical Triangle due to the chemical sector’s strong presence there – is highly export-driven. Twenty-five companies with around 20,000 employees produce over €10 billion in goods here, a considerable portion of which is shipped overseas.

Each year, the WACKER plant alone ships out some 14,000 containers filled with products manufactured in Burghausen. By contrast, only 3,500 containers of raw materials – mostly metallurgical-grade silicon – arrive at the plant, which explains the need for the empty containers that play such a crucial role in exporting chemical products. Dr. Thomas Bronnert, WACKER’s head of logistics, is using his integrated logistics strategy to combat the problem.

Before the drums are shipped in containers, employees secure the load with belts.

22 Meters Above Ground

With a 360° view from roughly 22 meters above the newly arrived containers, Gerhard Kaiser sits waiting in the operator cab of his fixed gantry crane. Kaiser moves the joystick slightly to maneuver the crane toward the freight train. Using his hoist, he picks up each individual container and places it in its designated position, accurate to the centimeter. Kaiser loads a few containers onto waiting trucks, but places most in the storage area next to the track for an indefinite period. At the very end of the process, he turns to a gray container marked OOLU 115453-8 (from the OOCL shipping company of Hong Kong), which currently contains 25 metric tons of raw silicon metal in shiny silver blocks referred to as “chunks.” In just a few days, however, the same container will hold hyperpure polysilicon from Burghausen, stacked neatly on pallets and ready for shipment to Asia where the photovoltaics industry will convert it into solar cells.

At Burghausen’s combined road and rail terminal, roughly one quarter of all of the containers handled for WACKER contain silicon chunks like these, making them one of the company’s most important raw materials. The chemical group requires roughly 150,000 metric tons of metallurgical-grade silicon each year as the basis for its silicon and silicone products. One third of this raw material comes from the company’s own silicon plant in Holla, Norway, while the remainder is imported from Asia in maritime containers.

The Burghausen’s combined road and rail terminal accesses the seaports of Hamburg and Bremerhaven by rail. The Nünchritz site sends its containers via the terminal in Riesa on the Elbe river to the German seaports.

Just a few hundred meters from the terminal, in the middle of the WACKER production site, a dump truck noisily unloads the precious cargo from the gray container. Within a few seconds, the plant’s silicon warehouse is full again. A few stray chunks remain in the container, stuck in its grooves and cross braces, and its interior walls are covered with a thin coating of gray silicon dust – a situation requiring a thorough cleaning back at the terminal. Here workers gather up the big pieces of silicon that were caught during the unloading process, and the dust caused by abrasion is collected in industrial vacuum cleaners. The stray pieces and dust are put in another container and returned to WACKER – this raw material is too precious to waste. The container is clean once again with very little effort and is ready to be reloaded. Shortly after arriving on train No. 50337, it was listed as “available” in the logistics system.

The Challenge of Maritime Transportation


  • 762,000 metric tons
    of downstream products were produced at the WACKER site in Burghausen in 2014.
  • 14,000 containers
    and 40,700 truck shipments leave the Burghausen site every year.
  • 5,800 containers
    were transported to German seaports by rail and inland waterways from the Nünchritz plant in 2014.
  • 30,000 shipments by road
    are replaced annually by container trains that travel between the Burghausen and Nünchritz sites and the ports of Bremerhaven and Hamburg.
  • 2,100 metric tons
    of carbon dioxide emissions are avoided each year because WACKER almost exclusively uses the railroad for transporting containers within Germany.
  • 600 meters
    – that’s the length of the WACKER container train that has traveled to Bremerhaven and Hamburg on a daily basis since 1999.

Behind all this is a complex planning process that takes advantage of synergies between the Procurement and Shipping departments at WACKER. Maintaining a balance among contracted shipping companies is the foundation that makes integrated logistics processes possible in the first place. “Procurement and Shipping agreed years ago on the shipping companies we would contract to transport our raw materials and products,” Dr. Bronnert explains. WACKER began the job of optimizing container transport back in 1999. The biggest challenge, he says, is the constant growth in maritime shipping, which is increasing at an annual rate of up to 10%. The key force behind this growth is the booming Asian market – the company’s largest, accounting for 42% of sales.

Today, WACKER works with a total of six shipping companies in order to handle its global logistics. Shortly after arriving in Burghausen, containers that had been fully loaded with metallurgical grade silicon or other raw materials can be shipped back out with WACKER products – the only way that a closed logistics loop can work.

The photograph depicts the award ceremony at the VCI’s general assembly in Hamburg (from left): Stefan Pein and Jörg Bley, TOTAL Bitumen Germany, Sabine Herold and Christian Walther, DELO Industrie Klebstoffe, Dr. Thomas Bronnert, head of Logistics, Dr. Rudolf Staudigl, president & CEO of WACKER, and VCI president Dr. Marijn E. Dekkers.

Connecting Up to Additional North European Ports

This is how WACKER has managed to reduce shipments of empty containers by nearly 25%. Also playing a central role in this strategy is the combined road and rail terminal in Burghausen. Three companies – DB Schenker BTT GmbH, Deutsche Umschlagsgesellschaft Schiene-Straße (DUSS) mbH and Karl Schmidt Spedition GmbH & Co. KG – have stakes in the terminal, which began operations in October 2014 and currently accommodates up to 40,000 container transshipments (between trucks and rail cars) per year for the companies operating in the Bavarian Chemical Triangle. The terminal has significantly improved the region’s link to northern ports and international markets. Links to the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp were recently added in October.

Thanks to the terminal, the WACKER plant in Burghausen will soon be able to ship all of its containers using the Deutsche Bahn railway system. Doing so will also reduce the company’s emissions of harmful carbon dioxide. In the past, roughly 700 containers would be shipped back and forth by truck between Burghausen and Munich each year, but ever since the Burghausen combined road and rail terminal was connected to the railway network of Triest on Italy’s Adriatic coast, WACKER has entirely eliminated the need to ship containers by truck. As a result, WACKER now transports 14,000 containers per year – and not a single one goes by road.

WACKER Receives Responsible Care® Award

Wacker Chemie AG won third place in the Responsible Care® competition sponsored by the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI) in recognition of the company’s project designed to optimize overseas freight shipments. The theme of the 2015 VCI Responsible Care® competition was “We have good ideas for transport safety and sustainable logistics.” The jury voted for WACKER’s strategy because of its substantial economic benefit and its contribution to minimizing CO2emissions.

The WACKER project represents a sustainable strategy for efficient container management aimed at avoiding the transport of empty containers and reducing CO2emissions. WACKER has already achieved significant success here, cutting the number of empty containers transported by 20 percent since 2011. The comprehensive logistics strategy earned the jury’s vote for its “quantifiable success” and for “optimizing the entire logistics chain.”

First prize went to TOTAL Bitumen Deutschland GmbH of Brunsbüttel for its transport-safety project for hazardous materials. The jury awarded second place to DELO Industrie Klebstoffe GmbH & Co. KGaA, Windach, for a project to promote safe and sustainable logistics. The three winning projects had already emerged as favorites in the VCI regional heats, in which several dozen companies participated.

At the company’s container control center, plans are now underway to load the new container train with 30 pallets of hyperpure polysilicon bound for Burchard Pier in Hamburg. From there, it will be shipped to a customer in Asia. In eight days, at 1:00 p.m. on the dot, the freighter Thalassa Axia will depart from Burchard Pier. The products must be loaded into containers and sent to Hamburg no later than three days before the ship closes for cargo. Stefan Hrubesch, who heads the Loading Control Center, searches in his computer system for free 20-foot box containers.

“The ones marked in red here,” he says, pointing to one of the two screens in front of him, “are actually the empty containers over at the combined road and rail terminal. And over here,” he continues, indicating a row of numbered fields, “are the loading stations at our warehouses.” Hrubesch clicks on container OOLU 115453-8, which brought a load of metallurgical-grade silicon to Burghausen a few days ago, and drags it to the other side of the screen to assign a new order to it. From here, the process moves very quickly: a truck takes the selected container to the ramp in front of the central high-bay warehouse, while a team prepares the goods and loads them. Meanwhile, at the combined road and rail terminal, Gerhard Kaiser’s crane lifts the box container back onto the trailer. Departure is just a few hours away. Spread out over 560 meters, new containers are loaded at WACKER for distribution throughout the world. And at the Burchard Pier in Hamburg, freshly delivered containers with metallurgical-grade silicon from China are already waiting.