West Africa forges ahead

Abidjan RTGs

In 2008, Konecranes sold their first rubber-tired gantry cranes (RTGs) in West Africa. Bolloré Africa Logistics, a branch of the French Bolloré Group, bought eight RTGs for their operations at the Vridi Terminal in Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast. The idea caught on, and now there are over 200 Konecranes RTGs across West Africa.  

Its geographical location, tropical climate and widely varying conditions combine to pose unique challenges when building and improving logistics infrastructure here. This article will take you on a short tour of some of the operators using Konecranes RTGs in the region.

Way out west

Senegal is the western-most country in Africa, right onDakar port the tip of the continent where the land mass points into the Atlantic Ocean. Here, Dubai Ports World (DP World) runs a terminal in the capital Dakar, where 10 Konecranes RTGs were delivered from 2017 to 2021. They had all 10 of their non-Konecranes RTGs retrofitted with the Konecranes Stack Collision Prevention System (SCPS), which uses lasers to slow the trolley when it detects an obstacle, and gantry cameras, which change views for the operators based on crane travel. This ensured their full fleet of on-site RTGs were at the same level of technology and safety. The new cranes and retrofits are part of a deepwater port development that will soon see a new home for the cranes just outside Dakar.

The very first, and then the second

Konecranes first brought their RTGs to the West African market in 2008, and their first customer in the region was Bolloré Africa Logistics. Ivory Coast exports a lot of rubber, magnesium and wood, and it is the world’s top producer of cocoa. The tropical climate and sometimes unpredictable terrain provided unexpected challenges, but Konecranes combined its industry-leading sway prevention technology, on-board IT systems and wheel bogie design for a new-generation, high-quality RTG ideally suited to this environment. Bolloré liked the results and ordered 8 more RTGs less than a year later. The company sees their partnership with Konecranes as part of a long-term plan to make Abidjan a benchmark port. 

Quick increases

Located 25 kilometers (16 miles) east of the capital city, Accra, the Port of Tema handles about 70 percent of Ghana’s seaborne freight traffic. In a joint venture between a number of local organizations, Meridian Ports Services (MPS) started as a dedicated container terminal in 2007 and quick success led to a need for expansion. With a solid offering and excellent references within the local network of Abidjan and other ports, Konecranes won the contract to introduce the first RTGs and 4 arrived in 2013, followed by 5 more soon after. MPS quickly noticed an increase of 25 percent throughput capacity, and the Port of Tema has been continuously expanding its potential ever since. 

High-tech hub

Established in 2008 in Lomé, the capital of Togo, LoméLome RTGs Container Terminal (LCT) is a transshipment hub for the region as well as a gateway to landlocked countries such as Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. In 2014, they purchased 22 electric Konecranes RTGs, unusual in Africa due to potential power disruptions, but LCT felt the fuel and maintenance savings were worth it and a backup on-site power plant helps if the local grid fails. With customized cabins and controls, training simulations and TRUCONNECT Remote Monitoring, LCT has invested in some of the most advanced container handling technology in Africa. They appreciate Konecranes’ personal approach, consistent contact, the proven reliability of the equipment, and Konecranes’ familiarity with the operating environment.

Cranes during coronavirus

The coronavirus has not stopped business, but with strict quarantine rules and a lack of flights, it has drastically changed international business travel. In spring 2020, Konecranes was to deliver 2 RTGs to Cotonou in Benin, and another 2 to Pointe-Noire, in the Republic of the Congo. Konecranes wanted to ensure that the cranes arrived on schedule, even during a pandemic. So, two senior Konecranes commissioning engineers accompanied the cranes on a cargo ship around the western curve of the African continent, where they had to learn shipboard routines, combat seasickness, and look out for pirates. Despite the challenging circumstances, cooperation and team spirit won the day and long-term customer Bolloré, who had ordered the cranes, saw once again the high priority that Konecranes places on customer relationships.

Antoine Bosque doing handstand in Nigeria
Antoine Bosquet has travelled widely, and does a handstand at each
new place he goes to. Here he is on a business trip in Lagos, Nigeria.

A market like no other

Due to limited available space and budget, a lot of West African ports started out with a few reach stackers and forklift trucks. When they needed to expand, the best option was densification – in other words, higher stacks and faster container handling movements. With the control cabin and lifting mechanisms above rather than below the containers, and much higher stacking performance, Konecranes RTGs solved the problem. 

As populations have grown, local and foreign investment has increased over the last decade, and trade has been booming in the region as operators upgrade their terminals with new technology and capacity, and greenfield sites bristling with potential pop up in new locations. 

Early to see this trend, Konecranes quickly became known to port operators and is the most popular port crane provider in West Africa today.

But this success would not be possible without regional business partners that provide consistently excellent sales, distribution and service support. Customers frequently comment on how these partnerships were key to their decision to go with Konecranes: they value highly the idiosyncratic detail that only a local provider can know. 

In cooperation with these partners, Konecranes has been able to overcome the special challenges of doing business in West Africa. In particular, there is the “tyranny of distance”, as local operators are a long way from the Konecranes factories in Europe and China, and delivery is a major logistical effort. The second major problem is reliability, but both theService guy working to lift truck recommendations of business partners and the widespread use of Konecranes machines in the region immediately demonstrate to new customers that Konecranes offers both good equipment and excellent after-sales service.

RTGs are a significant part of the story, yet they are just one part of it. West Africa has also welcomed Konecranes Gottwald Mobile Harbor Cranes, as well as the full range of Konecranes lift trucks, including forklift trucks and reach stackers. 

“Konecranes has a reputation in the region as a reliable provider of high-quality lifting equipment for seaport terminals,” says Antoine Bosquet, VP, Regional Sales EMEA, Port Solutions, for Konecranes. “Although we are able to make good use of remote services like TRUCONNECT, Africa is a place that strongly values face-to-face communication in business. We work collaboratively, respecting cultural differences and coming together for a common goal. Each repeat order, retrofit or upgrade is a sign of a long-term, continuously developing relationship.”

Every region around the world has its own challenges. West Africa is a little different to what some might be used to. That Konecranes has succeeded in the region shows what good products, quality service and a strong mutual commitment with local partners and customers can achieve.

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