How to get a 6-meter-long, 4-meter-tall, and almost 20-metric-ton black steel spiral agitator to Saudi Arabia in the shortest time possible? That was the weighty challenge that plant engineers at Zeppelin Systems faced recently.
When a Saudi Arabian petrochemical company’s machines came to a sudden halt, it soon became clear the problem was sadly not down to a mere failed bolt, but a huge spiral agitator.Repair? Out of the question. So the race began – to keep production losses to a minimum, whatever the cost. Normally shipping is by sea, and takes six weeks; a timeframe that was utterly unacceptable for the customer. So the company opted to organize air freight transport to get things moving.No expense was spared:
The only way to transport the black steel giant (5.7 m long, 4.1 m high, 4.1 m wide) by air is using an Antonov,the AN-124/100M-150 aircraft that features a wing span of 73.3 m and a takeoff weight of up 400 metric tons. It is one of the largest transport planes in the world. However, there were further special steps necessary to transport a system part of this size. The airline specified exactly how the spiral agitator should be packed and secured, and special transport apparatus was needed to meet their specifications. This apparatus helped secure all necessary fastening points on a wooden frame, which logistics staff assembled in the aircraft, around the packaged agitator. This structure was designed to prevent the package from slipping during air freight,as it is not hard to imagine what could happen if such a vast weight shifted and started moving uncontrollably around the aircraft.
From Lake Constance to the desert
The original plan was to fly direct from Friedrichshafen, however this proved impracticable: Though the Antonov would have had no problems landing there, the sheer weight of the spiral agitator would make it impossible for the aircraft to take off with a full tank of fuelas the runway there is simply too short. It would necessitate a refueling stop en route, which is extremely expensive for an aircraft like the Antonov. Instead, a heavy-duty haulage truck was deployed to travel for two days with the spiral agitator from Friedrichshafen to Munich Airport. On arrival, the load underwent lengthy checks by customs and airport security –there was a moment of panic when an explosives search dog started to bark, but fortunately it was only responding to a preservative agent used to protect the spiral agitator from rust. The transport was then escorted to a special loading field where the Antonov and two heavy-duty cranes were ready and waiting.
Everything ran like clockwork
In order to pull the spiral agitator into the Antonov’s open cargo doors, two rails were laid to run into the cargo compartment. The 12-member loading crew worked well as a team, and before too long they were able to lift the spiral agitator onto the rails and into its transport frame, from where it passed smoothly into the dimly lit hold of the aircraft.After the cargo had been secured with extensive rigging, the flight inspector gave the green lightfor the aircraft to take off for Saudi Arabia that same evening.