Borealis Polymers Oy, which is a part of the international Borealis group, manufactures plastics and basic chemicals in Kilpilahti. A large portion of Borealis’ raw materials are transported in tank wagons from different locations in Russia.
"The material transports from Russia are a strategic competitive advantage for us. Because of this, we need to have a very reliable transport service," Danny Van Gansen, Head of Global Logistics Sourcing - at the Borealis Group, emphasises.
Borealis also expects the transports to be economical. However, safety remains the priority
"We review and measure safety very comprehensively and we see our service providers as extensions of our own company," Van Gansen explains.
"We review and measure safety very comprehensively."
After the Vainikkala border station, VR Transpoint is responsible for the Borealis transports. The aim is to ensure a raw material supply that is as evenly spread as possible and in accordance with Borealis’ needs.
In addition to transport, the cooperation covers checking the wagons at the border, wagon maintenance, weighing the wagons, shunting work at the Kilpilahti railway yard, planning the transports and preparing documentation to Borealis.
Chemical industry’s own system
SQAS auditing, which is internationally used by the chemical industry, became possible in Finland in 2019. Borealis and VR Transpoint decided to have the auditing done and find out how well the service actually works. The initiative came from Borealis.
"We have demanded a SQAS audit mostly from our partners who operate our road transports, but also increasingly from the railway operators. Due to the important role rail logistics have in Finland, the audit was necessary," Van Gansen says.
VR Transpoint was happy to participate in the evaluation.
"We immediately replied that we are happy to participate even in a larger audit. We decided that this was also a way for us to develop our own operations and deepen our cooperation with Borealis," says Jani Kangasjärvelä, VR Transpoint’s regional manager for Southern Finland.
The SQAS, meaning Safety & Quality Assessment for Sustainability, is an auditing system widely used in the chemical industry. The reliability of the auditing is monitored by the parent organisation of European chemical industry, European Chemical Industry Council, or Cefic.
The SQAS reviews the logistics service providers’ operations very extensively and in detail. The audit covers the quality, safety, environment and social responsibility of the operations.
In practice, auditing is a very extensive checklist the inspector uses to find out if the matter in question has been performed in accordance with the requirements of the SQAS system.
The audit began in October in Vainikkala and continued in Kilpilahti. There were plenty of questions. How has the personnel been trained? Can they comply with the instructions? How is the documentation carried out? And because VR Transpoint was audited for the first time, the audit also covered the operations of the headquarters in Pasila.
"It was a big excercise. The audit lasted an entire week," Kangasjärvelä tells.
Safety and risk management at a good level
The end result delighted both Borealis and VR Transpoint. The operations of the whole group, meaning VR Group Ltd, received the evaluation grade of 96 % with the maximum being 100 %. The evaluation grade the operations in Kilpilahti received was 92 %.
"All in all, a strong performance. We are very happy with the overall result," says Van Gansen.
The audit results convey that the transports’ safety and risk management are at a high level. The information systems used in the traffic control and planning of the transports operate well and the processing of the orders is fluent.
To Kangasjärvelä, the report also reveals that the work put into improving safety has been fruitful.
"Our personnel know how to comply with the instructions and information flows both internally and between stakeholders."
"All in all, a strong performance."
From the report, Van Gansen can find only one clear target for development.
"The safety does not account for the human factor well enough. There are some shortcomings in the behaviour-based safety and training and we need to fix those."
Results clearly above the European average
The SQAS gives the results of the reports to all companies connected to the system. They give the companies of the chemical industry the opportunity to evaluate the logistics service providers according to their own standards and requirements.
Correspondingly, the audited companies receive a report for their own use and can compare the quality of their own operations in relation to the European average.
In the European comparison, VR Transpoint was very successful. VR Group’s reference value was 70 % and Kilpilahti’s was 86 %.
"Comparison to foreign operators reassures us that we can operate very well and safely, in a professional manner and that we can prove that through a recognised and extensive audit. It gives us the faith to grow our business," says Kangasjärvelä.
Railway yard safety at a high level
The report is still so new that analysing it and starting the corrective measures have only begun.
"We have agreed that VR Transpoint will inspect the results in order to further improve their performance. In the quarterly meeting we will look together where they did well and what could be done even better," says Bodil Lindström, Supply Chain Manager at Borealis Polymers.
Kangasjärvelä estimates that the flow of information, which is already at a good level, should be improved continuously.
"We want to ensure that everybody knows how things proceed at the railway yard. If there is a deviation or a disruption, all parties will be informed about it and we will take care that all jointly agreed measures will be implemented."
In Kangasjärvelä’s opinion, the area safety of the Kilpilahtirailway yard is already well established.
"The railway yard infrastructure has been refurbished. The cooperation and safety training of the operators in Kilpilahti area is extensive and of high quality. Safety is also improved by the fact that we have procured for all the area’s employees detectors that will give the alarm immediately if there is a gas leak. This is also Borealis’ prerequisite for working in the area."
Close daily communication
The audit shows clearly that Borealis’ railtransports work reliably. Kangasjärvelä believes that the success can be explained with the long-term cooperation that covers the operations of the whole supply chain.
Borealis’ wagons depart from many different departure stations around Russia. Borealis directs the loading so that the flow stays as even as possible.
Cooperation becomes more intensive when the wagons cross the Finnish border and begin to show up in the VR Transpoint planning system. The wagons are delivered from Vainikkala to Kilpilahti with full trains. The trains are paced so that the railway yard does not become crowded.
Shunting work is planned carefully. Borealis is first delivered the wagons that have to be unloaded quickly. The communication with Borealis is mainly performed by the station personnel and shunting work managers working at the railway yard. The communication is intensive and efficient on all levels, from running the daily operational activities to planning the future of quarterly meetings.
The empty wagons are returned to Russia as quickly as possible. This makes rotating them more efficient.
VR Transpoint does also carry out the product transports in Finland for the butadiene manufactured by Borealis.
"The amount of product transports is clearly smaller than the incoming traffic, but these transports are also critical for us," Van Gansen explains.