“Our modal shift is taking 7,000 trucks off the road each year”

The port of Antwerp is located at a junction of international connections by road, water and rail. But road transport congestion undermines accessibility for passenger transport and freight logistics. Every day, companies in and around the port are working on solutions to make mobility smoother and more sustainable. One of the many success stories of the modal shift is the collaboration between transport and logistics company Van Moer Logistics and Umicore, pioneer in developing technology for sustainable materials and their recycling.

Thanks to the modal shift, Van Moer Logistics has brought about a world of change in its collaboration with Umicore. How? By transparently joining forces and expertise in the trade flow. Discover in this article how your organisation can reap the benefits of a modal shift too.

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Van Moer Logistics: transport and logistics

For Jo Van Moer, it began with one truck in 1990. The businessman and haulier at heart quickly realised that transport by road alone was an obstacle. “The road traffic is literally and figuratively driving itself to a standstill. Logistics and transport should not only take place via roads,” says Jo Van Moer confidently. He put his money where his mouth was and, from the outset, focused on rail terminals and inland shipping logistics. Once Van Moer Logistics settled on the Left Bank, the logistics network expanded further. His vision works. There is a great need for the services of Van Moer Logistics at the port of Antwerp. Companies are jumping on the bandwagon in large numbers.

Van Moer Logistics is also an expert in cleaning and repairing tank containers. “We have many customers in the chemical sector who needed this service. We are a one-stop-shop partner for them,” says Jo.

Some illustrative figures

  • 1,450 employees
  • 500 trucks: including 37 LNG trucks
  • 1 hydrogen truck in testing with DualFuel technology
  • 600 000 containers moved in 2020: 600,000 TEU, 53% of which by inland waterway and 47% by road - leading to 7,000 fewer trucks
  • 450,000 m² of warehouses
  • Tons of desire to keep growing

    After the purchase of the terminal in Vilvoorde, the collaboration with Umicore began.
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“Because we sail past Umicore almost every day, in the direction of Vilvoorde, collaboration seemed pretty inevitable. Umicore had a high number of empty containers in circulation. Not great for efficiency or sustainability. Of course, we know how to deal with that. The first steps towards a modal shift were taken.”

Umicore: a smart and sustainable supply chain

How can a supply chain run more efficiently and smoothly? That is a question Umicore answers for its customers. Sustainable transport is about more than just getting goods from A to B. There is a lot of analysis involved. Several pillars determine the right approach. Cost, smoothness and environmental impact are weighed in each analysis.  

“We focus on efficiency,” says Elsje Verdoodt, responsible for transport and trade compliance at Umicore. “It might be as cheap, but if the goods take weeks to arrive, the attractive transportation price carries no weight at all. Everything has to be right. The climate also drives the decision.”  

Umicore was looking for a sustainable approach, i.e. one that would address social, economic and environmental aspects. Cost and efficiency remain important, but ecological benefits such as reduced CO2 emissions can often be achieved too. There was a need for a creative way to transport. This was how the combination of Umicore's import trade flow and Van Moer Logistics' customer export flow came about. That, in a nutshell, is the structure of the modal shift model at Van Moer Logistics and Umicore.  

“Thanks to Van Moer Logistics' calculation, we found a possibility for making the modal shift financially feasible too. A barge picks up several containers at once at the port and delivers them to our quay, so the trucks don't have to pass the terminal one by one and queue at the entrance to our factory,” says Elsje.

We zetten vooral in op efficiëntie. Het mag nog zo goedkoop zijn, als de goederen weken op zich laten wachten, heeft de voordelige transportprijs geen enkel gewicht. Alles moet kloppen. Ook het klimaat bepaalt de beslissing.

Elsje Verdoodt Verantwoordelijk voor transport en trade compliance bij Umicore

Transport by rail or inland waterway, a logical move

Road traffic around the port of Antwerp does not always run smoothly. Every car or truck driver who regularly passes by the Antwerp ring road can confirm this. Lorries come to a standstill in front of and behind the Kennedy Tunnel for hours. This is not great from an economic perspective and it is certainly not climate-friendly. Jo Van Moer's actions stem from a personal mission. “Any truck I can get off the road, I will get off,” he says confidently. “The wheels are always going to be there, but there are other ways to transport. Smarter, faster and more environmentally friendly.”

By rail and inland navigation, for example. In 2020, Van Moer transported more than 600,000 TEU, of which 53% via inland navigation . (For your information: That 7,000 refers to the 7,000 trips we save annually due to the modal shift at Umicore, which is worded confusingly here). Impressive figures, no?

Combining transport by rail or barge with a partnership completes the picture. The modal shift is a 360° approach to simplify logistics and transport along the port and make them greener.  

With thanks to Dennie Lockefeer

Jo van Moer speaks highly of one of the avowed visionaries of modal shift: the late Dennie Lockefeer. As a skipper, he came from a family of barge masters. The pioneer worked his way into the spotlight at DP World and later decided to support Van Moer Logistics in a mission to transport more sustainably via inland navigation. He made the first contact with Umicore and took the first steps towards this collaboration.  

As a gesture of gratitude, Jo and his team established a chair at the University of Antwerp in the name of Dennie Lockefeer. The initiative provides support in the inland navigation sector and in innovative concepts for inland navigation.

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The brake on intermodal ambitions

For more than 20 years, Van Moer Logistics and Umicore have been working towards a sustainable future and since 2014 they have been doing so together. But like any success story, this collaboration faces some unexpected challenges. Jo and Elsje see a stumbling block in the reliability of the deep-sea terminals at the port. “For imports, we can tolerate some delay, but we can't yet transport our exports through the same intermodal route. It's not reliable enough yet,” says Elsje Verdoodt. In other words: barges sometimes lose valuable time because they cannot immediately call at the deep-sea terminals in Antwerp to unload their cargo.  

“It's not just down to the terminal operator. There are several factors that cause these waiting times. There's no readily available solution,” says Jo Van Moer. And that is where Van Moer Logistics is trying to find a solution with all the parties and stakeholders involved.

Van Moer Logistics-Umicore Modal Shift 2.0

Jo Van Moer has a clear vision for the future. He wants to keep working on the intermodal story. He also knows exactly how to make it even more successful.

If companies at the port of Antwerp share their SAP (Systems Applications and Products in data processing) and want to be transparent in their shipping info, Van Moer Logistics can perfectly assess where there are opportunities. However, companies are not always eager to share that data. Those that do, though, will reap the benefits. 

Combining data from inland navigation, transporters and terminals provides insights that ensure smooth logistics and efficient transport. In the network of logistics parties and transporters, there is still a mental fear of sharing EDI links. This is a missed opportunity.  

“We understand, of course, that this information is sacrosanct,” says Jo, “but we can only take modal shift to the next level if volumes also go up and even more companies connect.”

“All the possibilities that exist in terms of digitalisation must be investigated,” Elsje confirms. This is because they are also looking for transparency for their own supply chain.  

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Umicore's responsible sourcing, an ethical approach

Wouter Ghyoot, responsible for Umicore's sustainability team, highlights a different angle of the company. In addition to simplifying the supply chain, Umicore purchases many goods that have to comply with legislation (such as conflict minerals) or with Umicore's criteria for ethical procurement (such as for battery materials).  

A conscious finger on the pulse

Since the 1990s, Umicore has been aware that it wants to do things differently. The insights into the risks have evolved over the years. But at all times, the moral compass remains a guiding principle.  

  • For example, Umicore enters into partnerships to verify on-site that no child labour is present during the extraction of raw materials. 
  • Fair Trade dealing is the only option.  
  • The partners themselves also have to be sustainable players.

Alles wat wij doen, doen we vanuit een ethische overtuiging

Wouter GhyootVerantwoordelijk voor het team duurzaamheid bij Umicore
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“Alles wat wij doen, doen we vanuit een ethische overtuiging”, zegt Wouter. “Waar er nog geen norm of standaard bestaat voor het ethisch verantwoord handelen in een supply chain, leggen we onszelf regels op. Dat zit in ons DNA”, zegt Wouter. “Er zijn risico’s verbonden aan sommige goederen die Umicore aankoopt, transporteert en verwerkt. Dan is het onze maatschappelijke verantwoordelijkheid om veilig en verantwoord te ondernemen.” 

Eagerness to go further

Van Moer Logistics is not discouraged by a bit of headwind. “The successes provide a huge boost. Every step we take is one in a sustainable direction.”

Umicore also testifies to a positive evolution since the collaboration. “Our employees work much more efficiently. Van Moer Logistics has access to our SAP. That makes it a lot easier for us.” Truck traffic in the neighbourhood has also been significantly reduced. “The time and effort we've put into this project, we've already got back out of it. We can definitely say there's been a positive Return on Investment.”


Green Deal in 2030

Van Moer Logistics and its team are thinking further. Not only from the perspective of the Green Deal for companies, but also from an innovative point of view. “Where do we want to be?” Jo regularly asks himself and his team. “I genuinely believe that we're going to achieve the Green Deal. We've been pioneers for over 30 years.”  

A scoop from Jo

We close with a scoop. Van Moer Logistics informed us that they are putting the first truck powered by hydrogen on the road. A hybrid system, because the road infrastructure is not yet equipped for 100% hydrogen vehicles. It is a decent and sustainable solution that will already save more than 95% in emissions. We are looking forward to this gem