The Strategic Advantage of Mini-Terminals for Chemical Distributors

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Q: What’s the difference between a sightseeing tour bus and most minibulk chemical delivery trucks?

A: The sightseeing tour bus has windows on the back

Working with chemical distributors over the years it was really surprising to learn how often tankers return to distribution terminals with a considerable about of product still on board. This is what’s behind the sightseeing tour bus analogy above; these companies are effectively driving the chemicals around town just to bring them back at the end of the day.  Well, chemicals are heavy and every mile on the truck is another mile of deprecation and risk exposure to the company. The route plan for every chemical distribution operations group should be to drive the fewest miles possible and always return empty. It’s all about maximizing the pounds delivered and minimizing the time and cost doing it.

The Mini-Terminal

A Mini-Terminal typically consists of 3-5 tanks with each having a capacity to accept a full tanker delivery while maintaining adequate heel to account for lead times. All tanks have intrinsic secondary containment so containment does not need to be part of the terminal facility itself, though in some localities a “bermed” pad with at least 110% containment of the largest tank may be required. This allows tanks to be easily moved or added to the location. There are no bottom outlets on the tanks for additional physical containment security; all product is pumped in / out from the top, and the pump on the tanker does the pumping.

Where are mini-terminals located?

The catch-all answer to where is a good location; wherever you can find one close to where your drivers live. The site requirements are minimal but do include:

  • Easy access for tankers
  • Good lighting and excellent physical security (ideally a location physically observed or w/remote video surveillance, with a good fence, gate and lock
  • Safety Water (shower / eyewash / rinse hose)
  • A 24/7 emergency response plan for any releases

Distributors can negotiate some lot space on property belonging to suppliers, customers, or 3rd parties. Located at the edge of geographical territory supportable by a full scale distribution terminal, the mini-terminal serves as a product oasis to support customers in the expanded regions.

Safety

It’s highly desirable to use the buddy system when loading trucks & receiving deliveries, for some companies it’s mandatory.  When loading and unloading you’ll want to plan to have multiple drivers at the terminal if possible, or have account managers that are working that territory trained to assist.

How are they used?

Tank telemetry is an important tool in supporting mini-terminals as inventories need be known by customer service for effective route planning and supply replenishment. Multi-day route plans can be created. Drivers can use the mini-terminal to resupply their load at the end of their route day, and resume deliveries in the expanded territories the next day. Product suppliers can be tasked with delivering directly to the mini-terminal, and your drivers can off-load any remaining product at the mini-terminal when returning from a multi-day route.

The Strategic Advantage

A remote mini-terminal with the right chemicals at the right location can allow distributors to compete in territories that were previously impractical to support. When distributors do this cost effectively they can shake up markets we’re customers have been historically limited to local suppliers.

By Dan Comp (Subject Matter Expert) and Bernie Crump

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