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Safer handling of hazardous fluids thanks to efficient information management

Safer handling of hazardous fluids thanks to efficient information management

The Rotterdam Botlek area has countless tanks for the storage and transhipment of, amongst other things, hazardous fluids and heavy fuel oil. One of the operators of part of those tanks is Rubis Terminal. Asset-manager Ed Kool has to make sure that all processes regarding the filling, emptying, and cleaning of the tanks, and making them ready for use is done in a safe, efficient, and effective manner. This involves a large amount of and vital information and documentation. With the help of premium M-Files partner GeONE, Kool will get all the information processes entirely under control.

Rubis Terminal is a French company by origin and with its multiple locations in Europe, it is an important player within the terminal market. ‘Rubis Terminal stands out in this industry as we have a high level of flexibility and generate a high client satisfaction’, says Kool. ‘The contracts with our clients can be concluded within 10 to 14 days. That is truly exceptional in our branch. On the other hand, this flexibility requires that we have complete control of all the processes and information regarding the storage and transhipment of these so-called K1 fluids. You can imagine that the involvement of these hazardous substances is strictly regulated and monitored by the various controlling bodies.’

The availability of information is crucial

What processes are involved with a company such as Rubis Terminal? Kool: ‘Our clients want to store their heavy fuel oil or K1 fluids for a shorter or longer period of time in order to distribute them further to their clients or companies that act as brokers. In the Netherlands, Rubis Terminal has 38 tanks for K1 fluids and another six tanks for heavy fuel oil. These substances cannot be pumped directly from a ship or tanker lorry into the tanks. This is why pipelines and couplings are constructed to pump these fluids from the port, where the ships are docked, to the relevant tank of Rubis Terminal. Every aspect – from the point of delivery to the final destination in the tank – with regard to pipelines, couplings, fluids, tanks, fluid transport, maintenance status, etc. is monitored and guided with a large amount of (mainly technical) information.

A well-functioning ‘ecosystem’ is crucial for optimal risk management.

We need to document all the processes and hardware, and even have certifications for many of them. This is, naturally, related to the safety and risks that are involved in the transport and the storage and transhipment of these hazardous chemical substances. We have 46 tanks in total, and this basically means that we also have 46 different management systems. Safeguarding the safety of the storage and transhipment processes is almost like a military operation while, at the same time, the processes must be unambiguous and all the relevant information must be up-to-date, complete, and available to the people who need the use it. When it comes to optimal risk control, the proper functioning of the entire ‘ecosystem’ of infrastructure and technology is crucial’.


The immediate availability of information was something we needed to address. ‘Everything was in place, complete, and available, but the time and manner in which the information was stored appeared to be not as logical for some people as we wanted it to be. When a technical person stores something according to his own logical mind, it will not be as clear to someone else. This could pose a risk in case of an emergency. That is why I wanted to find a solution for that; information had to be available to those who are directly involved at any time and place, in the most up-to-date version and, preferably, also include all other relevant information.’

Grip on risks

The main process at Rubis Terminal is the repeated ‘conversion’ from a filled tank to an empty tank which is ready to be used by a next client. Kool: ‘That is where the biggest risks lie: are there any residues in the tank because it has not been properly cleaned; is the maintenance of the couplings in order; is the documentation on the tank and the substances it has held correct, etc. We need to have 100% certainty on these issues. And this also included the handling of the substances. It is a complex matter that involves significant risks and which can have rather devastating effects when something goes wrong’.

Many of the risks are predetermined and we installed the necessary precautions. Kool: ‘But the final 5% of the risks depend on, for example, an operator who needs information to carry out checks adequately and quickly. Our kind of company falls within the category of the so-called DOMAH companies (Directive on Major Accidents Hazards). These companies are strictly monitored and everything has to be in good order at all times. But this also still means that we have to constantly check whether everything actually functions as it should, and this has to be documented in an orderly and easily accessible manner. Until recently, we used Windows Explorer, with a straightforward file structure. This will suit the person who structured it, but when you access it as an outsider, it can sometimes be difficult to find what you are looking for. This terminal has been here for 10 years, and there have been numerous projects. When I have to be able to guarantee visibility, transparency, and accountability, I do not want to have all this information in a relatively unstructured system such as Windows Explorer. This was a reason for us to make an inventory: what do we want, which requirements and needs are involved, and which choice would be the most logical one? Accordingly, we would transfer the existing information to the new system.’

Expertise and experience at GeONE

Another issue playing in the background was that the headquarters in France was also considering a transition. However, this took too long for Ed Kool. ‘It did mean that we had to make a conscious choice for a solution that would not impede the company’s future developments but which would be used flexibly. To cut a long story short, we came to the conclusion that M-Files would be the best suitable solution for our problem and that GeONE, based on their expertise and experience, would be the best partner to assist us with this project.

M-Files is voor ons het ideale systeem: informatie altijd vindbaar op basis van ‘wat’ iets is in plaats van waar het staat opgeslagen

The unique feature of M-Files is that it can manage complex, technical information just as well as the more ‘traditional’ information, as we mostly see with DM systems. During the transfer of all existing information to M-Files, we chose to take care of the transfer process first and then to attach the metadata. In hindsight, it might have been better to do this in a reversed order as it would have given us the opportunity to clean up all our information first and maintain the truly relevant maintenance information. However, this was our choice at the time, and it was certainly not any fault of M-Files. For us, M-Files is the ideal system: it can always quickly retrieve the right documents based on what the information is, wherever they are stored. When the search term or keyword that was entered is relevant to the document, M-Files will find it. Windows Explorer forced us to use a certain path otherwise you would never find the document. Another important advantage is that, when we have linked our systems, M-Files will also be able to show all the other relevant documents, so the user will see the document immediately in the right context as well. This saves time and money. During an audit, we can clearly and quickly demonstrate how everything works, what processes have been done, and which documents we have to testify to this. With regard to the structuring of that part and the implementation of the accompanying business rules, GeONE has been particularly helpful. This shows their wide experience, that they understand the matter, and that they focus on this industry. This enables us to get the most out of M-Files.’

Document Controller

Rubis Terminal has already employed a new Document Controller who will start soon. Kool: ‘The Controller can further optimise the process of storing and the management of documents via M-Files within Rubis Terminal, so we can benefit even more. We want to work towards a system that has ‘one single point of truth‘, and this will be M-Files. Links with our existing systems, such as the asset management system and the work order system, have to complete the integration. That is when we can utilise M-Files at its best. There will be no technician who is going to have a problem with finding specific documents.’

The second project with M-Files is now executed as well: the management of the safety procedures and protocols. Kool: ‘It goes without saying that the traceability and topicality of these documents are crucial for our operations, risk management, and accountability. The fact that these are now managed in M-Files has the added benefit that our people are becoming more and more accustomed to using M-Files. Which is good as we will utilise it increasingly often. Our terminal in Antwerp is following this process with great interest, as is our headquarters, of course’.

A final remark by Ed Kool: ‘M-Files gives me peace of mind. I am not having any sleepless nights about the hazardous substances we store and tranship for our clients, but the amount and importance of the documentation that is involved did worry me sometimes. That is all in the past now’.

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