How Do They Ship That?

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Moving cargo in today's transportation environment is tough enough as is. Throw in a few tricky variables—living, oversized goods; super-tight time constraints; and far-flung destinations—and you have a recipe for trouble. But for some shippers and transportation providers, it is all in a day's work. Here's how they do it.

Have you ever wondered how some goods arrive at their destination? Marveled at the effort and planning necessary to move cargo that perhaps, given the laws of gravity or common sense, shouldn't be put in motion? Pondered the logistics strategy and savvy necessary to make transporting the impossible not only possible but also benchmark-able?

Shippers are no strangers to pushing the limitations of cargo transportation. Carriers, forwarders, and 3PLs, for their part, are willing and complicit partners. The lengths they often go to stretch beyond ordinary imagination.

Take, for example, this recent recollection: two men in a jeep trawling along a main street in the dead of morning with an oversized pole sticking out the back. Their curious contraption served a unique purpose: measuring traffic light clearance along a proposed route for moving an oversized piece of mining equipment, ensuring nothing would get in its way. Such are the minutiae of transportation logistics planning.

Sometimes the product itself is unique. Other times, extraordinary processes move ordinary cargo. Always, these shipments are examples of logistics practices at their best.

Beginning with this issue, Inbound Logistics will periodically spotlight the detail and collaboration that go into planning routes, allocating resources, and executing transportation strategies to move these special types of cargo—the ones that leave you scratching your head, wondering: "How do they ship that?"

A Whale Shark's Tale

Shippers are relentlessly challenged with minimizing and managing exceptions to avoid costly, untimely delays. But for some shippers, exceptions—even the living, breathing, largest-fish-in-the-world kind—are the norm.

When the Georgia Aquarium and UPS teamed up to move a pair of female whale sharks from a sea pen off the coast of Taipei, Taiwan, to the Atlanta aquarium in June 2006, they were challenged with executing a transportation itinerary few had undertaken before—from the blue ocean to the blue skies, to the newest and largest aquarium in the world.

The sharks, Alice and Trixie, made it safely to their new home thanks largely to Tim Binder, director of husbandry for the Georgia Aquarium. Binder is responsible for all animal care operations, as well as coordinating and managing the safe transportation of marine life to the aquarium.

One year before Alice and Trixie's much-anticipated arrival, Binder and his team, with the help of UPS, successfully transported two male whale sharks from Taiwan—appropriately named Ralph and Norton. This move garnered aquarium handlers valuable experience for executing Alice and Trixie's subsequent "honeymoon" move; they truncated the planning phase from one year to six weeks.

Extraordinary deliveries are nothing new for the aquarium. The $200-million facility, which opened in November 2005, features 100,000 animals on exhibit, representing 500 species from all over the world.

"Over the past year, we have moved more than 48 tanks of fish and mammals to the Georgia Aquarium," says Diana Hatcher, spokesperson for UPS Supply Chain Solutions.

An animal's species and size often dictate the transportation mode the aquarium uses, notes Binder. "We set protocol and standards for the way animals are transported. We have a team with a history and expertise in moving animals," he explains.

To transport smaller animals, the aquarium uses commercial freight forwarders and traditional cargo routes. But some moves require additional dedicated resources and special expertise.

"When we transported octopus from the Pacific Northwest, for example, we used a commercial airline. But moving beluga whales requires a dedicated charter aircraft," he notes.

For Alice and Trixie's trip, the Georgia Aquarium relied on UPS to meet three primary objectives, says Hatcher: logistics planning; configuring the containers and securing the aircraft needed to transport the whale sharks; and customs clearance.

Aquarium staff met with UPS' logistics employees and loadmasters to design a strategy. "First, UPS had to reengineer one of its B-747 freighters so customized holding tanks could lock into the aircraft for proper balance," says Hatcher. "The transport required two tanks, each weighing 25 tons, including the water and the fish."

The interior of the aircraft was also retrofitted to secure custom containers with marine life support systems and an onboard lab that enabled aquarium veterinarians to proactively monitor the status of the whale sharks and check water vitals during transit.

Getting the whale sharks on the plane was no easy task either. They were kept in a sea pen 100 yards offshore; securing the animals for transport depended on calm weather and seas. As a result, the Georgia Aquarium had to determine a three-day window where a 747 charter could be on-call, ready to go at a moment's notice.

"Beyond that three-day window, we faced significant cost overages," Binder adds.

When moving day arrived, Alice and Trixie were airlifted on a Belfast turboprop freighter to Taipei, then loaded onto the custom UPS B-747 for a flight to Atlanta, via Anchorage, Alaska. UPS charged one of its more experienced loadmasters with ensuring that everything transpired according to plan. UPS also took care of necessary customs clearance paperwork for the animals as well as the shipment handler's documentation.

In flight, the freighter's pilots were equally challenged to mimic the conditions of the ocean to mitigate stress on Alice and Trixie.

"We set environmental controls to ensure the sharks' comfort," explains Hatcher. The plane's temperature, for example, was increased to 75 degrees, versus the traditional 69 degrees, to more closely reflect the fish's habitat. "The transport also required long takeoffs and landings, and gradual turns while in air, to similarly avoid unnecessary stress on the sharks," she adds.

Upon arrival at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after 30 hours in flight, Alice and Trixie were transloaded to specially designed trailers for a police escort to the aquarium.

Even the homestretch delivery required additional planning. Binder checked the Atlanta Braves' schedule to make sure there wasn't a conflicting baseball game or traffic issues to contend with while transporting the whale sharks to the aquarium.

In the end, the Georgia Aquarium proved to be the venue for a honeymoon unlike any other. And in case anyone forgets the efforts and planning that facilitated this union, a replica of the special transportation containers are on display in the aquarium gallery. For UPS, it was just another whale shark's tale.

Putting the Show on the Road

Moving a circus is no small feat. Moving the "Circus of the Sun," however, requires transportation and logistics capabilities that go to the ends of the earth, and then some.

When Montreal, Canada-based Cirque du Soleil took its touring Quidam show on the road to Dubai last January, it enlisted the resources and expertise of GAC Logistics to spearhead the move. Scheduled to headline Dubai's month-long Shopping Festival, the circus had to pack up shop in Norfolk, Va., and move its equipment to the United Arab Emirates in three days.

In all, 1,040 tons of professional equipment—including marquees and canvas for the tents, seating and scaffolding, sound systems, drapes, props, customized costumes for the performers, and the entire mobile office including eight heavy-duty air conditioning units—had to be moved to the performance venue at Ibn Battuta Mall.

Entertainment logistics is Dubai-based GAC Logistics' hallmark. With more than 50 years of experience in the Middle East, its extensive network, expertise, and infrastructure have made it the logistics service provider of choice for stars such as Sting, Phil Collins, and Bryan Adams bound for venues in Dubai, Jordan, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and Bahrain.

"For these types of moves, when goods arrive, they must clear customs, be delivered to the venue, and unpacked. Following the show, the equipment is packed up, delivered back to the airport, and forwarded on to the next show or destination, within as few as 12 hours," explains Matthew Diggle, business manager, freight services, GAC Dubai.

GAC's track record in this niche field demonstrated the flexibility and integrated logistics capabilities necessary to carry out Cirque du Soleil's stringent requirements.

In all entertainment logistics, the size of the equipment being shipped and the urgency of the move makes proper due diligence a must. "Successful logistics execution for shows involves several months of rigorous planning, meticulous execution, and unlimited adrenaline," says Diggle.

For each performance, GAC Logistics is involved from the beginning of the planning phase to counsel tour promoters and managers, and to blueprint the most time- and cost-efficient route for transporting equipment. GAC Logistics' dedicated team supervises the entire transportation process, which is often executed within tight time parameters.

Cirque du Soleil shipped its marquees in open-top containers to facilitate the offloading process. Using open-top as well as high-cube containers was necessary due to the size and shape of some of the cargo. With rigorous planning months before the actual operation, GAC Logistics was able to accommodate the entire job using ocean freight, the more economical option given the shipment's 104 massive containers.

"The containers were transported on three ocean vessels due to carrier space constraints. After customs clearance and formalities, we used a fleet of side-loader trucks to execute the equipment turnaround in three nights," notes Diggle.

Once on land, GAC utilized off-loader trucks to safely handle the cargo and minimize the number of transfers from Point A to Point B, as well as to accommodate time and space constraints on-site. Making sure the shipments arrived in time to set up for the debut performance was not without inherent obstacles.

"We were working against the clock because of Dubai road restrictions for truck movements. We also had to consider conditions at the busy port and traffic congestion on the main roads. In addition, the shopping mall required us to work at night so we didn't interrupt normal business," Diggle says.

GAC also synchronized delivery of every piece of equipment because the venue could only accommodate one trailer at a time. This entailed coordinating the movement of equipment from a temporary staging area nearby, and making multiple trips to the event venue.

As is the case with any big transport move, contingency planning is another part of the process. Problems are bound to occur and building flexibility and responsiveness into the itinerary is essential to mitigate costly delays.

"We often encounter last-minute changes in schedule or venue, so contingency planning expertise is crucial," says Diggle. "We have an 'emergency preparedness' mindset—we are ready to deal with any contingency at any stage of the job. We must be fast, flexible, and resourceful to cope with changes, but also operate with clockwork precision."

Partnering with a logistics service provider as experienced as GAC Logistics is an important consideration for businesses facing transportation challenges as varied and unique as Cirque du Soleil.

GAC Logistics is already well into planning Cirque du Soleil's next stop, in Pusan, Korea. When your business is show business, the show must move on.

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