Special Deliveries: Moving the Gargantuan, the Precious, and the Peculiar

Special Deliveries: Moving the Gargantuan, the Precious, and the Peculiar

When it comes to transporting the oversized, the awkward, the exotic, and the endangered, the secret to success is planning, planning, and more planning.

The professionals behind special projects operations can’t leave any aspect of the mission to chance—not when an exhibit of unusual artifacts is scheduled to open in a few weeks, not when a critical component of an expensive construction project must arrive on time and in perfect condition, and certainly not when a conservation center urgently awaits a shipment of four endangered odd-toed ungulates.

And should the best-laid plans encounter resistance, seasoned pros recommend deep breathing and even reciting mantras. Mollie Bailey, the Dallas-based director of LCB International Logistics at third-party logistics (3PL) provider Transplace, summons her sustaining wisdom from the stoic Brits of World War II: When the bombs fall, “keep calm and carry on.”

That’s sage advice for the supply chain managers involved in the following recent project logistics missions.

Rhinos on the Move

As the population of white rhinoceros dwindles—due largely to out-of-control poaching—the conservation community is fighting horn and hoof to save the species.

Their efforts include transporting healthy animals to special centers with breeding programs that aim not just to increase the head count, but also to develop best practices in the effort. None of this is easy—least of all the conveyance of the hefty beasts, which can weigh as much as 5,000 pounds.

Determined to do its part to ensure the white rhino’s longevity, the Bester Birds and Animals Zoo Park in Pretoria, South Africa, decided to dispatch four of the animals to Florida’s Center for Conservation of Tropical Ungulates, home to a species survival program specializing in breeding.

The job of shipping the rhinos from Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Miami International Airport fell to IAG Cargo, a firm created in 2011 following the merger of British Airways World Cargo and Iberia Cargo.

IAG Cargo’s live animal operation has emerged as a go-to source for the world’s zoos and conservation programs—in part because of its next-generation A380 aircraft. The double-deck, widebody airliner’s temperature management systems provide for precise climate controls during the flight. That allows IAG Cargo to ship everything from day-old chicks to exotic turtles to adult sharks, according to Daniel Johnson, the company’s manager of global products.

Once IAG Cargo accepted the Bester park’s assignment, planning began in earnest. “We started working with Bester a few months before the actual movement of the animals,” Johnson explains. That planning involved everything from initiating the paperwork associated with transporting animals across international borders to plotting the journey to working with veterinarians to ensure the animals’ safety, health, and comfort.

“Unlike a normal piece of cargo, we have to make sure we treat the animals with the same care as a passenger on the aircraft,” Johnson says. In other words, the animals must have timely access to food and water, as well as comfortable temperatures and protection from trauma.

A big part of any animal operation involves compliance with the International Air Transport Association’s Live Animal Regulations (LAR) and the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In the interest of safe and humane shipping, the LAR provides container specifications for every species likely to fly the friendly skies. For example, LAR requires that rhinos are shipped in crates that allow them to stand naturally, without being cramped, but that also prevent them from moving freely and thus risking injury.

“On top of that, IAG Cargo takes additional measures,” Johnson says. “We don’t want to just be compliant; we want to add value.”

Value comes in the form of specially trained staff. IAG Cargo employs a dedicated live animal product manager and ensures that other staff and crew have any training necessary. For example, when moving livestock, the firm asks that ramp handlers at the various airports be trained in loading and unloading live animals.

“We want to minimize the stress to the animals,” Johnson says, noting that IAG Cargo asks that animals be loaded onto the plane last, minimizing their exposure to bewildering noises and unnerving jostling.

If job one is keeping the animals calm and safe, job two involves relieving the anxiety of any humans flying along. That’s why IAG Cargo offers what Johnson calls “airside access.” As soon as the plane lands, and before the animals are unloaded, the owner’s representative or the accompanying vet can check on their charges. This provides immediate peace of mind. And if the worst has happened, and the animal needs attention, airside access makes a speedy response feasible.

For the four Miami-bound rhinos, the journey went as smoothly as possible. Their two-leg flight put them in the air for more than 22 hours, with a stop 11 hours in at London Heathrow Airport. There, the animals spent a five-hour layover at the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre, staffed by animal handler specialists equipped to deal with almost any circumstance.

Once in Florida, the rhinos cleared the bureaucracy without incident—always a relief.

When shipping animals from one country to another, Johnson notes, it’s especially important that all paperwork is checked and double-checked. A missing document or a lapsed certification can result in delays that put the animal at risk for added stress and discomfort—to say nothing of the effect on the blood pressure of the homo sapiens involved.

Too Big to Fail: Transporting the Super-sized

Cargo that bleats, grunts, growls, and snarls may bring special challenges to logistics professionals, but so does moving the over- and odd-sized piece of equipment.

Throughout his long career in logistics, Thomas Mauerer, manager of international transportation at Rockwell Automation, encountered his share of “you want me to do what?” moments. But none of them rivaled the assignment that came his way when his company won an engineering, procurement, construction, and management contract for a new energy plant in Akron, Ohio.

One component of the Vadxx Energy LLC plant was an 80-foot-long, 175,000-pound kiln designed to melt scrap plastic left over from manufacturing operations. The melted plastic is converted to liquid fuel for the plant, making it one of the few “waste-to-energy” operations in the United States.

When Mauerer was initially charged with transporting the massive kiln from Germany to Akron, the task didn’t faze him. “I thought we were just picking up a crate,” he recalls. But once he was briefed on the kiln’s weight and dimensions, he took the requisite deep breath. “I said, ‘OK, here’s another day in our life.’ There are always challenges in the life we live.

“I have been with Rockwell for 33 years, and have never moved anything this big,” Mauerer explains. “Besides the kiln, we also had to move 15,000 pounds of combustion chamber and seven ocean containers of auxiliary equipment.”

To make matters more interesting, Mauerer faced a ticking clock and looming winter.

“We found out about this assignment around August or September,” Mauerer recalls, adding that the kiln needed to ship in October or November if it was to arrive, via the preferred route, in time.

Once he assessed the job, Mauerer called on Lisa Cain,
global account director for DB Schenker, a freight company with extensive ocean shipping experience.

Together, Mauerer and Cain sized up the job and set to work answering a host of questions. Which shipping route is preferable? Could they book that much space on a vessel with so little notice? And how could they ensure the kiln arrived in mint condition, ready for a seamless installation? After all, the construction timeline and budget didn’t leave room for ordering a replacement kiln.

When evaluating shipping routes, the best option seemed to be the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Port of Cleveland. That would put the kiln within about 50 miles of its ultimate destination, thus eliminating the need to truck an oversized load from a New England port across several states—each with its own rules, regulations, and permitting.

Because the St. Lawrence Seaway typically closes sometime in December, the timeline left little room for flexibility. So Cain and her special projects team scrambled to book space on a Cleveland-bound vessel sailing from Antwerp, Belgium.

“We were fighting Mother Nature on this one,” Mauerer recalls.

With passage secured, another problem arose. Ordinarily, the kiln would have been crated for its journey, but there simply wasn’t time to build a suitable container. “If we were going to make the shipping date, we couldn’t wait for the crate to be built,” Mauerer says.

Fortunately, the packaging company in Duisburg, Germany, provided a solution: They stretch-wrapped the kiln, cushioning it so that it could withstand the jolts and bumps associated with a long journey. Snug in its wrapper, the kiln then traveled the Rhine by barge to Antwerp. Barge travel fit in with Cain’s priority of minimizing risk of damage. “It involved less trucking, so that meant less handling,” she says.

With minimizing damage in mind, Cain also opted to ship the kiln inside the vessel. The last thing anyone wanted was for it to roll off the deck and into the Atlantic. “It cost a little more money, but you can’t have that kind of equipment exposed,” she says. “You can’t take that risk.”

The kiln arrived in Cleveland in December, well ahead of the dramatic snowfalls and frigid temperatures that characterized the winter of 2015. It took one full day and special cranes to unload it.

Because the kiln wasn’t due at the construction site until February, Cain and Mauerer faced another challenge. What should they do with it until then? Should it sit outside, unsheltered, through a brutal winter?

They posed that challenge to the Port of Cleveland, which devised a solution that made maximum use of readily available resources. “The port constructed a small warehouse,” Mauerer says. “They took about 10 ocean containers, built a small house and garage, and put our crate under it.”

By February, the construction site needed the kiln. Because of its enormous size, it was trucked to Akron in the middle of the night, when it was least likely to disrupt traffic. Accompanied by safety escorts, the kiln proceeded down Interstate 77 at a stately 20 to 30 miles per hour, on two 45-foot flatbed trailers, hitched back to back.

The kiln was installed on Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, right on schedule. It was only then that Mauerer could fully relax, confident that the logistics team had delivered the kiln on time and in perfect condition. “Dealing with many of those deadlines created some anxious moments,” he says.

Precious Cargo: Delivering a Cultural Heritage

How do you move a few centuries worth of ideas and genius from one side of the pond to the other? By delegating, of course.

As an international science and cultural heritage organization, UK-based 1001 Inventions is in the business of educating people all over the world about the accomplishments of Islam’s golden age. When it needed to move five ocean containers of high-value reproductions and exhibit materials from a venue in Virginia to Karlstad, Sweden— home of the renowned Värmlands Museum— it trusted the job to Transplace, an international 3PL headquartered in Frisco, Texas.

“By the time Transplace became involved, the Virginia exhibit had already closed, and they had crated it,” says Mollie Bailey, Transplace’s director of LCB International Logistics.

The exhibit had been traveling the United States for five years and was due in Sweden one month ahead of opening day. The plan allowed time for travel by ship, but not a moment to spare.

Ordinarily, booking space on a ship wouldn’t have been a problem. After all, plenty of vessels regularly travel between the United States and Sweden. But, as Bailey discovered, just any vessel wouldn’t do.

“The hardest part on the front end was finding the right carrier with the right vessels,” she explains. Finding the “right” vessels proved of particular concern to risk-averse insurance companies.

“Securing marine insurance for the exhibit was challenging,” she recalls. Insurance companies wouldn’t provide coverage if they deemed a ship too old—and thus at higher risk for a jeopardized crossing. So Transplace had to locate a suitable ship of just the right age that would be traveling at just the right time.

And with just the right amount of space, Bailey adds. Transplace did not want to resort to the all-too-common recourse of splitting containers between ships. What’s more, it wanted direct transit, with no stops between Virginia and Sweden.

Those tricky issues resolved, Transplace also worked to monitor the loading of the containers. “These were valuable materials,” Bailey says. “They could not just get slammed into the ship.”

The journey took three weeks, and throughout that time, Bailey imagined the many possible scenarios of things gone awry. “In the past, I have had containers fall off ships,” she says.

And therein lies the challenge. “To me, logistics is a game of chess,” says Bailey. “In chess, your competition is the other player, but in logistics, your opponent is everything else—the elements, the schedule, the entire A to Z gamut of things that can go wrong.”

As it happened, the vessel docked on time, the cargo cleared customs without a glitch, and the exhibit materials made their way to their next gig in the spotlight.

Thinking Outside the Box and on Your Feet

When it comes to transporting items that don’t fit neatly within a crane-friendly crate, it’s important to think outside the box, to improvise, and to check and double check the math.

Just ask Jacksonville, Fla.-based marine solutions, transportation, and logistics company Crowley Maritime Corp. Tasked by ATS International to transport two electrical equipment enclosures from the United States to Puerto Rico, it began troubleshooting the job even as the ink was drying on the signed contract. And that wasn’t a moment too soon, considering the sheer size and weight of the enclosures. Together, the 12-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide, and 63-foot-long enclosures weighed a staggering 196,000 pounds.

“Generally, when looking to move a piece of equipment like this, the biggest considerations are weight and dimensions,” says Bob Weist, vice president of North America transportation for Crowley. In the case of the enclosures, their heft meant special equipment and procedures every step of the way. Just delivering them to the port required over-length, four-axle specialty trailers.

The enclosures were scheduled for a late February 2015 crossing aboard La Princessa, Crowley’s 580-foot triple-deck barge. Despite La Princessa‘s delicate name, she boasts the deck strength to handle supersized cargo.

Loading the enclosures aboard the craft required a seldom-used procedure: shifting the barge so the trailers carrying the two pieces could be rolled onto the lower deck without obstruction from the loading ramp.

Each step of the process required careful analysis, because, as Weist says, there was no margin for error. Were top-loading cranes needed? Floating derricks? Where, given weight distribution, should the enclosures ride out the trip?

“Crowley has zero tolerance with regard to incidents and accidents,” Weist says, noting that the enclosures were one-of-a-kind items that could not be refabricated quickly, easily, or cheaply.

To get the enclosures safely aboard La Princessa, a tug pushed the barge 100 feet beside its normal berth. There, it was secured to the dock with wires and chains. The barge was then ballasted down to match the dock height, while two harbor tugs pressed against it on opposite sides at 90-degree angles to hold it in place. Even the slightest movement would have been unwelcome, Weist notes, so plans called for the crew to work during a time with no ship traffic, to avoid even a moderate wake upsetting the operation.

Once the barge and dock were level, the trailers carrying the enclosures were backed onto the vessel, where they took up eight trailer spaces in the barge’s stern. The enclosures were the last items loaded, Weist says. Six days later, on schedule and in good condition, they were the first unloaded in San Juan.

When odd- and over-sized items must move by air, the process is just as complex and detail sensitive.

Steve Downing, project manager of the Engineering & Logistics Centre at Volga-Dnepr Group, specializes in just such projects, par avion.

With offices in Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Volga-Dnepr maintains a fleet of 17 An-124-100 freighters, which Downing describes as “the largest commercial cargo aircraft in the world.” They’re ready to fly a load to its destination when, say, special equipment is needed to address an emergency in an oil field or a problem arises at a remote construction site.

Siemens, Europe’s largest engineering company, recently commissioned Volga-Dnepr’s logistics team to deliver a 50-ton rotor from an airport in Germany to Mumbai, India. The job didn’t require an overnight turnaround, but it was marked ASAP. In other words, there was no time to send it by sea.

“We got the inquiry from the client on January 28, 2015. Seventeen days later, we flew and delivered the cargo,” Downing says, noting that ideally, the logistics team prefers six months for planning.

Regardless of the time frame, the process begins with load and route planning. Load planning encompasses a review of the technical drawings. “We hope these show the various lashing and securing points,” Downing explains. That helps the team plan how the cargo will be situated within the craft. If the drawings aren’t adequate, a load-planning expert may travel to the origination point to examine the cargo in advance to determine whether adjustments need to be made.

The route planning pros, meanwhile, review everything from the permits associated with highway travel to the “traffic lights” associated with entering the airspace of any countries on the flight plan. They also make sure that, when road travel is involved, any bridges or tunnels along the way can handle the load’s weight, width, and height.

Throughout the process, the team envisions all the things that can go wrong and elicit an “Oh, crikey” from Downing.

What if the destination airport doesn’t have the infrastructure for offloading heavy equipment? What if recent floods have washed out a critical road? What if, what if, what if…?

“You can’t factor in or plan for everything,” Downing acknowledges, but you can draw on experiences. And sooner or later, almost every eventuality is bound to arise.

“Many times, when you are in the eye of the storm, you want to run for the hills,” he says. “But you have to stick with it.”