Shipping containers is easy, shipping breakbulk when the item is bulky, odd shaped, very large or easily damaged is difficult. However, there are people in the shipping industry with the skills necessary to take a challenging item and professionally wrap it or box it for a safe, secure trip. And one of those companies is Vancouver-based Cratex Industrial Packing Ltd., part of the INPRO Export Services consortium. Just recently the company - that got its start in 1975 on a piece of rented land on the North Shore of Port Metro Vancouver - opened an $8 million, 40,000 square-foot building and yard near Deltaport, BC, to unload, crate, shrink wrap, spray with protective coating, reload or containerise, brace and secure customers goods for safe and secure shipping by truck, rail or to storage.
It is a niche business at the port, because it takes planning, carpentry and engineering skills and, most of all, close attention to detail that isn’t easy to find. As well, according to Joe Pusch, founder of the company, packaging valuable breakbulk items such as equipment for the oilfields or mines, or simulators, control panels, vehicles or valuable artwork carries with it the risk of massive damage claims if the packaging fails or results in damage to a half million dollar piece of equipment.
”We are not in the transportation business,” Pusch said. “However, we are very much dependant on carriers and restrictions and this type of thing so we are quite often called upon to help in the design stages of machinery to advise them as to the maximum dimensions, weight restrictions and height restrictions. At times it’s very challenging, and sometimes things have to be redesigned.
“This sometimes happens when we do overseas shipments for export. When we know it’s going to China or India, into a remote area and we don’t know what the restrictions are, we make sure – before we touch anything – if there’s any size or weight restrictions – what they are.
“We know about those and, if it cannot be moved, then we either use very specialised people who can by using specialised equipment or redesign some road configurations. But, principally, if it cannot be moved, we will pack it otherwise it will be pretty useless.”
Pusch recalls an instance where the company had a large piece of machinery shipped to Taiwan, going to a job site some distance from the docks and could not fit under a bridge structure.
“The result was that the manufacturer had to fly out, uncrate it, find a way of reducing (the size) of the machine and then move it under the bridge and then put it together on the other side.”
“These are really, really costly,” he said. “So if you know ahead of time you can save a lot of money. “And we try to make people aware of that fact.”
Asked about some of the most interesting freight he’s moved Pusch recalled shipping a tunnel boring machine overseas from Seattle.
“At that time they were not quite as big as today’s machines (Big Bertha),” Pusch said. “But it was an absolute challenge; not only because of the dimensions and the weight of the machine, but people tried to ship it as much assembled as they could so it would be easier to reassemble.”
Pusch said that particular machine was built in Seattle.
“Nobody realized that,” he said. “But they were world innovators and shipped them (tunnelling machines) overseas to drill tunnels.”
The investment in a new building and yard for Cratex was predicated on the expansion of Western Canada’s resource industries, Pusch said.
“Now we are getting more involved on the import side as the docks don’t want to get involved in the unloading of any equipment or other cargo at the docks. They want to have these items (such as flatracks) unloaded off-dock, especially if there’s heavy loads involved. “Our lifting capacity allows us to lift almost anything that can be hauled over the road,” he said. “A lot of those pieces of equipment are coming to Vancouver now and being shipped to Alberta. And, if you drive on the freeway today you see load after load of drilling pipe, and we have done a lot of this.”
He said the logistics involved requires the terminal to take the container of pipe of the ship and place it on a truck after which it is unloaded from the container at Cratex where it is unloaded and put onto a highway truck and taken to Alberta (to be used in the oilfields.)
“This alleviates the extra move of taking the whole container to Alberta, unloading it and bringing the container back to Vancouver – it saves a lot of money,” he said.