As the world begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, third-party logistics leaders are turning to time-honored approaches entailing collaborative planning and innovative solutions to meet such present challenges as skyrocketing freight rates and tight truck capacity in keeping project and breakbulk cargo shipments moving.
For BNSF Logistics LLC’s Robert Sutton, communication and transparency are seen as critical to planning and execution of efficient shipment of oversize units, while Thunderbolt Global Logistics LLC’s Jim Shapiro optimistically sees moving of outside-the-box cargos as potentially an easier feat than shipment of containers in the current industry environment. Each shared insights with AJOT in separate interviews.
Sutton, executive vice president of innovation for Dallas-headquartered BNSF Logistics, noted that the rapid rise of rates for ocean transport – particularly from Asia – of not just international containers but also breakbulk freight is beginning to have a downward impact on U.S. project activity.
“We are starting to hear we’ll see shifts in sourcing strategies and/or projects being delayed,” said Sutton, who has a quarter of a century of industry experience, including 18 years with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC third-party logistics subsidiary. Such sourcing shifts may include importing wind energy units from Europe rather than Asia.
BNSF Logistics, which annually handles thousands of wind energy components for customers, has found costs for trans-Pacific shipments as much as tripling from pre-pandemic rates. The ocean cost for moving a set of wind energy blades which had been $60,000 is now between $120,000 and $180,000, he said. And, once project shipments get to ports, they face similar challenges as containers, including labor shortages and constrained truck capacity.
Shapiro, director and owner of Baltimore-based Thunderbolt Global Logistics, said that, while demand for trucking continues to outstrip supply of drivers and costs have increased across all transport modes, “We have found it’s sometimes easier to deliver a 50,000-kilogram [55-ton] wooden crate from any port compared to delivering a 40-foot container.
“With proper planning, we have not had too many problems with multi-axle domestic moves,” Shapiro said, adding that truckers handling breakbulk and project cargo are busy but are not reporting that they are booked out for four to five weeks, as the case with those transporting containers.
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