Over the years, advancements in engineering has allowed for the construction of larger and increasing complicated machinery and structures. With some pieces weighing thousands of tons, such extreme size and weight requires well-planned, precise and meticulous preparation to ensure safe delivery to the destination. One of the most important steps in a project cargo operation happens before the cargo has even began to move; it all starts with the planning.
For a deeper look, we spoke to two project cargo experts, Mr. Stefan Weber, Manager, Projects/Oil and Gas, Kuehne + Nagel Thailand; and Mr. Vincent Teo, Senior Director, Bok Seng Logistics Pte Ltd about what goes into a planning a project cargo move and the challenges they often face in moving some of the biggest cargo around.
A project logistics route survey is a key component that’s often used is the term ‘feasibility study,’ which entails a thorough examination of multiple pieces of information to ensure optimal and safe. While many may think project cargo is dominated by overland transportation, often multiple modes are used in just one project. Mr. Weber said, “A feasibility study covers the survey for all modes of logistics transportation, including air, sea, and overland. Successful project logistics is a matter of creativity.” For a feasibility study to begin at all, Mr. Weber stated that the project logistics service providers need to know the 3 W’s. “You need to see the overall picture. You need to know the 3 W’s, which are ‘What’ to transport, from ‘Where’ to where, and ‘When’ is the transport. When you know these three things then you can start to think of what the best options are for the proposal.”
“Successful project logistics is a matter of creativity”
When it comes to what’s being transported, the dimensions and sensitivity of the cargo play a critical role and can alter the plan and approach to a move. Mr. Teo emphasized that a service provider needs to thoroughly understand the cargo being handled to work safely and successfully, “The information about what the cargo is the first step in setting the parameters for us. Sometimes certain cargo has certain requirements and effects which route we choose.” After understanding what’s being handled, knowing the environment of each pick-up and delivery site are next. Beyond just the two end points, service providers need to gather information on the conditions along the entire route, including the road’s weight limit or any other obstacles that would need to be moved. These conditions also help determine the appropriate vehicle for the transportation. Mr. Weber said, “Trailers and axle lines are like Lego pieces. You can assemble a trailer in any kind of configuration. By studying the route conditions, you gain a better understanding of how you should build up the trailer to spread out the weight of the cargo and to ascertain maximum stability.”
For Thailand, often outsize machinery needs to be delivered and installed in remote areas, and so project logistics service providers find themselves often mixing river barges into their plans. “When we use barges, the next consideration we make is to assess suitable landing or discharging points that are as close to the project site as possible. This is to assess an area whereby the barge can berth properly and safely to carry out the offloading operation,” said Mr. Teo.
Lastly, knowing when the transportation needs to occur is important for ensuring optimal transportation. With a timeframe in mind, specialists can then better observe if any upcoming or ongoing construction along the route will impede their move. For instance, if a pedestrian bridge is in the process of being built, it’s important to gather information about the dimensions of the bridge and if it the operation will be able to continue along this planned route. Mr. Teo said, “In reality, it is very difficult to put a specific number to how many times a physical survey should be done. If the route is very long or during the survey we see that some construction, then we have to ask or estimate the progress of the construction. We then must come back to check the route again, so it’s very situational.”
Challenges Along the Way
“Sometimes certain cargo has certain requirements and effects which route we choose”
While physical surveys can tell service providers about the visible obstacles along the route; it’s often much harder to attain official information about the capacity of the route to tell if it is safe to use. “There might be various parties involved in granting permission for oversized movements, and assisting in obstacle management such as the Telephone Authorities, Provincial Electricity Authorities, Highway Police, Industrial Estate Authorities, to name a few. Mostly the overall height causes problems. While cables can simply be lifted or disconnected, and traffic signs temporarily removed, alternative routes need to be considered to bypass pedestrian bridges. Access roads and unloading areas at the job site need to be suitably compacted to avoid any accidents,” said Mr. Weber.
Mr. Teo went onto explain how he’s seen unpredictable obstacles inevitably cause delays, “When you’re traveling on road, there is no way you can anticipate a road accident or obstructing vehicles. Sometimes heavy rains, flood, and unauthorized/unanticipated construction happens. That’s why we conduct the survey multiple times prior to the actual move to minimize the unexpected things that could obstruct the delivery.”
Even while the transportation is ongoing, there is always a chance of unpredictable factors that may come up, “You cannot rely on the survey you did yesterday. Overnight, someone can change it, so you still need to go in advance of the convoy to prevent possible mishaps,” said Mr. Weber.
Evolving with Technology
Like any other sector of the logistics industry, technological advancement is seeping into the operations of project cargo. While many traditional tools like bamboo sticks, measuring tapes, and drawings are still used, lasers and satellite mapping are becoming more prevalent and make project cargo operations less complicated and more precise. “We are beginning to use more advanced equipment like the laser distance measuring devices. Equipment like this eliminates the inconvenience of using measuring tapes on roads full of traffic. The rest of route research can now be done easier than ever before thanks to applications that allow you to see satellite views of the area. This can provide a preliminary understanding of the environment and the location,” said Mr. Teo. He also added that while camera-mounted drones are now available; it is only used for remote route surveys in the cases where budget constraints are not a problem, “A lot of time the route survey part is restricted by cost, which we have to manage it in the way that is most cost-efficient. So, we try to use the most realistic and easiest way to make measurement and surveys to provide the best project logistics service for our clients,” said Mr. Teo.