One of the realities of an interconnected and rapidly developing world is the need to transport valuable materials and equipment great distances. For manufacturing companies, that often means moving large, heavy and expensive equipment—frequently with great difficulty and at great expense—to emerging manufacturing countries like China.
Whether opening a new facility overseas or selling manufacturing equipment to a foreign firm, the fundamental challenges remain the same. This is transport on a grand scale, and the packaging challenges involved in making those large and unwieldy items safe and secure for travel are equally substantial. Consider the fact that some of the heavier, more awkward products—such as an automotive stamping press—may weigh half a million pounds. Even when broken down into component parts, size and weight remain an issue: an individual component can easily still top the 150,000 pound mark.
Ocean freight transit comes with its own challenges, including rust, moisture, rolling seas and storms. Without the proper protection, products may corrode, and without sufficient blocking and bracing, equipment can bang around inside of the box or shipping container and be damaged or destroyed.
Firms that specialize in overseas shipping for manufacturing companies have developed a number of strategies to overcome those challenges, and to ensure that equipment arrives safely at its destination. The best of those firms are finding creative, effective and cost-effective ways to protect and secure specialized equipment, creating custom packaging, using sustainable materials, and making sure that the cost of transport is as low as possible for customers.
The packing process begins with a detailed examination of the equipment to be moved: evaluating each piece to identify critical details like weight and center of gravity, determining where parts may protrude, and/or where they may need extra protection or blocking to prevent damage during transit. The packing/shipping specialist typically then determines what type of timbers will be needed to support the weight and protect the equipment, and will then manufacture a custom skid and/or a box for each component. All bare metal surfaces must be properly coated with rust inhibitors, and volatile corrosion inhibitor (VCI) technology is often integrated into the packaging.
The variety of equipment and components that needs to be moved can present its own challenges. If you are packing and shipping powertrain equipment, for example, you may be dealing with a primary piece of machinery that weighs close to 100,000 pounds, but must also deal with sensitive and complex auxiliary equipment such as gears and control panels.
While some companies focus just on crating and packaging, a select few are also licensed freight forwarders with extensive experience in overseas shipping. The convenience and efficiency of a one-stop-shop model is part of the appeal, but the true value of that kind of expertise comes from the fact that those companies have a nuanced understanding of how packing and crating efficiency translates to lower costs.
Less is More?
Typically, when a packing and shipping specialist receives a product from the client, it is in the domestic supplier packaging. The best operators are willing to spend a little bit of time and money on the front end to improve the packaging strategy enough to ensure that they can fully utilize the overseas shipping container. One of the ways to do that is to appreciate when full boxing is unnecessary, redundant or counterproductive. In some cases, components can be packed on a pallet and then fully enveloped by VCI poly material for protection. This strategy of skidding and shrouding uses less packing material (saving money on crating) and frequently makes it possible to take what would have been a “floor load” with zero stacking involved into a stacked cargo load that can fit more material in a shipping container.
The best packing and shipping professionals are always trying to view the situation through the mindset of the customer, working hard to develop new economies of scale, and finding creative solutions to become more efficient and save both space and money. In a best-case scenario, packing can be both protective and sustainable—reusable and recyclable packing materials are good for both the environment and the bottom line.
When it comes to delivering packing and transport value, efficiently moving large manufacturing equipment is less about geography than geometry. One of the most important ways to become more efficient and save money is to ensure that all equipment fits inside a standard shipping container, and that the space inside each container is utilized as completely as possible. Consider that the same volume/size of equipment that has to be shipped outside instead of inside a shipping container may come in anywhere from four to six times the transportation cost of equipment shipped inside a container.
In one example, specialized packaging was designed to protect and transport large shipments of engines. The final design—with wooden pallets and custom-made triple-wall corrugated packs—was configured in a way that made it possible to ship six engines per stack, and to pack three stacks high and eight stacks deep: a nearly perfect fit in a 40-foot shipping container. An eye-opening total of 98% of the space inside each container was fully utilized, and the packing was so efficient that each container was within 50 to 100 pounds of the maximum allowable weight. That efficiency translates directly into cost savings.
Trust, Coordination and Support
In some cases, the best way to optimize packaging and shipping is to work closely with a packaging and transport specialist who can provide program management services. This kind of strategic counsel typically involves actual trips out to the manufacturing floor to get a first-hand look at the manufacturing and assembly process of the machinery and equipment to be transported.
Sometimes, a few logistical suggestions and a corresponding breakdown of the cost structure can lead to surprisingly simple ways to save significant expense. If it takes five minutes worth of work to unscrew a few bolts and remove a protruding safety light that would have made it impossible to fit the equipment inside a shipping container, that is obviously well worth what might turn out to be $5,000 worth of savings in shipping costs.
In more extreme examples, the advice of a specialist may prompt a client to actually end up reengineering and reconfiguring a piece of equipment. Such a move can radically alter the cost structure and make it a more appealing product for overseas clients. That kind of trust, creativity, coordination and strategic guidance between customer and client represents the pinnacle of what the best packing and transport specialists can provide.
Richard Nagrocki is vice president and general manager, and Michael Murphy is vice president of Romulus, Mich.-based Corrigan Air & Sea Cargo, an international logistics company that specializes in overseas packaging and shipment.