Specialty solutions

24 April 2008

The job to construct new twin bridges across the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania was not particularly daunting - aside from the need to haul more than 1,000 precast 100 ton bridge segments down a steep incline to the jobsite. The challenge for contractor Edward Kraemer and Sons was to figure an economical and productive way to haul the bridge segments, which were 57 feet long by 13 feet wide and 8.5 feet tall.

Ultimately the company contracted Rogers Brothers Trailers to design a five axle, 100 ton capacity fixed gooseneck trailer with air lift suspension on the fifth axle and spring walking beam suspension on the other four. Rogers produced two trailers for Kraemer, to be used continually over the 18 months they will be needed.

Mark Kulyk, president of Rogers Brothers in Albion, PA, says his company's engineers designed the perfect solution for the project. Among the requirements was that the trailers could be sold on after the job. Kulyk says that while projects like this one are not necessarily routine, he is seeing a need for more specialty in specialized transport.

“I wouldn't say we do this a lot, but we are starting to do it a lot more,” he says. “In the 1950s and 1960s, we were involved in a number of major projects that people would bring to us. We built a 250 ton trailer for hauling nuclear furnaces. Back when nuclear power plant construction was big and the interstate highways were being built, there was big need for specialized trailers. But in the last decade or two, we've settled into working with contractor trailers that are used to carry construction equipment.”

But as construction equipment and construction materials have begun to get heavier and larger, the need for more specialized rigging and trailers is increasing.

“For the longest time, 50 ton capacity trailers were more or less the standard, the benchmark for hauling excavators or bulldozers,” he says. “Most machines weighed 45 to 50 tons. But now we are seeing that there's a move up in size by the construction equipment manufacturers, the Caterpillars, Komatsus, the Link-Belts, with the weight of machines now in the 52 to 53 ton range, which means we now have more calls for 55 ton capacity trailers. We can see a trend building as this equipment gets heavier.” Kulyk says his company is building an 85 ton trailer for one customer and a 100 ton trailer for another, both of which will be used to transport heavy equipment.

While hauling heavy construction equipment or heavy components hasn't become much more complicated, John Ward, president of All States Freight in Twinsburg, OH, says that customers tend to want more specialized information about the details of the haul. “Today, we see customers who expect to be more hands on in the freight of their equipment,” he says. “There's more babysitting. It used to be you would get a load and you would deliver it. Now we need to outline all the details, where it is, where it's going. Customers now want to know everything about every stage.”

Ward says that the need for tracking and detailed information may be the result of liability and insurance issues, making every aspect of transport more specialized and difficult. “Today our drivers have cell phones and many have laptops, even though we don't require them to have laptops,” he says.

Ward says that innovations in the design of trailers, tractor trucks and rigging equipment have increased productivity. Trailer manufacturers now use T-1 steel so trailers can be lighter and stronger. “The equipment we are using now as compared to 20 years ago is much better built,” he says. “Trailers are lighter than they were and you have more hauling capacity. Tractors are night and day different from 20 years ago, more power, more creature comforts. Fuel efficiency hasn't improved that much but power has. In the 1970s we were working with 200 to 230 horsepower engines. We now have available 600 to 625 horsepower. The hills aren't that big anymore.”

All States Freight limits its hauls to the 150,000 pound range, serving the construction equipment industry, automobile industry and doing specialty hauling for companies like General Electric. Most of the company's business involves over-the-road freight, using 9 or 13 axle trailers or stretched flatbeds.

Recently the company has worked in the wind power industry, hauling turbine components. Thus far they haven't hauled the long and cumbersome blades, sticking to the smaller parts for the turbines. “I think the wind power market is going to be a good deal for the foreseeable future,” Ward says. “The blades are 114 feet long and some of the housings they attach the blades to are 115,000 pounds.”

Last month President George Bush hinted in his State of the Union address that there may be new incentives to begin construction of nuclear power plants in the US. Ward is encouraged by this prospect. “I'm hoping in the near future to see more nuclear power plants,” he says. “These are lucrative hauls.”

As hauling heavy loads becomes more specialized, more companies may specialize in niches, for example, wind power or construction equipment. “You just can't survive on the big moves alone,” Ward says. “You have to be able to move the smaller loads to keep the money flowing.”

Among the more specialized niches is construction equipment. Bellville Rodair International (BRI USA) is a freight forwarding company offering ocean freight services for cranes, heavy equipment and over dimensional cargo. In his office overlooking the Port of Houston, Mike Fuentes takes care of all the minute details related to moving a crane from dealers' yard to a port, onto a ship and then unloading it at its destination.

With strong worldwide demand for new and used construction equipment, specifically cranes, Fuentes has been busy. “Imports of new and used heavy equipment and parts to all trades were up in 2005, and we're expecting it to increase in 2006,” he says. “Many small- and medium-sized dealers who have not engaged in international dealings in the past are opening up or expanding their international reach to the global marketplace and are beginning to accept and bid on international inquiries.”

Most of the time, the final price of the machine includes the cost of the freight, which means the seller has to have freight prices before he can close the deal. For this reason, using a specialty company like BRI can be a good idea, mainly because of the paperwork and complicated details when shipping machines to and from the US. “It's amazing the details and they often change depending on where you are shipping the equipment to,” he says.

Fuentes has developed a “tip sheet” for customers, letting them know about specifics related to shipping to such countries as Australia, New Zealand, China and others. By understanding and adhering to certain requirements substantial cost savings can be achieved, he says. For instance, Australia is very particular about making sure cranes are clean and not leaking oil, “It's worth the $750 to have the machine power washed and to have the hoses capped and plugged rather than paying the $7,500 cost for a union guy at the port to do the clean-up,” Fuentes says.

Chinese ports are particular about wood crating and dunage. Since January 1 all wood used in exports to China has had to have treatment wood stamps. “Fumigation is no longer acceptable and cargoes will be impounded and additional costs incurred for wood treatment,” Fuentes says.

“This is a very dynamic industry, every month something is changing,” he says. “It's very specialized, but it needs to be in order to get the equipment moved right and to assure the best cost possible.”

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D.Ann Shiffler Editor, American Cranes & Transport Tel: +1 512 869 8838 E-mail: d.ann.shiffler@khl.com
Matt Burk VP Sales Tel: +1 773 610 9467 E-mail: matt.burk@khl.com