Building unbreakable supply chains


‘Global economy’. ‘World affairs’. In theory, we’ve never been so connected, moving goods from one continent to another. In practice, on the ground (or even at sea) there’s often a startling disconnection between an asset manufacturer’s theoretical ideas about UK port systems and processes – and the realities of a smooth arrival, let alone the onward transit.

Language barriers, general documentation, ‘in the system’ expectations, practical advice on physically moving from one end of a port to another for onward movement via AIL road freight, Customs processes… one of the most frustrating aspects for the project managers we’ve worked with is the lack of control over incoming assets, once those items have left the point of origin. The supply chain may seem secure – but it’s easy to weaken the links.

Often, something as simple as changes in weather pattern can impact a schedule. Sometimes, asset manufacturers simply don’t have the experience to know what’s needed to ensure cargo moves from one side of the world to the other, on time and without a hitch. The best equipment suppliers are usually selected for their design and manufacturing skills, not their transport skills.

In one or two instances, we’ve even seen initial project plans drawn up with pressing deadlines for installation (often mission-critical, with million-pound ‘go-lives’) but without consideration for transport ‘what can go wrong, might…’ along the way – even if that’s down to the weather. This is why it’s so important to work with a project freight forwarder, with realistic and robust plans.

Estimating the costs

Looking back at the projects we’ve been involved in, we estimate (and we think this is a conservative figure), that most critical infrastructure clients will save +3% of a project’s predicted forwarding costs by choosing us as the partner for end-to-end freight forwarding. How do we work that out? It’s simple: the alternative is to ‘bottom dollar’ specialist freight with disconnected partners.

However, the real cost difference is often much much higher. The elephants in the room are the cost of missing construction schedules, not hitting go-live dates, and other parties having to reschedule their works. These sums very quickly dwarf any perceived freight savings. Predictability is a key ingredient to any supply chain.

International freight and shipping firms talk about close collaboration but – specifically when it comes to over-sized, critical assets – that doesn’t mean they can deliver on the promise if there’s more than one partner-link in the heavy asset supply chain. There needs to be overall effective project management, or the client’ real interests are not being actively promoted.

Understanding the implications

Imagine you’re the investors who’ve provided the funding to develop a multi-million-pound asset – a leading-edge piece of critical infrastructure in the renewables supply chain, for example. Your team is organising the inbound shipment of, say, an asset weight 500te – or something over 60m in length. It’s coming from your suppliers – a modular, manufacturing base in the far east. The asset is now ready for onward routing to the UK. What and who do you need to be involved?

  • Lashing calculations – you know you’ll need a team that can secure your asset to the vessel with the equipment and tools, but you’d probably prefer people who’ve got experience with the tolerances and strains of marine lashings.
  • At the port – you’ll need handling systems to unload and steelwork for temporary storage team, available, but what about the ground conditions and load spreading operations?
  • Lift planning and engineering – do you need to find a team with the right equipment, manned by operators who can handle the challenges once the vessel has docked? And will you need SPMT engineering for in-port movements, plus overall heavy-lift project management that can liaise with the Port Authorities? A lot of people need to be kept informed.
  • Asset weighing – will you need a confident team, able to use Load Cells and Hydraulic Jacks to calculate the asset’s centre of gravity before it starts being transported by road?
  • Ground pressure – can that same team do a bridge assessment to make sure the ground and structures are suitable for the load?
  • A specialist in swept path analysis – can you find a team to ensure your asset can physically take the planned route by road?
  • Tractive effort, braking … incline, decline, and camber assessment – did you realise that’s a skill-set in itself?
  • Is there a central team that’s going to be responsible for stakeholder management … and can they talk each other’s language?
  • Does every team on the project have qualified personnel who know how to contact each other quickly – that’s the Project Manager, Safety Manager, Project Engineer, Process Manager, the Appointed Person, Site Supervisor, SPMT Operators, Crane Operators, Jacking Operators, Handlers, Logistics Manager, Drivers …
  • And finally, would you like everyone involved – from the manufacturer’s port agents to the in-bound teams – to have the support of a group that can handle documentation, inventory management, Customs’ clearance documents, consular management, carnets, letters of credit and SGS inspections, health and safety documentation, handling duties…?

Believe it or believe it not, we’ve found that “What is Duty & VAT and how do I register on the UK system?’ is as likely to hold up an in-bound asset as “It’s bigger and heavier than we thought.”

Building unbreakable chains

Blockchain – a topic for another day – may be the way forward in terms of critical asset management in the future, but an unbreakable physical supply chain is what’s needed today. Flexible, but unbreakable.

The reality is, unforeseen challenges weaken even the most experienced links in a carefully monitored supply chain – unless everyone involved understands the implications of an event, can turn adversity into opportunity, and is prepared to find alternative solutions on the fly. Critical cargoes for the defence supply chain, for example, might need to factor in additional levels of audit and security. So sudden illness among an engineering crew might create a problem – unless you’re pre-prepared.

Whenever critical assets need to be moved, an off-the-shelf freight forwarding solution may be attractive on paper – but it’s unlikely to meet your needs in the field. But an experienced project freight forwarder can draw on long-standing relationships to create the unbreakable supply chain that gets the delivery done.

If you’re interested in hearing more about how our experiences enable us to provide an unbreakable supply chain for specialist freight forwarding, Peter and Nigel would love to talk to you. Contact us here…

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