Getting products to customers in
a timely, cost-efficient manner is very important, but many
metal companies tend to be fairly satisfied with the status quo
when it comes to transportation.
When it comes to new
products or technologies aimed at finding a more efficient
means to move metals, there is very little currently on the
horizon, and this status quo is likely to continue for some
time, said Kevin Mullen, director of safety and
recruiting for Chesterton, Ind.-based ADS Logistics Co.
Trucking companies, railroads
and shipping lines that metal companies use to transport their
products are generally content using the same staid, old
technologies and products that they have used for years, he
said, and they dont have the propensity to make a lot of
changes--especially fast ones.
Schaaf, group vice president for metals and construction for
Norfolk, Va.-based railroad Norfolk Southern Corp., said that
in addition to some physical products specifically designed to
safely and efficiently transport metals, shippers access
to information has been increasing--and continues to do so--at
a pace never seen before.
He said metal companies use
automation for a wide array of different functions, including
allowing them to get rates and process and track orders. The
railroads themselves also are using automation to improve their
service, Schaaf said. For example, some use sensors or
detectors to ensure the quality or condition of the rail cars
hauling metals and monitor whether those rail cars are
overloaded or unbalanced. We are also using data
collection technology to monitor our performance and to make
changes, he said.
Railroads also are looking to
utilize certain developments to improve car service--usually
coil car service, in the case of metals--and intermodal
transportation, Schaaf said. We need to find ways to
expand our portfolio of services in this very truck-centric
market. That, he said, includes using intermodal
transportation lanes where feasible to complement
railroads carload business, which can help with
transportation flows both for railroads and trucking companies,
which have been heavily burdened, given changes in service hour
While commodities traditionally
have been transported either on flatbed trucks or via rail car
service--including coil cars and gondolas--or breakbulk ships,
there has been growth in containerized shipping, especially
According to the Intermodal
Association of North America, intermodal container volumes
reached a record 13.1 million moves in 2012, surpassing the
previous years levels by 5.9 percent and up 9.8 percent
from 2007. While the intermodal industry contends that shippers
generally can save 5 to 15 percent per load shipping
intermodally vs. shipping solely over highways, most metals
continue to be shipped domestically via flatbed trucks.
Calgary, Alberta-based Raildecks
Inc. aims to change that. After a six-year development process,
Raildecks has begun full commercial production of its
53-foot-long, 120-inch-wide intermodal container, which chief
executive officer Rick Jocson said is well-suited for
transporting metals as it does not have walls or a ceiling.
Jocson said the containers patented support arm system
allows it to be secured to the chassis of a flatbed truck or be
double-stacked when traveling by intermodal rail.
The company has already sold or
leased 130 Raildecks containers. The majority of the
freight being moved with Raildecks are metal products,
Jocson said. The containers are easy to load and secure, and
there is less handling involved than in conventional transport
by flatbed truck and rail car service.
He said that while some shippers
have put certain products, such as structural steel sections or
pipe, in containers, that generally isnt very safe,
as the shippers dont have the ability to properly secure
containers--which are collapsible--also provide benefits to
freight carriers, Jocson said, by allowing trucking companies
to work regionally, giving them time to make more runs per day
and use lighter-capacity trucks. Service speed makes up for the
fact that Raildecks containers cant carry as much volume
as a carload service, he said.
A number of Class 1 railroads
have approved the use of Raildecks containers, including
Norfolk Southern, BNSF Railway Co., Canadian Pacific Railway
Ltd., CSX Corp. and Union Pacific Railroad Co., as well as
trucking companies Boyd Brothers Transportation Inc., Contrans
Group Inc., Prime Intermodal Inc. and Universal Truckload
Jocson said that his company,
which hopes to capture 5 percent of the flatbed freight
currently moved over North American roads within five to 10
years, also has developed 45-foot and 48-foot versions of its
intermodal containers for use in international and maritime
business. We expect to sign agreements with ocean
carriers later this year, he said.
One product aimed at the
containerized transport of metal coils is Coil-Tainer
Michael J. Smolenski, president
and chief executive officer of West Chester, Pa.-based
Coil-Tainer, said the companys specially designed steel
pallets fit almost perfectly in a container so that they
dont move front to back or side to side when the
container is filled with metal--usually steel, but sometimes
aluminum--coils for transport on ocean carriers.
Many container ships dont
accept coils because of the damage that can result if they are
not properly secured, Smolenski said, which means shippers have
to wait for breakbulk ships--which sail much less frequently
than container ships--to transport their metal. The
Coil-Tainer pallets have also been designed to protect the
coils, he said. The pallet has a special cradle
lined with a protective material to which the coil is
Another advantage for shippers,
Smolenski said, is that Coil-Tainer is actually a non-vessel
operating common carrier (NVOCC), with its own bill of lading,
that takes care of all the details. We take the booking,
we pick up the coils and we bring them all the way to the
receiver. The shipper just needs to deal with one company--us.
They dont have to call an ocean carrier. They dont
have to call a trucking company. We do all those things for
them, he said.
Typically, a steel company takes
coils to Coil-Tainers warehouse operation at a pier,
Smolenski said. Then we take over. We load the coil onto
our pallets, put them onto a container, send them over the
ocean, take the container out of the vessel, take the pallets
out of the container, take the coils off and deliver them to
the customer. He said that more than 200,000 tons of
steel coils are transported by Coil-Tainer each year.
Smolenski said Coil-Tainer is
constantly looking to improve its pallets. Two years ago, it
went from a three-strap to a four-strap system to secure the
pallets. Now the company is looking to redesign the pallets to
make them lighter and stronger, possibly by using a material
other than steel.
We are also looking at
developing another system similar to the Coil-Tainer pallet
that would allow transportation of steel sheet in
containers, he said.