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Transportation changes come slowly in metals industry

Keywords: Tags  ADS Logistics Co. LLC, trucks, railroads, shipping lines, Kevin Mullen, metal shippers, Norfolk Southern Corp., Jim Schaaf Myra Pinkham


Change tends to come slowly in the well-established metals and metal logistics industries, especially in terms of investing in new products, technologies or processes.

Many companies tend to follow the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage rather than seeking or developing new products and technologies to improve the way they move metals, said Kevin Mullen, director of safety and recruiting for ADS Logistics Co. LLC, Chesterton, Ind. “In general, trucks, railroads and shipping lines are using the same old, staid technologies that they have been using for a number of years, and they don’t have much of a propensity to make a lot of changes, especially fast changes,” he said.

Mullen said that more attention is being paid to the various government regulations and policies that could impact metal logistics, including changes to trucking hours and weight limits.

Metal shippers have shown more interest in transporting products intermodally, which isn’t surprising giving oft-cited statistics that companies generally can cut their shipping costs by as much as 5 to 15 percent by shipping intermodally rather than sending their products by highway alone.

Several products have emerged in the past few decades to help metal companies--which traditionally ship their products via flatbed trucks--dip their toes into intermodal transport, whether it involves a combination of trucking and rail or trucking and ships. These products generally involve the use of a cradle or pallet that enables metals to be shipped via containers. Such products, however, currently have an “infinitesimal” share of all metal shipping, according to Mullen, who believes that won’t change, at least in the near term.

But Jim Schaaf, group vice president for metals and construction for Norfolk, Va.-based railroad Norfolk Southern Corp., is more optimistic that these kinds of products have begun to, and could continue to, gain some traction, much as tracking and load-balancing technologies already have.


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