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Heavy Equipment Shipping Guide

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Heavy Equipment Shipping Guide
Heavy Equipment Shipping Guide

There are unique considerations needed for heavy equipment shipping which may only become apparent when there’s an urgent need. It’s important to be prepared, especially considering the last minute supply chains operating today. Mistakes and delays can easily cost you a lot of money and have huge unwanted consequences.

Minor mistakes may also affect your relationship with your customers and encourage them to find alternative solutions. The following article will discuss how to safely ship heavy equipment while taking full advantage of your resources.

Choosing transportation for your heavy equipment

A transportation provider’s cost and your overall experience depends on various factors. If you plan on shipping equipment on your own, there are costs you may have not considered. 

Of course, if this is not your first time transporting heavy equipment, then you’re probably already familiar with the process. In this case, this guide can be used just to refresh your memory.

The more information you have on this topic before you speak to a transportation provider, the better. Some things you may want to figure out on your own are:

  • Whether you’ll need regular transport for heavy equipment, or if this is the sole project you’ll be engaging in.
  • Whether you can provide addresses and contacts for the delivery and pick up.
  • Whether unloading and loading appointments will be necessary.

Important details about your heavy equipment

Details regarding your freight are extremely important, especially when transporting heavy equipment like rock trucks or excavator motor grades. Here’s some information you should be able to provide your transport company:

  • Your equipment’s model number and make.
  • Any modifications the equipment might have went through.
  • Its precise weight and dimensions. Even small errors may lead to different routes or trucks being necessary causing delays and cost differences. The weight must also be precise, especially when it comes to heavy freight, since it may lead to the trailer type that was assigned to your project needing to be replaced. Again, the delivery time and shipment fee will be affected as well.
  • Packaging. You must inform the transport service provider if the heavy equipment will be tarped, crated, palletized, or packaged through some other method.
  • Important details and photos. To receive the best transport service, you should provide all relevant information to the service provider. Additionally, photos may give the broker necessary information you may have forgotten to mention.

Using a broker or 3PL vs. a carrier

3PLs are by definition companies that outsource services to 3rd party businesses. Since 3PL companies usually assist with transportation with the help of outside vendors, the term broker is often used. 

The advantages of using a broker for your heavy equipment shipping are as follows:

  • Money, time and resources. Brokers act as your company’s shipping department without you actually having to hire one. They will take away the stress involved in the operation and save you a lot of time which can be invested into your main responsibilities.

Since freight technology and needs are evolving rapidly, as well as the speed of supply chains becoming faster, it’s important to check whether focusing your company’s resources into a shipping department makes sense. In many cases, these resources may be better spent in developing other areas or aspects of your business.

  • Capacity access. Customers may find it difficult to access qualified and reliable carriers due to how much of the market’s trucking capacity is currently being used. It’s in every shipping company’s financial interest to not own more trucks or hire more staff than necessary. Because of this, the efficient company you’ve worked with in the past may not be available for your next project.

But, if you rely on a broker, hundreds of reputable contracted freight shipping carriers will be at your disposal. Since the 3PL company checks and approves each one, you don’t have to invest time and resources into running background checks.

  • Technology. Thanks to advanced TMS or transportation management systems, your broker can offer several additional services to your company such as auditing the freight bill, warehouse management, or taking care of complex returns.
  •  Flexibility. A broker will evolve its services alongside your company. As such, even if your transportation demands change, they’ll still be able to provide them. 

3PLs may also save you money through using differed shipping modes. You can discuss various solutions for your projects with their staff in order to obtain cheaper alternatives.

As for the disadvantages of shipping your heavy equipment with a broker or 3PL, they are as follows:

  • Inconsistency. When shipping heavy equipment with a broker, you may be tempted to choose using price as the primary factor. However, this can lead to service levels being inconsistent. 

Brokers will likely give you a superior price by shopping around, meaning your past, present, and future shipments may be serviced with different carrier companies. However, if the parties are knowledgeable of the type of equipment being shipped and use the same types of trucks and the same methods, these issues can be minimized. If you’ve gotten great results with certain types of haulers, you should inform your broker.

  • Losing control. You won’t be able to bring your direct oversight on the shipping project when using a 3PL. You must trust your broker to find reliable transportation, just like they must trust their partners to do their jobs efficiently and safely. 

The start the process, there are more puzzle pieces necessary than when going with the direct route. Depending on how capable the service provider is, you can minimize these issues using electronic messaging, load tracking, and other modern technologies.

  • Communication. When shipping heavy equipment with a broker or 3PL, at least 2 service providers will be involved. There is a higher chance for communication to fall through especially if more companies are involved. Depending on your broker’s capability and your trust in them, you may have to keep track of the situation yourself, adding to work and stress.

Shipping companies based on assets

These are companies who own and use their own tools, warehouses, and trucks to transport your equipment. There are certain advantages of working with this type of service provider, such as:

  1. Communication. There’s a smaller chance of communication falling through when you’re working with the company that’s shipping the heavy equipment directly. In case something goes wrong, it can also be fixed faster.
  2. Trust. These types of companies must build up their infrastructure over the years and can only maintain operations through massive capital investments. Therefore, well established ones usually come with a long history and experience. To better understand the company’s financial stability and skills, it’s a good idea to check if their trucks are actually owned by the company or if they’re leased from owner operators.

The disadvantages of shipping your heavy equipment with a direct shipping company are:

  1. Price. Because the number of available trucks is much smaller for direct shippers compared to brokers, their prices can often be higher. 3PL companies can search for better deals from their list of companies, find ones that are better positioned to handle the job, and offer a superior price.
  2. Fleet size. Due to difficulties in finding reliable drivers and having a fixed truck fleet, direct shippers will not be able to adapt to changes as easily. For example, if the volume of your load decreases or increases for a shipment, you may not be able to use the same company.
  3. Capability of service. The number of trucks is finite if you’re shipping heavy equipment with this type of company. Therefore, volume peaks may be harder to service. If the volume of loads you provide the carrier with suddenly drops, then it can greatly impact his business. 

Another problem is that the number of modes through which you’ll be able to transport heavy equipment will be limited. This can lead to inefficient or unnecessarily expensive shipping.

Safety

There are several factors which will likely influence what shipping service provider you will opt for, but safety will probably be one of the most important. Your transport provider’s safety record will affect the heavy equipment’s protection and arrival time. It can also harm or protect your business if an accident happens and you’re facing financial liabilities.

Whether you’re working with a broker or with a direct shipper, the contract must be carefully examined, the shipper must be insured, and your heavy equipment’s transport must be covered by the proper authorities.

You can research these issues on your own or assign someone to check them for you. You can find various shipping providers’ safety records on the FMCSA’s website.

Cheap prices and rates

Many companies invest a lot of resources and time into obtaining low transport rates. However, there are associated risks with these cheap rates, such as late deliveries, potential scams, and upset clients. Services can have hidden rates be it in actual monetary forms or through risks you may unknowingly take on. 

For example, a small service provider may promise a better price/mile than a shipping consultant with a better standing and history. However, there may be 300 miles between your heavy equipment and the closest truck the smaller company can provide. On the other hand, the larger one which has more trucks may have one available that’s just 10 miles away. In this scenario, the cheaper rate will cost you more in the end.

There are also situations where asking quotes from numerous providers can make truckers think the demand for that route is higher than it is. In response, they may raise their prices leading to a higher rate. Due to this and other circumstances, you’re likely to lose more resources and time trying to find cheaper rates. 

Reliability

While flexibility can save your company a lot of money and lead to faster delivery speeds, reliability is just as important. After all, your goal should be to send the equipment to its destination in the most efficient and fastest way possible.

Reliability can manifest in 2 key ways:

  • Your broker’s reliability. You will need time to understand how consistent, capable, and therefore, reliable your broker is. Of course, you can also use other companies to find information on your 3PL’s reliability. Experiences and references can be obtained from various people, even those you may find on Facebook, LinkedIn, or other similar sites.
  • The company’s stability. Can you rely on the person transporting your equipment today to also help you next month? You can check their website to see how long their shipping history is. Since their creation, have their company been growing steadily? Is their business profitable and are they under good leadership?

Licensing

Your heavy equipment shipping service provider must be licensed, regardless of what type of business they run. You can request copies of their operating authority and W-9 just in case. You should also obtain an insurance copy and check if your company is mentioned as additionally insured.

Insurance

To complete their jobs, truckers must possess at least some insurance. However, you may want to verify their claims to damage ratios, as well as check the insurance itself. If more coverage is necessary for your heavy equipment, you may be able to buy additional insurance through the shipping provider. You can also reach out to a third party for this purpose.

Whether to buy additional insurance or not depends on various factors. Therefore, it can save you stress, time, and costs if you can find a shipping partner which can take care of these details. 

The lading bill

All information regarding your transport is contained in the document known as the lading bill including the delivery and pick up areas and the people/company in charge of the shipment. Delivery and pickup numbers, information about the item and where it’s headed, as well as PO numbers may be found too. For cross border shipping, it will also have information about the customs broker.

Permits

While there are some national standards, each US state provides separate limitations and regulations. Even different counties may have different limitations and regulations in some cases. 

You may need to invest weeks of your time into obtaining permits and approval. Passing each municipal, county, provincial, or state boundary may add to your costs. Your shipping provider must therefore foresee eventual problems, then plan and hopefully work around them, so you won’t have to pay unneeded fees and accumulate stress.

Time of delivery

The delivery time can be influenced by the following factors:

  1. Shipping mode. Trucks are generally faster than trains. Also, LTL transports are generally more time consuming.
  2. Logging devices. ELDs or electronic logging devices are now a must have for all truck drivers. They’re used to track their service hours, so they don’t overwork themselves and increase the risk of human error. However, most transports experience an increased delivery time when such devices are used.
  3. Oversized transports. You may need an escort car or a permit to transport some oversized loads through various jurisdictions which can add to your time expenditure. To deal with this problem effectively, you’ll need a reliable partner and advance preparation.

As a side note, your oversized load may also face restrictions such as not running at night or during weekends.

Preparing heavy equipment for shipping: Many projects operate on a strict timeline in order to serve immediate needs. Predicting every situation that will occur during shipping is impossible. However, you should still prepare accordingly for every scenario you can imagine.

Kinds of freight

Your heavy equipment may fall into various categories such as the following:

  • Full loads: considered when a trailer is used exclusively for transporting the freight.
  • Legal loads: considered when the trailer’s dimensions and weight allowance aren’t exceeded by the freight.
  • LTL or partial load: considered when several people’s or companies’ freight are shipped with a single truck. Doing so decreases the cost of transportation thanks to sharing the truck’s space, as well as the expenses associated with the project. However, the timeframe needed to deliver your property may be lengthened.
  • Oversized freight: If the trailer’s width or weight limit is exceeded, then the freight is considered oversized. Loads that are 13’ 6’’ tall and 8’ 6’’ wide or more are considered oversized in the U.S. 
  • Flatbed freight: considered as loads which are shipped with flatbed trailers. Such loads will have to face the elements without protection, and the driver will be in charge of securing them. 

Larger sized industrial commodities like bridge beams, steel pipes, prefab houses, and large generators, are much easier and safer to load with this method. Instead of using a forklift, a crane can complete the job much easier. You can load such a trailer from the top or the sides, and loads measuring the full width of the trailer can be easily accommodated. Because of all these advantages, in the United States, flatbeds are popular and used extensively to transport industrial and construction loads.

As long as the trailer’s length isn’t exceeded, a permit is not necessary to load freight on a flatbed trailer. The freight can be more than 50’ long, 8’ high, and 8’ wide, though the maximum allowed weight is 48.000 lbs. Ideally, you should keep the freight’s weight below 47.000 lbs, since some trucks may not be able to transport 48.000 lbs. Truckers also try to avoid transporting exceedingly heavy freights since fuel costs are higher.

  • Lowboy freight: There are similarities between flatbeds and lowboy trailers. The latter are also known as RGNs or double drops, and their deck height is much lower. The load’s height is therefore lowered helping to prevent surpassing restrictions on oversized loads. You can use such a trailer to ship taller loads without having to take on more safety considerations and costs.

How to handle heavy equipment

Heavy equipment may have particular handling requirements such as the following:

  • If the machine you’re transporting has sharp corners, then special packaging may be needed.
  • If you’re shipping sensitive equipment, you may want to protect it against weather issues with a tarp or through some other means. Not packaging the machinery, in such a way that a tarp can be placed on top, can lead to rain, snow, and other situations damaging it.
  • In some cases, the destination point must be informed 2 days prior to the freight’s arrival. Either the transport service provider or you must notify them.
  • To offload equipment, a crane may be needed.
  • You should also inform the transport provider of the number of loads that will be shipped during the project.
  • Heavy equipment may necessitate a destination which can provide certain services or products like gas or oil.
  • In some cases, the transport provider may have to go off road in order to complete the delivery. In this situation, an off road truck with VHF radio will be needed.

Having a reliable contact to take care of handling requirements is an invaluable asset. You’ll need an experienced transport provider for the job, one that can communicate effectively with involved parties.

Shipping methods

There are numerous transport methods available for heavy machineries as the need for moving them to where they’ll be used has existed ever since their creation. The following 4 are used more often by companies today:

  • Container shipping. Using standard 20 or 40 ft containers, you can transport just about anything to any location on earth. However, some heavy machinery may be too large to fit inside a container. In this case, your items will have to first be disassembled before being shipped.

The advantage of this type of transport is how easy it is to perform. On the other hand, the time and labor may be necessary to disassemble the machinery must be taken into consideration. 

  • The LoLo method. Known as lift on lift off, it implies loading heavy machinery with the help of a crane. It’s considered an easy way to place heavy machinery on ships and trailers. However, since crane operators and the crane itself are needed, costs may be higher.
  • The RoRo method. Known as roll on roll off, it’s one of the most common ways to transport wheeled objects. It can be used in overseas transport or to load heavy machinery inside a container or trailer. There are big cost and time advantages to this method, though the machinery may take more space due to the wheels. Stacking them on top of each other may also be more difficult.
  • Flat rack transportation. To solve the issues of trailer compatibility and stacking, heavy machinery can be moved using flat rack containers. Basically, such a container lacks a roof and sidewalls, so the freight can be mounted on its surface without having to adhere to its actual dimensions.

Because the standard container bottoms are ideal for placing on trailers or for stacking, this method is often employed to transport larger machinery without losing the advantages of containers. However, since the equipment will not be covered, it will be vulnerable to outside factors.

The shipper will have to pay for the extra work put into disassembly, tarping, or shrink wrapping. It’s best to get a sense of all your expenses, since transporting heavy machinery is not a cheap endeavor. In some cases, you may save money by disassembling the machinery and transporting it in different containers or pallets.

Density

The delivery’s speed and ease, the cost, and the method with which you’ll transport machinery depend on the items’ density. Due to the loads’ irregularity, many shipping standard practices will have to be bypassed. 

In order to transport boats, tractors, aircraft engines, and other heavy machineries, shipping service providers must adapt to the unique shape, weight, and size of the objects. Because different parts of the equipment may have different densities, they must be calculated carefully.

How to calculate density

Density is mass per volume. When talking about your shipment, the mass will probably be measured in pounds, and the volume in cubic feet. Regardless if your heavy equipment is transported using the LoLo method, on a flat rack, in a container, or on a pallet, its density will help the service provider make a comprehensive plan for its transport.

In order to properly calculate the shipment’s density, packaging and pallets must be included. Items without a regular shape, such as tractors, will be measured as if placed inside a box. Extremities, like masts and antennas, will be included in calculating the length, width, height of the object. 

To obtain the transport’s density, the first step is to calculate its cubic inches. These can be calculated by multiplying the length with the width and height. If you divide the obtained number by 1.728 you’ll obtain the shipment’s cubic feet. Finally, to obtain the density of the transport, or pounds/cubic feet, you’ll need to divide the transport’s weight by cubic feet calculated earlier.

Priority in shipping heavy equipment

Speed of delivery is an important factor in shipping. If you need to transport heavy machinery on short notice or on a tight schedule, then you may end up with additional costs. There’s also a higher chance of something going wrong due to acting in a rush.

However, there are methods you can use to mitigate these issues. A competent logistics firm is one of them. As much as guides are helpful, when under a time restraint, it’s easy to make mistakes. Therefore, it’s often the best course of action to hire a qualified broker to handle your project.

Local and international destinations

There are additional costs incurred from the destination where you’re sending the heavy equipment. If we’re shipping to another state or country, then we can expect licensing tolls/fees, tariffs, customs fees, etc. In some cases, new laws and inspections can slow down or even prevent the cargo’s delivery. 

To prevent the heavy equipment from being returned, impounded, or stopped midway, you’ll need a service provider with extensive knowledge of treaties and laws affecting cross border shipping. Even when transporting equipment within the US, this knowledge can prove invaluable.

Joe Webster
Written By:Joe Webster
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Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing. 

After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood. 

With over 30 years experience in the industry, we've been helping people ship their vehicles, motorcycles, RV's, heavy equipment, household goods and more across the country or overseas without a hitch. Ask us anything.

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A-1 Auto Transport is a disclosed agent for the following shipping companies:

Trans Global Auto Logistics, Inc.
3401 E Randol Mill Rd
Arlington, TX 76011
NO. 018191NF
CFR Rinkens
15501 Texaco Avenue
Paramount, CA 90723
NO. 013055NF
ABC Worldwide LLC
2840 NW 2nd Ave #105
Boca Raton, FL 33431
NO. 025472F
CSI Logistics
435 Division Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07201
FMC 22206
Intl Cargo
45 Campus drive
Edison, NJ 08837
NO. 17858N
ShipYourCarNow LLC
1160 South Rogers Circle Suite 1
Boca Raton, FL 33487
NO. 025646
Merco Air & Ocean Cargo, Inc.
6 Fir Way
Cooper City, FL 33026
NO. 021869F
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