Understanding Project Cargo: How 3PLs Move Unique Items

Jan 13, 2023

No two days are ever quite the same in this industry.

For every successful delivery of household and retail products, there will inevitably arise some obscure, once-in-a-lifetime project requiring an intensely creative shipping solution. Moving, securing and ultimately delivering specialized items such as temperature-sensitive meats and produce, complex mechanical equipment or fragile (even dangerous) cargo frequently requires the fullest extent of a 3PL’s expertise.

Out of the 20,000+ 3PL businesses in the United States, only a select few opt to tackle the challenges and unpredictability associated with this difficult — and necessary — type of job. Here’s a quick look at how First Call is stepping up to manage what the industry terms “project cargo.”

What is Project Cargo?

Sometimes referred to as simply project freight, project cargo is a logistical term used to denote the transportation and management of uncommonly heavy, oversized or otherwise difficult-to-move items. Examples include construction equipment, turbines, automobiles, large storage tanks, steel pipes and defense-related equipment.

The greatest demand for moving this type of cargo right now stems from the oil and gas industry, automotive dealers, aerospace engineering and humanitarian organizations. Shipping essential equipment and tools to these industry project areas is often time-sensitive and time-consuming, requiring careful planning and coordination with a variety of involved parties.

What’s So Challenging About Shipping Project Cargo?

So, what makes project cargo so much more difficult to manage than your average household or retail product shipments?

1. Multi-Modal Transportation Introduces Variables

There are four main ways to move products from A to B anywhere in the world (air, ground, ocean and rail). Due to the abnormal size, weight and safety requirements governing the proper handling of project cargo shipments, multiple modes of transportation are likely needed to transport the cargo across long distances.

This means vetting and hiring a variety of different carriers and coordinating precise pickup and delivery times for each to ensure transport proceeds smoothly. As the complexity of the route increases, so too does the risk of potential delays.

2. Delivery Timelines Can Be Unpredictable

Due to their sheer size, project freight items aren’t going to arrive as quickly as smaller packages do.

Heavier cargo puts a greater strain on engines, forcing trucks to drive slower when they’re hauling oversized loads. Additionally, many states require permits to move certain types of items or products over a certain size and weight, and travel through the state is often regulated by state police who dictate the times the piece is permitted to move. Usually that means waiting for late night or otherwise low-traffic hours.

It’s not uncommon for oversized shipments to be shut down completely during rush hour. These combined factors make it more difficult to predict exactly how long it will take to move project cargo to its destination.

3. Flexibility Is Extremely Limited

Logistics professionals can anticipate chaos to a certain degree, but obstacles will inevitably arise over the course of shipping project freight which force shippers to abandon Plan A for an alternative solution. This ability to be nimble is sometimes slowed when hauling uniquely large, dangerous or sensitive items.

From local complications like surprise road construction and port congestion to larger issues like rising fuel costs and permit processing delays, efficient project cargo transport is always something of a moving target – and the available options to work around these obstacles may be sparse.

4. A Bunch of Parties Are Usually Involved

It’s not called project cargo for nothing – the logistics driving the movement of these items is a team effort. Between the business or organization sponsoring the move, their 3PL contact, various shipping carriers, state regulators and other authorities invested in the safety of the product, there can be a whole host of chefs working in this very complex kitchen.

With so many involved parties, it can prove difficult to settle on a plan that meets all legal requirements while keeping to the client’s requested delivery timeframe.

5. There Is No “Tried and True” Method

Perhaps the most imposing challenge of them all is the lack of any “tried and true” formula for moving project cargo.

Each piece presents its own challenges that need solving. While extensive industry experience can lend some guidance towards where to begin, each load must be assessed and evaluated individually to determine its optimal transport strategy. A great logistics provider is one capable of piecing together efficient solutions on the fly while maintaining clear communication with partners and constant visibility into the shipment’s whereabouts*.

*Hey, we know of a 3PL matching that description!

Why Use a 3PL to Ship Project Cargo?

When it comes to moving project cargo, there’s no team better equipped than a 3PL with experience in unusual shipping and handling requirements. First Call has successfully expedited everything from coated SpaceX rods to an indoor turf football field in the past year alone, with more unique jobs on the way.

Partnering with FCL for special shipping projects also connects you to our team’s multi-modal network of trusted carriers capable of handling challenging loads and our established rapport with local law enforcement agencies, which can help accelerate the permit process for abnormal project cargo and steer clear of potential hangups.

Contact a First Call expert for specifics on how we can help move your next project shipment.

Simplify your Next Shipment with First Call Logistics

Building and managing cost-efficient supply chains is a full-time job. First Call’s rare combination of in-house assets, expert problem-solving and track record of stellar customer service makes us the 3PL of choice for business partners with a wide range of shipping needs.

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