6 Ways to Maximize Efficiency in Breakbulk Cargo Shipping

by | Industry

It’s no secret that shipping is complex and demanding. But breakbulk cargo shipping layers on a whole other set of challenges for freight forwarders. The opportunity is great for those who can rise to the challenge: although containerized freight has a stronghold on the lion’s share of global shipping, we’ve recently seen record-breaking months for breakbulk cargo handled at NWSA-operated breakbulk terminals.

Breakbulk Vs. Containerized Freight

It’s not hard to see the difference between breakbulk and containerized freight:

Breakbulk: Breakbulk refers to the shipment of large, heavy, high-value, or complex pieces of equipment or machinery that are palletized, bagged, strapped, bundled, drummed, or crated. It often involves shipments that are oversized, heavy, or that need to be disassembled and reassembled at the destination. These cargoes are typically related to various industries like construction, energy (oil, gas, wind, solar), mining, etc. Sometimes referred to as project cargo, it might include items like turbines, generators, transformers, boilers, or entire factories. Due to the unique nature of these goods, each project cargo shipment requires detailed planning and specialized equipment. 

Containerized Freight: Containerized freight, on the other hand, is the most common form of cargo shipping. It involves packing goods into standardized containers that can be easily loaded, unloaded, and transferred between ships, trucks, and trains. The standardized sizes (usually 20-foot and 40-foot lengths) allow for easy stacking and efficient use of space on cargo ships. Containerized freight is ideal for a wide variety of goods, particularly those that can be easily packed and unpacked like electronics, clothing, food products, and smaller machinery.

In short, breakbulk is usually for large, bulky, and unusual goods that require special handling, while containerized freight is for goods that can be easily packed into standardized containers.

Key Takeaways

  • Breakbulk cargo shipping presents a number of unique challenges to logistics service providers, from routing and handling to packaging and risk management.
  • Digitization provides increased visibility and streamlines various processes, which are particularly important given the complex nature of breakbulk cargo.
  • Comprehensive cargo insurance coverage and effective risk management strategies can help minimize the impact of any unexpected issues or delays.

Challenges of Breakbulk Shipping

Breakbulk shipping presents several unique challenges for logistics providers:

Handling and Stowage: Because of the large size or unusual shape of breakbulk items, special handling equipment and procedures are often necessary. These items may require cranes, flatbed trucks, or other specialized equipment. Correct stowage is crucial to prevent damage during transit, which often requires careful planning, timing, and expertise.

Routing: Breakbulk items are often oversized and may not pass under bridges or through tunnels, which can necessitate special routing to avoid such obstacles. This can complicate logistics and increase transit times and costs.

Regulatory Compliance: Shipping large and heavy items often involves adhering to numerous regulations, both local and international. These might relate to safety, environmental protection, or customs duties. Ensuring compliance with all applicable regulations can be complex and time-consuming.

Load/Unload Processes: Breakbulk items take longer to load and unload than standard containers, which can lead to increased labor costs and longer shipping times. Also, special equipment or infrastructure may be required at both the loading and unloading points.

Coordination: Breakbulk shipments often involve several different modes of transport, each with its unique requirements and limitations. Careful coordination between these modes is necessary to ensure that cargo is efficiently transferred from one form of transport to another.

Risk Management: Due to the high value or delicate nature of some breakbulk cargo, these shipments can carry significant risks. Insurance coverage and comprehensive risk management strategies are critical to handle potential damage, delays, or other disruptions.

Packaging: Breakbulk cargo may need specialized packaging to protect the cargo from environmental conditions such as moisture, saltwater, extreme temperatures, or rough handling.

How to Maximize Efficiency in Breakbulk Shipping

Maximizing efficiency in shipping breakbulk cargo requires strategic measures aimed at improving planning, coordination, flexibility, and transparency. Here are some ways to increase efficiency:

Detailed Planning and Documentation

With breakbulk shipping, it’s important to carefully plan and document each step of the journey, from loading and stowage to transport and unloading. This can include determining the right type of vessel, assessing port facilities, deciding on the best routing, and timing the shipment to avoid delays.

Specialized Equipment

Using the right equipment can make a significant difference in handling breakbulk cargo. This might include specialized cranes, forklifts, or other handling equipment.

Experienced Staff

Experienced staff can help prevent errors and improve efficiency. This can involve staff trained in handling breakbulk cargo, as well as staff familiar with the regulatory requirements of different countries.

Building Strong Relationships

Relationships matter, and they can be an important differentiator for your business. Having strong relationships with ports, agents, shipping lines, and transport providers can help ensure priority treatment and faster service.

Insurance and Risk Management

Even with careful planning and coordination, things can sometimes go wrong. Comprehensive cargo insurance coverage and effective risk management strategies can help minimize the impact of any unexpected issues or delays.

Strong Technology Platform

Digitization plays a crucial role in maximizing the efficiency of breakbulk shipping. It provides increased visibility and streamlines various processes, which are particularly important given the complex nature of breakbulk cargo. Benefits of a strong freight technology platform for breakbulk shipping include:

  • Real-time tracking of breakbulk shipments allows freight forwarders and their clients to monitor the status of their cargo at all times, which can help in planning and can quickly address any issues that arise.
  • Digitizing documents can speed up administrative processes and reduce the chance of errors. This is particularly important for breakbulk shipping, which often involves a large amount of paperwork.
  • Digital tools can improve communication between all parties involved in a shipment, from the shipper and receiver to the port authorities and transport providers. This can help coordinate the various stages of the journey and ensure everyone has the latest information.
  • Digital technologies can also help collect and analyze data on breakbulk shipments. This can provide insights into ways to improve efficiency, reduce costs, or better manage risks.
  • Certain processes, such as scheduling, invoicing, or customs clearance, can also be automated using digital tools, which can save time and reduce the chance of errors.

In conclusion, while breakbulk shipping can be challenging due to the size and nature of the cargo involved, implementing detailed planning, leveraging specialized equipment and experienced staff, and digitizing processes can significantly increase efficiency and provide real-time visibility to all stakeholders involved.

Ready to digitize and modernize your freight forwarding operations?

See how Magaya can help.