Say you’re based in Europe, and you’ve just scored a great deal on some used earth moving equipment in the US. How do you transport that machine to your location without wiping out everything you saved on the purchase? Here are some tips on shipping excavators and other large construction equipment.
Get familiar with the challenges of shipping out of gauge and heavy haul freight.
When you ship construction machinery, the size and weight of the cargo often dictate that you’ll need special equipment and services, which come with extra expense. Do you understand everything required to load, secure and transport your cargo safely and legally? Can you execute those requirements without racking up excessive costs? If not, it’s a good idea to work with a logistics partner that specializes in heavy and oversize freight.
Consider both container shipping and RO-RO.
Usually, the cheapest way to ship freight on the ocean is in a standard shipping container—a closed steel box that is either 20 feet, 40 feet or 45 feet long. But many backhoes, bulldozers and other construction machines won’t fit in standard containers. In that case, you might choose one of several cargo container types designed for oversize freight, such as a flat rack or an open top.
You might also skip the container and use roll-on, roll-off (RO-RO) service. Then, a worker at the port simply drives the machine onto the ship. If for some reason driving isn’t possible, a worker loads the machine on a wheeled conveyance called a MAFI trailer and then drives that onto the vessel.
Whether to use container or RO-RO service for your cargo can be a complex calculation. The answer depends on your schedule and budget, plus the dimensions and weight of the machine.
Make the machine smaller
Whether you are shipping an excavator or other construction equipment, if is too tall and/or wide for a standard shipping container it might be possible to disassemble it and then fit all the pieces inside. Most major ports have companies nearby that are experts in that kind of disassembly. Tell them the make and model of your machine, and they’ll know exactly how to take it apart and load it in the box.
That service comes with a fee, of course. And you’ll also need experts at the destination port to reassemble your machine. But since this downsizing can save you 50 percent or more on ocean transportation, it’s usually worth the cost.
Sometimes it just takes a quick modification to fit an oversize load in a closed container. That’s how I.C.E. Transport solved the puzzle when a large machine that arrived at a warehouse turned out to be too wide to load as planned.
Someone at the warehouse figured out that if they detached the axles and wheels before loading, everything would fit in a standard container. The shipper gave permission to cut some brackets with a blowtorch, and employees got to work, saving the shipper the extra expense of using a flat rack or RO-RO service.
Let someone else load and secure the machine
When you use container service, you need to load and secure the cargo carefully, to avoid shifting and damage in transit. And when you use a flat rack container, the load needs to be blocked and braced according to standards set by the National Cargo Bureau (NCB), or the steamship line will reject it.
If a trucker is going to transport your machine to the port in a container or on a flat rack, you’re responsible for loading and securing the cargo. If you don’t have someone you trust on site to manage that process, it’s often better to have the trucker take the machine to the port on a regular trailer. Then the trucker is responsible for loading and securing. The driver will take the cargo to a warehouse near or in the port, where expert workers load it in or on a shipping container, secure it properly and transport it to the terminal.
Buy from a location that makes sense
If your seller is located in eastern Pennsylvania, transporting the machine to a port on the East Coast for shipping to Europe is not all that expensive. But if the seller is in Kansas, that’s a more complicated and costly proposition. Ideally, when you’re shipping excavators and other large construction machinery, you should buy from someplace fairly close to an ocean port that provides service to your destination.
Figure out the cost of transportation to the port before you make your purchase. If the numbers don’t add up, maybe you should look for a similar product in a better location.
Also, keep in mind that you can’t always use the nearest port. Does it actually offer sailings to your destination? If you’re using RO-RO service, do RO-RO ships actually call there?
Keep it clean
By definition, earth moving equipment gets dirty. And when you ship internationally, even a few streaks of mud on the undercarriage could get your shipment turned away. It’s not that the inspectors are clean freaks; they’re just following regulations to keep invasive species from hitching a ride into their country.
So when you buy construction equipment in the US, before you have the cargo loaded for shipping overseas, arrange for a pressure wash to get rid of all traces of dirt and debris.
Where to find help shipping excavators and other large construction equipment
Having read this far, you know that shipping a massive loader, backhoe or other construction equipment is a complex enterprise. It’s even harder when you try to manage the process from thousands of miles away.
That’s why it’s important to enlist expert help in the country where the equipment starts its journey. A freight forwarder with deep experience in out of gauge cargo shipping can take charge of your equipment from the point where you buy it all the way to your site. This partner will figure out the best way to ship your load, given your schedule and budget, and then execute that plan, tracking its progress through every step.
Before you make your purchase, consult with one of the specialists at I.C.E. Transport.