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Taken from HLPFI’s 10th anniversary edition, David Kershaw investigates the application of new technology in the heavy lift and project forwarding industry. 

Most industry executives agree that the specialised nature of the heavy lift and project forwarding sector has made it more difficult to apply new technology than in the wider logistics business. Looking ahead, however, its role can only increase. 

Photo credit: DNV GL


The Internet of Things, automation, artificial intelligence, social media, 3D printing and e- commerce; it seems the whole world has changed dramatically over the last ten years. While the general logistics business has been quick on the uptake of new technology, project logistics has been somewhat of a comparative laggard.

At the World Crane & Transport Summit in 2015, Mammoet’s then ceo Jan Kleijn suggested that the technological changes occurring in our world may have a dramatic effect on the crane and specialised transport industry's business if the sector does not work hard to embrace innovation itself. 

“The days of relentless economic growth are over,” he commented, adding that technology and smart thinking are now reshaping the world economy. “Imagine if somebody started an Uber service for cranes and specialised transport - how would that affect us and our customers? We are a conservative industry; we like to own our own equipment; but is this the right attitude for the future?” 

Kleijn also stated that disruptors like 3D printing could have widespread ramifications for the project logistics sector, suggesting the technology could be used to build bridges or plant and equipment on site, eliminating the need for the transport and logistics functions altogether. "Are we driving change or does change happen to us?" he asked the summit audience. 

Disruptive technology 

Kleijn’s comments are all the more pertinent today. In 2016, GE started testing its largest jet engine ever built, which incorporated 3D-printed components. The launch of Uber Freight in 2017, although not designed for the specialised transport industry, indicates that new technologies are becoming increasingly disruptive. 

We have witnessed a number of technological advancements designed to assist the project cargo and heavy lift industry enter the market over the past ten years, including the launch of the Ugly Cargo marketplace; the growth of online heavy equipment marketplaces, such as IronPlanet and VeriTread; the development of ShipNext; and increasing use of virtual reality in training programmes. 

However, summing up the attitude of many in the project forwarding sector, Colin Charnock, group managing director of Trans Global Projects (TGP), said: “I’d like to see the day you can move a 500-tonne module with an app.” 

 “I’d like to see the day you can move a 500-tonne module with an app.” 

                   - Colin Charnock, group managing director of Trans Global Projects (TGP).

He added: “Project logistics is often about non-standard shipments. A huge chunk may be carried in standard sea containers, but the non-standard cargo is the bit that requires expertise, planning and engineering skills. This is where technology is there to support us, but it will not replace us. 

“Digitalisation has offered us many opportunities to streamline processes, but at the end of the day it is the human factor that makes the difference.” 

Michel Dubois, global head of energy and project solutions at Panalpina, believes “there is still a bit of an Excel spreadsheet culture, but information certainly moves much more quickly. There is more automatic transmission of information. If we see a potential problem, we can act proactively and warn the customer and they can plan accordingly. And, if they want, the customer can follow the transport live, not just get notified of the milestones.” 

Grant Wattman, president and ceo of Agility Project Logistics, said technology has not had as big an effect as he had hoped. “Older guys like me look at 1,000 different ways to reorganise a spreadsheet, but we need to change our mindset to use the available technology. This is especially important, for instance, in terms of using data to predict what will happen in the next quarter or half year. There is a lot of data available but the industry can be very slow to change.”

Thomas Bek, global director, oil, gas and industrial projects at Blue Water Shipping (BWS), said it has invested in its technical engineering and IT departments, now totalling more than 80 people, so that it can develop programmes and services that benefit customers. 

“For instance we have developed a wind terminal base system which keeps track of all wind components at shipment locations round the world. We also offer heat mapping which identifies damage on, for example, wind blades, and if there is a pattern, we can take proactive action to mitigate that.” 

New technology has also played a significant role with regard to project management and in helping “get the temperature of a project,” said Bek. “We are all on the same system so we work more quickly and it has improved the quality of the information flow – to customers as well as internally. The KPIs help all of us identify bottlenecks and also make sure that lessons learnt on one project can be passed on in the company.” 

A key area of focus and development at Bahri is IT innovation. In 2015 it launched Bahri Data – to lead the company’s Big Data strategy and use information and data to efficiently run its business. 

Key driver 

Steve Blowers, senior country manager for North America, said the department is a “key driver for the future”, adding that “we are committed to the use and development of smart ships technology which will allow Bahri to remotely monitor vessel machinery, including predictive maintenance programmes which helps the planning process and efficient operation of our large fleet, reducing the maintenance period of the vessels.” 

In 2016, Bahri Logistics introduced a new operating system called MOVE, along with cloud based Office 365 and SPS a stowage planning software within the business unit. Blowers said this significantly improved its ability to efficiently operate its business. 

“One of the key benefits is that information is now shared internally much more quickly and efficiently than before, including via its new mobile apps, so that everyone knows exactly what is happening in real time,” said Blowers. 

IT innovation continues to gather pace. The advent of blockchain technology and cryptocurrency have recently burst onto the scene and, if managed correctly, look well placed to revolutionise the way in which business transactions are processed and paid for. 

However, nothing we see suggests that robots will handle non-standardised cargoes anytime soon. 


This article is taken from HLPFI's 10th anniversary edition, reflecting on some of the key events that have changed the heavy lift and project forwarding industry over the last decade. Find out more about the special publication here

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