When you see a liquid bulk trailer on the highway, it’s easy to overlook the amount of work that goes into making the transportation of that load possible. Liquid bulk transportation companies – including the shippers themselves, for-hire carriers, and specialized freight brokers – each perform vital roles in moving unwieldy and often very valuable bulk products across the U.S. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the role of each of these players in driving safety and performance in bulk transportation.
Shippers – the owners of the freight
As the companies initiating the loads and dictating the parameters, shippers carry a lot of the burden in ensuring that liquid bulk transportation goes smoothly. They are responsible for:
- Compatible equipment. First and foremost, shippers need to make sure that the transportation equipment they request is compatible with their product. While the freight broker and carrier will likely have experience with the product and related Safety Data Sheet information, some of the information is proprietary to the manufacturer. So, it is incumbent upon the shipper to understand the tank and related equipment (e.g., center or rear unloader, amount of hose) that should be used to transport the product.
- Compatible prior products. Equipment due diligence extends to compatible prior products as well. Take methanol for instance. In our experience, methanol should only be shipped in dedicated methanol tanks so that it is not compromised by the odor of another type of product that was previously shipped (if there’s an odor to be absorbed, methanol will absorb it).
- Safety. Shippers must ensure that safety guidelines are in place during the loading and unloading processes. This includes precautions related to loading and unloading areas, containment areas in case there is a spill, hazmat-specific safety training, harnesses if loaders will go on top of the tank, and inclement weather.
- Documentation. The shipper is also responsible for providing necessary contact information, shipping papers and other relevant documentation (including labeling, certificate of analysis, and placarding for hazmat shipments).
Among liquid bulk transportation companies, the role of the carrier is quite a bit more involved than simply receiving an order and driving. After all, any mistakes made by a carrier with bulk shipments aren’t just simply sorted out with shipper afterward – they’re likely shown on the TV news (think helicopter views of a highway chemical spill). Because of the stakes involved, there are many precautions that carriers must take when shipping bulk liquids. These include:
- Maintenance of trucks and equipment. While it may seem obvious, the importance of safe, functional equipment – and, therefore, daily equipment inspections – cannot be overstated. This is not just important for avoiding TV-news-worthy accidents, but for avoiding little annoyances that can prove very costly. For instance, if a “check engine” light should go on, the driver is typically required to go off the road immediately and not return to the route until the issue is addressed. This can result in lost hours, or even a day or two of lost productivity, leading to a shipment delay.
- Compliance. All carriers must have insurance and appropriate registration and adhere to the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate and Hours of Service (HOS) regulations. Falling short in any of these areas can create headaches for the shipper and/or freight broker, in addition to any fines the carrier may receive.
- Timeliness. While there is certainly much that carriers need to be concerned with, they are still primarily responsible for transporting bulk liquids safely and on time. The “on time” part of the equation is particularly important with certain liquid bulk products which can settle, change consistency, or otherwise have a reaction to the tank material if they stay in the tank too long.
Bulk freight brokers
Often filling in the gap between shippers and carriers are specialized bulk freight brokers. These liquid bulk transportation companies perform a wide range of services – and institute a wide range of precautions – to support both shipper and carrier. These include:
- Compatible equipment. While knowing the required equipment is primarily the shipper’s responsibility, the broker can and will step in if things don’t look right. Some brokers, like Bulk Connection, have decades of experience shipping just about every liquid bulk product there is. They therefore know when a red flag should be raised, such as when the wrong tank type is requested for a given material.
- Contact information. When brokering a load, a quality bulk freight broker will procure – and verify – the contact information of all necessary parties to ensure that the carrier has all the contact information it needs.
- Credit issues. Shippers will often fill out credit applications to cover work that will be performed before payment is made. It is another area in which bulk freight brokers can raise a red flag to protect all parties. For example, if a shipper is contacting a broker to transport loads that will cost a total of $150,000 over a short period of time, but only put down $15,000 on the credit application, something could very well be wrong. The broker will then investigate and resolve the issue to its satisfaction before (and if) proceeding.
- Carrier background checks. Quality freight brokers will perform a variety of background checks before entrusting a load to a specific carrier. These checks include a review of safety ratings, past infractions, and carrier insurance, making sure the carrier has sufficient cargo insurance above the value of the material.
One of the biggest benefits of working with a bulk freight broker is that they often have years of experience with many different carriers. They’re able to chart the performance of these companies and continue to work only with the ones that consistently meet or exceed expectations. With over 30 years of industry experience, Bulk Connection is one such broker. Contact us today and learn how we can help manage your difficult bulk shipping challenges.