To smooth out the supply chain around ocean-bound shipments, NACA Logistics Group is taking a couple of new steps: setting up wireless LANs at five warehouse locations and launching whats possibly the cargo consolidation industrys first Hazardous Materials Department.
NACA is one of the worlds largest players in a category called called NVOCC (global non-vessel operating common carriers). The new Hazardous Materials Department has been set up within Conterm Consolidation Services, a company-owned business that consolidates shipments from multiple customers into huge containers—usually 40 and 50 feet long—which travel aboard steamships to ports worldwide.
“[But] separating haz [hazardous] from non-haz [non-hazardous] materials is key. Otherwise, you might have bookcases from one company in the same container as a corrosive drum from another, for instance,” Greg Scott, traffic and warehouse manager at Conterms site in Chicago, said during an interview with eWEEK.com.
Materials deemed hazardous face complex and frequently changing domestic and international regulations around marking and labeling that dont apply to other goods, according to Scott. Meanwhile, ocean carriers keep getting stricter about enforcement.
Conterms new Hazard Materials Department—headed by the recently hired Eric Fischer—has been set up to make sure hazardous shipments are complying with the law and that non-hazardous materials dont get delayed in the process.
“As far as we know, ours is the only department of this kind in the [cargo consolidation] industry,” Scott said.
In the new department, five Conterm employees are dedicated on a full-time basis to tasks once performed less regularly by up to 150 people companywide. Plans are in gear to add two more staffers to the department.
Much of the new departments work revolves around processing two types of documents submitted by customers, Fischer said during the interview. The documents include the Hazardous Declaration form, known for short as the Haz Doc, and the Master Bill of Lading.
According to Fischer, prior to the rollout of the new department, customers sometimes submitted the Master Bill of Lading after ships had started loading, often with changes to their original cargo plans.
To support the centralized approach to processing these documents, Conterm has given customers a dedicated fax number—as well as a dedicated e-mail address—for sending in forms about hazardous materials.
The departments scrupulous attention to cargo documents will pay off by saving “haz” customers from being subject to fines for non-compliance, according to the two officials.
Customers will also be spared the need to stay up to speed on all the nuances in the frequently changing rule set involving U.S. Department of Transportation regulations and the IMDG (International Maritime Dangerous Goods) Code.
“The domestic regulations get updated once a year, and the international regulations, once every two years,” Scott said. The domestic rules alone add up to about 900 pages of text, he said.
Meanwhile, to help speed processing of “haz” and “non-haz” materials alike, NACA has installed wireless LANs at its five company-affiliated distribution centers, which operate under the brand name “Vanguard Logistics.”
Conterm and Vanguard are each part of NACA, an entity that also includes Direct Container Line and Brennan International Transport. But Conterm makes use of third-party, non-Vanguard distribution centers, too, Scott said.
The wireless LAN approach was first adopted about a year ago at a Vanguard site in Chicago. Since then, the 802.11 technology from Cisco Systems Inc. has also gone up at Vanguard warehouses in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Miami.
Right now, the warehouse Wi-Fi implementation goes hand-in-hand with bar code scanning, performed via MC 9060 Long-Range Color PDAs from Symbol Technologies Inc.
In the deployment, the company is automating logistics and inventory management processes that were once performed entirely manually. As a result, turnaround times have improved drastically, according to Scott.
“In the past, we had to manually write up dock receipts—and then get them over to our receiving office, where they were keyed in before going out to customers,” he said. “[But now], the customer can be receiving the receipt while were still literally standing next to the shipment in the warehouse.”
For the future, Conterm is contemplating adding wireless LAN connectivity at non-Vanguard third-party warehouses where the company rents space.
RFID is another possibility, according to Scott. “I believe well be open to RFID. But first, we want to learn more about where Wi-Fi is going to get us,” he told eWEEK.com.