Flatbed and Heavy Equipment Transport: An Ultimate Guide
Flatbed and heavy equipment transport has unique requirements and considerations that an organization may not realize until they have an immediate need. With today’s “just in time” supply chains it is increasingly important to be prepared for the unexpected, as any delays or mistakes can potentially have disastrous consequences that can cost thousands of dollars. Even minor slip ups can strain customer relationships and cause business to be awarded to competitors. The purpose of this guide is to detail some of the things you need to know in order to transport your heavy equipment safely and efficiently while maximizing your resources.
This comprehensive guide to flatbed and heavy equipment transport covers these critical topics:
Choosing a Heavy Equipment Transporter
Getting Your Freight Ready to Transport
Ensuring Everything Runs Smoothly
Choosing a Heavy Equipment Transporter
There are many different factors that will affect your customer experience with a transportation provider as well as it’s overall cost.
Managing the transport of heavy equipment yourself comes at a cost that many people don’t necessarily consider. If you have shipped heavy equipment yourself in the past and have been happy with the results, it may be a simple matter to repeat the process again (and perhaps you’re at this guide to run down a specific topic).
But if your organization is new to heavy equipment transport, or if you have been unhappy with the process and/or results of your heavy equipment transport in the past, this section may help you organize your thoughts in choosing the right heavy equipment transporter.
It is a good idea to have as much information as possible before contacting transportation providers to get the best service and information needed to make a decision some of this information could be:
- Is this a one off move or will this be happening again and again?
- Do you have contacts and addresses for both pick up and delivery?
- Will appointments need to be made for loading and unloading?
In this section, I’ll be discussing the following topics to help you choose a heavy equipment transporter:
To help you understand when it makes sense to work with a 3PL/freight broker versus an asset-based carrier, let’s examine the main types of heavy equipment providers, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each:
- Asset-Based Shipping Companies
- The Best of Both Worlds
By definition, third-party logistics company (typically referred to as “3PL” or a “non-asset based provider”) is a company’s use of third-party businesses to outsource parts of your distribution and fulfillment services.
When thinking about 3PL, you probably use the phrase “freight broker,” as 3PL partners typically help you ship freight by managing outside vendors. In most cases, 3PL providers do not have their own trucks (hence the phrase “non-asset based provider”).
Advantages of Working with a 3PL for Heavy Equipment Transport
– Save time, save resources, save money with a freight broker as a strategic partner, you have the benefit of your own dedicated shipping department without the expense of having your own shipping department. Using a freight broker can eliminate stress and save time to allow you to focus on what your core responsibilities are. With the speed that supply chains change your freight needs and technology, and systems required to adequately oversee your freight is constantly and rapidly changing one must be able to adequately answer whether or not it makes sense to focus on your companies core focus and knowledge base and know if it might make better sense to focus these resources on the development of other aspects of your areas of expertise rather than creating a new department and core competencies (for more on the cost of shipping heavy equipment and what it means, be sure to check out this section).
– Access to Capacity. With available trucking capacity being stretched to it’s limits it can be very hard for shippers in this current market to find reliable qualified carriers. many reputable 3pl providers will bring access to thousands of approved contracted carriers that will often help locate an empty truck right by your freight.
– Flexibility. As your business changes, a 3PL can change its solutions for you to match your rate of growth (or constriction). With a reputable 3pl they will often have established means of providing service via different modes of transportation as well which can also often lead to significant cost savings.
– Technology. With complex transportation management systems (TMS) that are always evolving 3pls can provide a variety of value added services to their clients from freight bill auditing, locating empty equipment right by available loads. To managing complex return and warehouse management systems.
Disadvantages of Working with a 3PL for Heavy Equipment Transport
– Inconsistency. When you partner with a 3PL to transport heavy equipment and choose based primarily on price, it may result in inconsistent levels of service. A freight broker will often “shop around” to find you the best price, which could mean different trucking companies at different times and for different shipments. This can be minimized by having a firm understanding of the business that one will be moving and working with consistent trucks to haul any freight.
– Loss of control. One disadvantage of using a 3PL is a lack of direct oversight. Put simply, you are putting a lot of trust into your freight broker, who is then putting a lot of trust into their partners to deliver your heavy equipment safely and efficiently. Basically, there are quite a few pieces in the cog in order to get it moving. However with advancements in technology like load tracking and electronic messaging, this can often be minimized in today’s environment depending on your service providers capabilities
– Communication. Using a 3PL means that (at least) two companies are involved in the transport of your heavy equipment. More companies means more opportunity for loss of communication. There are a few balls up in the air, and it can come down to you in order to keep track of them, making for a more stressful process.
Asset-Based Shipping Companies
Asset-based shipping companies own their own equipment like trucks, warehouses and tools.
Advantages of Working with an asset-based shipping company for Heavy Equipment Transport
– Trust. Asset-based shipping companies require some massive infrastructure and capital to maintain operations, so you typically find that these partners have a long history and are well established. You will want to understand if there assets are truly company owned trucks or if the trucks that move freight for them are owner operators that are leased to them to help get a better overall picture of the company and it’s financial stability.
– Direct Communication. Because you are dealing directly with the company that is hauling your heavy equipment, you don’t have to worry about things getting “lost in translation” — you have direct contact with your shipping provider.
Disadvantages of Working with an asset-based shipping company for Heavy Equipment Transport
– Cost. If you are shopping for the lowest rates specifically, the rates from an asset-based shipping company will often be higher than from 3PLs which may have a much larger pool of available trucks to haul your freight.
– Fixed fleet size. If you experience significant changes with your load volumes increasing and decreasing an asset based carrier may have a difficult time adjusting to these changes with a fixed number of trucks and how difficult it currently is to find qualified drivers.
– Service Capability. Working directly with an asset-based shipping company to transport your heavy equipment means dealing with a finite amount of trucks that can provide you with service it can often mean that your carrier doesn’t have the ability to adequately handle peaks in your volume and can have significant impact to the carriers business should you have significant drops in the volume of loads that you ship. It often only means that there is one way to handle your business as well which might not necessarily provide you with the best way to handle your shipping needs.
The Best of Both Worlds
While working with a 3PL or an asset-based company has its own advantages and disadvantages, there is another option that could be called “the best of both worlds.”
Here at Loadstar,we have the power of Landstar (and its 10,000 trucks) at our backs to give us solid footing into the asset-based side of the industry to help us provide precisely the equipment and solution that a shipper could need. Since we are also a 3PL, we offer the flexibility and much of the cost savings of a 3PL and the expertise to go with it, backed by years in the business. Whatever mode of transport, Loadstar and other transportation consultants can often provide it. Direct communication, high-touch service, long-term relationships (a vast majority of our clients are repeat clients we’ve worked with for years — a fact that makes us very proud!). Transportation consultants like Loadstar are often truly viewed as the best of both worlds.
There is one particular area that transportation consultants (okay, at least here at Loadstar!) take pride in: the level of service we can provide. Keep reading for more.
Let’s get this out of the way first. There are some companies that are only searching on price when it comes to transportation providers. It’s understandable to want to watch costs, and pay trucks as little as possible especially with such a high ticket cost item as transportation, but keep in mind that there are many “hidden” costs that come along with the cheap rates that can not only drive up your overall spend, but increase your risk and cause a lot of undue stress and headaches.
I’ll talk more about that later, but wanted to touch upon it lightly before addressing service. Because after working in this industry for 10 plus years with clients of all sizes, I have heard many stories at every end of the spectrum when it comes to service. In fact, I frequently hear from new clients who received terrible service and are looking for someone to truly take care of things and watch out for their needs.
When considering transportation providers, the level of service can often correspond to size. Sometimes there is a benefit to working with very small companies on small shipments or even repeat lanes that you might regularly ship on. But when you have special needs, varying lanes, larger shipments or a need for service with multiple modes of transportation, smaller companies typically don’t have the resources to provide the level of service you may need.
To contrast that, at Loadstar Transportation we are backed by the power of Landstar. That means we have 10,000 of our own trucks ready to deploy for your shipment, as well as the shear volume of trucks that we have available in the fleet you can be sure that you will be getting a properly trained driver with equipment that meets very strict standards. All Landstar truckers have all the proper training as well to transport your heavy equipment.
While larger companies have the resources to provide you with better systems, truckers and service. It’s the agent/consultant format that really gives you the best of both worlds. A transportation consultant (like Loadstar Transportation) gives you access to the resources and securities of larger providers, with the hands-on service you deserve to receive from a small company.
Defining the level of service you want, need or expect in advance can help you determine which type of transportation provider is the right fit.
While choosing a transportation provider for your heavy equipment shipping means considering several elements, safety should be high on your list. The safety record of your shipping provider not only affects the timing and protection of your heavy equipment, it can protect or harm your company through potential financial liabilities in the case of an accident.
No matter what type of company you are working with asset based or 3pl, it is critical that you have a proper contract and that your service provider have proper insurance and authorities to cover the the transport of your heavy equipment.
If your the type of person that likes to do your own due diligence you can do some research on your own. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration offers suggestions and maintains a database of all safety records for transportation providers. You can access that information on the SAFER website with the USDOT number.
There are some companies that spend significant time and resources figuring out how to find cheap shipping rates. But the time and resources put into finding what appears to be the cheapest rates can end up sending you down a rabbit hole, preventing your heavy equipment shipment from getting to its destination and leading to late deliveries and upset customers.
What appears to be the “cheapest” rate at the onset isn’t always the case. There are a number of factors that i strongly feel every shipper should strongly consider BEFORE booking a truck with the lowest cost to haul a piece of heavy equipment
Consider this scenario:
Perhaps a smaller trucking company promises a cheaper rate per mile than a larger transportation consultant. The smaller trucking companies truck is 500 miles away to transport your heavy equipment. But because the larger provider has so many trucks, they may have a truck 5 miles away. Suddenly, that “cheaper” rate isn’t cheaper at all.
In other cases, calling several providers for price quotes can alert truckers to a demand for one particular route. As a result, the truckers can drive up the prices for all providers. Yes, that means that simply by trying to find a cheaper rate, you are inadvertently driving up the rate yourself!
The reality is that spending time searching for cheap rates will either cost you in time and resources lost on the search, or literally as in the case above.
I dig deeper into understanding pricing and cheap shipping rates in this post on the Loadstar blog.
Earlier, I talked about some of the benefits of working with a 3PL. Specifically, I addressed the benefit of flexibility — the ability to work with a range of shipping companies dependent on your specific needs. The flip side of that flexibility; however, is potentially compromised reliability.
Knowing that your heavy equipment will reach its destination safely and efficiently is the ultimate goal for every company.
There are a few elements to consider when weighing reliability in your choice of heavy equipment transportation:
- Reliability of your transportation consultant, freight broker or asset-based shipping representative. Understanding this reliability often takes time — working with someone directly and having a repeatedly positive (or negative) experience will clue you in as to whether that partner is reliable. Another source of information on partner reliability can be other companies. Ask for references or experiences, both from people you know and on social media sites like LinkedIn or even Facebook.
- Reliability through company stability. Is your heavy equipment transportation provider here to stay? Take a look at your heavy equipment transportation provider’s website. How long have they been in business? Have they shown sustained growth? Is their leadership stable? Are they profitable?
No matter which transportation provider you choose to work with make sure that your transportation provider is properly licensed. At an absolute minimum ask for copies of their W-9 and their operating authority, and don’t forget to get a copy of their insurance with your company listed as the “additionally insured.”
Truckers are required to have a certain amount of insurance as part of their jobs. Make sure you inquire about the insurance and the transporter’s claims-to-damage ratio. If your heavy equipment shipment needs more coverage, your transportation provider may have an option to purchase more insurance. You can also purchase this through a third party.
All Landstar trucks and approved contracted carriers have at least $100,000 in cargo insurance. They are also covered from an auto liability standpoint. If you have very high-valued freight that you ship repeatedly, it is often a good idea to have your own general cargo insurance.
When you work with a transportation partner like Loadstar, we can arrange the purchase of additional cargo insurance to move your freight on very short notice with commodities that are worth over $500,000. Special conditions may apply, primarily to ensure that we are further assessing the truck’s history to ensure that you have the right person hauling your high value freight.
You may notice that the answer for additional insurance is…it depends. That’s why working with a transportation partner who can cover ALL the details can be such a cost, time and stress saver. When you partner with someone like Loadstar, we’ll give you expert advice and handle all the details possible so that you can focus on running your business.
In the US and Canada, each state and province has its own regulations and limitations, although there are few national standards.
In some states, regulations and limitations may even differ between counties! Obtaining approval and permits may take weeks in some cases, and significant additional costs may add up at each state/provincial/county/municipal boundary. It’s important to work with a transportation provider who will plan, foresee and if possible work around any potential issues to avoid surprise cost and stress down the road.
The forethought and preparation prior to helping someone is of the utmost importance to reputable transportation providers. We know that any problem that comes up is something that can costs tens of thousands of dollars. At Loadstar, we can take care of ALL of that for you to avoid unnecessary cost and headaches.
There are several factors that can affect delivery time, including:
Mode of transport. It may take longer to ship via train versus truck. Or in the case of an LTL shipment if it moves from dock to truck to dock it will take longer to get to its destination.
Electronic logging devices. Truck drivers are now required to use electronic logging devices (ELD) to accurately track their hours of service for safe transport of goods. The use of these devices has, with almost all shipments moving more than 400 miles added delivery time to shipments.
Oversized loads. Certain oversized loads requiring permits and/or an escort car to go through certain jurisdictions can sometimes slow things down a bit (advance preparation and working with the right partner can help mitigate that significantly).
Other oversized load considerations. Some oversized or wide loads are restricted to not run on the weekend or at night.
Getting Your Freight Ready to Transport
With today’s just in time supply chains many shipments have an immediate need with an urgent timeline.
Of course, it’s impossible to predict every shipping need that may come up, and understanding that time is of the essence, there is some important preparation necessary for flatbed and heavy equipment transport. Covering your bases on the small but critical details to remember when shipping heavy equipment will help ensure your shipment goes smoothly and that costly delays are avoided.
The following topics will help you get your heavy equipment shipment ready to transport:
Understanding Types of Freight
Know Exactly What You’re Transporting
Detail Any Special Handling Requirements
Trailer Types and Freight Dimensions They Can Handle
Following is a breakdown of types of freight to help you understand where your heavy equipment shipment fits in:
Legal loads are loads that don’t exceed the allowable dimensions of the trailer and the trailers weight allowance
This is when a shipper’s freight is moving exclusively on a trailer.
A partial load (or LTL) is when a shipper’s freight is moving along with other people’s freight on the same truck. This helps to share the expense of the truck and lower the overall cost of shipment. It may add to the amount of time needed to get your freight delivered.
Oversized freight is any load that exceeds the width of the trailer that is hauling it and/or weight limits. In the United States, most states considers loads that are wider than 8’ 6″ or taller than 13’ 6″ as oversized. Loads that are excessively long (combination length) or heavy (total or per axle) are also classified as oversized, although specific regulations often vary state by state.
Flatbed freight is any load that is put onto a flatbed trailer. Flatbed loads need to be secured by the driver and are exposed to the elements. Since loads are wide open on flatbeds, this allows for the simplified transportation of many industrial larger sized commodities such as large generators, bridge beams, prefab houses and steel pipe to be loaded more efficiently and safely since a crane can be used rather than a forklift. Flatbed trailers can be loaded from both sides and from the top and can accommodate full width loads. Flatbeds are very common in the US and Canada and are widely used for construction and industrial loads.
Flatbed trailers can load freight without a permit that is up to the length of the trailer. This is usually 48’ to 53’ long, and up to 8’6” wide and 8’6” high, not exceeding 48,000 lbs. It is often best to reduce the overall weight to 47,000 lbs or less to find a truck, as not all trucks can scale 48,000 lbs nor do they typically want to haul really heavy freight as it costs them more for fuel.
Lowboy and flatbed loads are similar. Lowboy trailers — also referred to as double drops or RGNs — have a significantly lower deck height. This essentially lowers the total height of the load, which can prevent a load falling into oversized load restrictions. These trailers also allow taller loads to be transported without the additional cost and safety considerations of an oversized heavy equipment load.
For more information regarding different types of open deck trailers and loading dimensions and weights please click here.
When transporting heavy equipment — specifically, machinery like excavators motor graders and rock trucks — it is imperative that you know precisely what you are shipping. Unsure which details or information is important to your transportation provider? Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Make and model number of the equipment. Knowing the basic information is essential for the transport of your heavy equipment.
- Have there been any modifications made to the equipment? Any information that could alter the basic specs of your shipment should be noted.
- Exact dimensions and weight. Being off by an inch or two could mean your load requires a different truck or different route, which can potentially create significant cost differences and delays. It is equally important to have an accurate weight, especially when dealing with any heavy haul freight, as differences can mean that a different type of trailer could be needed to move your shipment. This may also greatly impact the rate your shipment can be moved for as well as your delivery timeline.
- Packaging. Be sure to let your transportation provider know how your heavy equipment freight will be packaged. Is it palletized? Crated? Will it need to be tarped?
- Photos/any other details. Any additional information you can give to your transportation provider will help that person give you the best service and results.
When you work with a provider like Loadstar, we aren’t just thinking about your immediate shipping needs, we’re thinking about how we can provide value to you in our relationship. That’s why we consistently emphasize that it’s important to consider every detail of your heavy equipment shipment when communicating with your transportation provider.
There is no such thing as too much information with heavy equipment transport. Every piece of information allows your transportation partner to provide you with the best possible service. If your heavy equipment shipment has special handling requirements, knowing this information up front can prevent unnecessarily delays (or even issues) during shipment.
Special handling requirements for heavy equipment transport may include:
- A piece of machinery with sharp corners on it, which will require special packaging.
- A load with sensitive equipment within that needs protection from the elements (eg. tarp). In these cases, if the load wasn’t packaged properly for a tarp to go on, expensive machinery can be exposed to rain and other elements, potentially causing significant damage.
- A load that requires 48 hours notice for unload at its destination, which you or your transportation provider would need to set up in advance.
- Is a crane appointment required to offload?
- Will more than one load need to deliver at the same time?
- A final destination for your heavy equipment that requires a special orientation before going in to deliver (eg. oil or gas site).
- A final destination that requires going off road, requiring a special truck that can go off road and has VHF radios to be able to signal upon arrival.
When special handling requirements come into play, the importance of a single point of contact can become especially valuable. A trusted transportation provider can mediate communication with anyone coming in or going out of your site, creating a much easier, seamless communication experience for all parties involved.
Working with the right transportation provider can help to ensure you’re not dealing with 100 calls coming from different trucks, dealing with people who aren’t following instructions, etcetera.
Unsure what type of trailer your heavy equipment freight needs? You can contact your transportation provider directly for information, or you can download our trailer types form for dimensions and visuals to help. If you have any questions, feel free to give us a call at 877-851-1539.
Ensuring Everything Runs Smoothly
The ultimate goal is the safe, timely transport of your heavy equipment. By following the steps outlined above, you’ll be in the best position to ensure that happens. But these tips can give you extra confidence:
Completing a bill of lading for your heavy equipment shipment can help ensure all your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed.
The bill of lading is one document that contains the details of the shipment, where it picks up, where it delivers, the carrier that’s responsible for shipping, etcetera. It may also include pickup and delivery numbers, PO numbers and specific information regarding what the commodity is and what’s being shipped. If applicable, it may contain customs broker information if it’s shipping across borders.
If you expect to ship consistently would it make sense to create a PDF document with directions, plus contact names and phone numbers that can be given to drivers to hopefully help avoid additional calls with questions.
Although I touched upon this earlier, it bears repeating: Finding a heavy equipment transportation provider you trust can help ensure your freight transport is a smooth process from start to delivery. For transportation providers (like Loadstar), heavy equipment transport (or any other transportation need) isn’t a transaction, it’s a relationship. When your transportation partner views themselves as your partner, it results in a strong relationship that delivers for many years to come (in fact, we’ve worked with many clients for more than 10 years because we’ve been able to build and nurture successful relationships for such a long time).
I understand that it’s difficult for people to be able to step into the shoes of the transportation provider to understand what it is we do to be able to help them. Hopefully, this guide has given you the information you need to make better heavy equipment transport decisions that will benefit your company for a long time to come. Along the way, I hope that I have been able to provide you with insights and information that helps you understand how a transportation partner can help you get better results.