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Transportation logistics

June 1st, 2011 / By: / Event Production, Feature

The right equipment and practices keep operations running smoothly.

More than 50 tractor-trailers pulled into Kentucky Horse Park last fall—filled with 250,000 square feet of tenting, 100,000 square feet of flooring and other rental inventory such as lighting and HVAC equipment—for the World Equestrian Games in Lexington.

“That job took a lot of planning—getting with our installers, warehouse loading and working with the customer to get what they needed first,” says Dennis Birdsall, general manager of Tentlogix of Stuart, Fla. The scale of the project required complex logistical planning.

“It’s a game of finesse, because you don’t want to tie up your equipment for three months,” Birdsall says. So they could pull equipment from jobsites throughout the country without having to haul it back to Florida, Tentlogix set up a tent-washing area at the park. In another area they used one of their box semis as a shop and for storage. “We also purchased items, so we also had deliveries,” Birdsall says. “We used that area as a receiving yard.”

Most jobs are smaller, but getting from warehouse to jobsite and back still requires coordination of details. Attention to those details can be the difference between a renter’s remarkable success and anything less.

The movers

Someone has to be in charge of coordinating multiple points of delivery. Mike Holland is one of those people. The president of Chattanooga Tent Co. uses rental management software to create an installation schedule and assign crews. Then the warehouse manager looks at the load sheets, assigns the appropriate-sized truck and sends the information to the warehouse crew for loading.

“I have been doing this 35 years,” Holland says. “Since we started getting into clearspans in the mid-1980s, our business has grown to doing larger jobs that require tractors and trailers.” The Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company maintains a fleet of ten 24-foot trucks, two 28-foot box trucks and six 53-foot flatbed trailers.

“We use outside trucking companies, particularly on longer hauls, such as to California and Idaho,” Holland says. Job length and availability of company trucks and drivers can change the equation at any time. “We did a job in Minnesota where 60 percent of the trailers we pulled ourselves, but 90 percent on takedown were by an outside company.”

In contrast, Event Central Rental & Sales in Mechanicsburg, Pa., doesn’t use outside trucking companies because it works regionally instead of nationally. “Typically, our jobs are up to 2½ hours away,” says president Scott Woodruff. The company owns five trailers, a tractor and seven other delivery vehicles ranging from a panel van to 24-foot box trucks. Two trailers are dedicated to chairs. “It’s actually more cost effective to buy a trailer and not have the labor of moving them in and out and the cost of [warehouse] space,” Woodruff says. A flatbed trailer with a piggyback lift on the back is used for larger tenting jobs or concrete weights that can total as much as 40,000 pounds.

Event Central’s operations manager uses Party Track software for inventory control and customized MindManager software to tag each job and assign it a truck, driver and crew.

At All Occasions Event Rental, which also does not cover long distances, a dispatcher uses Automated Rental Management software to organize routes by job size and location. “There are some projects where there’s been a crew leader involved in the planning process, so it’s in the paperwork to put that person on the job,” notes Tommy Wilson, tent division manager of the Cincinnati, Ohio-based company.

“[The software] generates a checklist for the person doing the staging, and the driver double-checks that,” Wilson says. After each delivery, a driver calls the company dispatcher, who enters their location into a database accessible by all the company’s sales consultants. So if a client calls to check on the status of their delivery, the sales rep can provide real-time logistics information.

All Occasions’ 10-vehicle fleet includes mostly 24-foot box trucks and gooseneck trailers. For jobs that require anything larger, the company contracts a hauling company.

Although Tentlogix travels cross-country and takes on jobs as large as the one in Kentucky, its routing coordinator handles logistics manually. “We try to fit as much onto each truck as possible in order to complete routes in the most efficient manner with the number of people required to do the job and not overload the trucks in regard to weight and in terms of where they are going to be,” Birdsall says. “It’s quite an art.”

The company’s 20-vehicle fleet includes pickup trucks and vans, box trucks ranging from 16 to 24 feet, box trailers ranging from 22 to 53 feet, flatbeds ranging from 22 to 48 feet and an 8-foot flatbed for negotiating golf cart paths and other narrow access points. Trailers were built to transport small shop forklifts to jobsites; and Tentlogix has another six forklifts, including a Moffett forklift mounted on the back of a flatbed for air conditioning units and flooring, and a 6,000-foot reach forklift for tents in the 25-meter range. In addition to rolling carts, hand trucks and dollies, the company also has custom, all-terrain dollies.

Tentlogix often contracts haulers for faraway and multiple semi-load projects. For example, Birdsall says, it did not make sense to send the company’s truck to a three-week job in New Jersey: either the truck would sit idle for three weeks or Tentlogix would have to pay for fuel for two trips.

Group dynamics

When All Occasions embarked on a building addition, Wilson toured rental companies in Chicago, Ill.; Dallas, Texas; Burlington, Vt.; and Memphis, Tenn., looking for best practices. Among them, he liked stake baskets that were mounted on trucks, truck-mounted racks for frames and poles and rolling carts that could be used to stack frame parts.

“We try to palletize and label everything as clearly as we can in English and in Spanish and with [assembly] drawings,” Wilson says. “Most of our product that is not in a frame cart or rack is going to be on a pallet, though dishes we still move with a two-wheel dolly.”

Event Central unit-loads whenever possible. “A rack of 150 chairs can come off the pallet rack and be loaded into the truck or trailer very efficiently,” Woodruff says. “That type of move is where we get our greatest labor savings, which allows us to invest in more sophisticated equipment.” Other load-easing gear includes rolling bins for tent fittings and cases on wheels enclosed on three sides and the top fitted in hangers to keep linens clean and undamaged. Lighting and ratchets are similarly “unitized.” And Event Central built a custom pallet to stack 4-by-4 sections of stage in lots of 15 that can be moved with a pallet jack.

Five years ago, we were hand loading the stage. Ten years ago, we would have hand loaded every chair,” Woodruff says. “The truck would be, in terms of cube, 25 percent used. The same truck now would be about 60 percent full because of unit-loading. If you can design a bin or pallet for it, you can gain space. You can stack things and protect inventory from damage.”

Chattanooga Tent uses racks for stakes and, in the last two to three years, has begun buying collapsible plastic pallets. “We are storing a lot more equipment on those,” Holland says. “Big structures we band in bundles in the parking lot to be picked up with a forklift. We have designed racks for certain parts of those to enable us to load them faster.

“As I have seen at other companies, the more you palletize, the more you band and group,” Holland says. “When we first got into clearspan structures, we were loading them into a box truck, four to six guys loading and unloading by hand. It took hours. We finally went to flatbeds. When it’s banded and put on pallets, one guy can unload it with a forklift in one hour or less.”

“We try to palletize everything that we possibly can. We build custom pallets to fit out equipment,” Birdsall says. Since chairs fit in 3-foot sections and shelving at Tentlogix covers a 9-foot span, making 3-foot pallets allows greater storage capacity than standard 4-foot pallets. Similarly, a 48-foot flatbed accommodates four more 3-foot pallets than 4-foot pallets.

Identify yourself

Chattanooga Tent has begun RFID (radio frequency identification) tagging tents for easy location and tracking. “As part of that process, we have two readers at the dock, so two trucks can be loaded at the same time,” Holland says. “The readers will keep track of what goes on what truck. The trucks will also have RFID tags so you will be able to make sure you load the correct items on the correct truck. The same thing when unloading: It will read the pieces coming off the truck so you can verify that every piece of fabric, whether it was one or 100, came back.”

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer based in Palm Springs, Calif.

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