A day in the life of abnormal load specialist Van der Vlist
Written by Joe Burton of Van der Vlist
Cooperation and planning are vital in any transport, but when it comes to heavy and oversized transport, it counts for even more. The Van der Vlist group are heavy transport specialists, they now provide many other services in the industry, but road transport is where there history lies.
The importance of thorough planning and expertise were shown recently when Zwaar Transport Twente (ZTT), member of the Van der Vlist group, received an order to take a container from western Germany to a small village in North Lincolnshire, UK. The container, which held a Biomass generator, weighed 30 tonnes, was 3.05 metres wide, 3.2 metres high and 15 metres long. Based on these dimensions, ZTT initially thought that based on those dimensions, a standard semi low trailer would be fine, with no worries on the road infrastructure either on mainland Europe, or in the UK. However they were unsure of the terrain just before the delivery site, and asked senior operations coordinator from Van der Vlist’s UK office, Richard Marshall, to conduct a route survey to clarify the situation.
Richard found that on the main access point to the farm in Crowle, there was a low grade 2 listed bridge, which with a stated clearance height of 4.4 metres would cause a problem. Upon searching for alternative access he found that there was another access route, but that modifications would need to be made, and as it was only a track and weather conditions would have to be favourable or the weight could cause the truck to sink. Following the report, the Van der Vlist group knew they had to act quickly, as this second option would not be an option at all once the weather started to deteriorate, so they sent in John van der Vlist from the Van der Vlist Project management team to thoroughly evaluate the site and confirm whether access would be possible evaluating the merits of all possible ways to clear under the bridge.
The first step was to measure the bridge thoroughly at all points, although the stated height is 4.4 metres, due to the width of the container and arc of the bridge, the clearance height was short of 4 metres. From this it was decided that the container had to be brought in on the lowest trailer possible, a vessel bridge or ‘beam trailer’, reducing the overall height to 3.5 metres. However that was not the only issue, there was a sharp ‘S’ turn almost immediately after it, and due to the arch in the bridge, and the unstable ground underneath, it was still going to be a tricky operation.
After six hours of planning, measuring and re-measuring, they were finally satisfied that the passing was possible, and recommended a few things to make it safer and easier for everyone on site. With a private escort, a rear steering trailer and a second man to assist the driver, the task was given the go-ahead.
Now satisfied that the container could safely make it to the destination, ZTT sent a semi low loader to collect the load, and take it to Van der Vlist headquarters in Groot-Ammers. Here the container was transferred to the vessel bridge trailer, so it could sit as low as possible in preparation for the tricky final stint. It then began a journey to Rotterdam to be taken across to Immingham in the UK by ferry overnight.
Upon arrival it was met by the private escort, and commenced the 47 km journey to Northmoor farm. As the truck pulled off the main road, maintaining a low speed was important, as the low trailer height combined with an uneven surface created a testing situation. Upon reaching the bridge, the driver had to call upon all of his expertise, as well as the guidance of the second driver and escort driver, and began to reverse towards the bridge to give maximum control and maneuverability.
Judging the distance as it was moving, they decided that although it looked like it should clear it was still too close for comfort with the conditions on the day. The option they had was to lower the container yet further into the trailer, and use elephants feet to support it, whilst still coming out perfectly down the centre of the underpass in order to stay clear, and maintaining a very slow pace for control. With constant help from the second man and the escort driver, the container passed through nicely and was moved back up so that the trailer could again fully support it’s weight. However following the bridge the driver still had to negotiate an immediate sharp and narrow right bend, followed directly by a left turn which had to be navigated in reverse still to maximise control, and at a very slow speed under the watchful eyes of all present. After successfully navigating it the load then carried on carefully, to be finally unloaded on the farm site.
This transport was only made possible by thorough planning and expertise.
For more information about any of Van der Vlist’s activities email [email protected] or call +31 184 606 600.
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector