Collaboration in action: Breakbulk lessons from around the world

When it comes to shipping breakbulk around the world, strong cross-cultural relationships are crucial. For many years, WW Ocean’s key suppliers and operational teams in the US have been visiting their counterparts in Japan – and vice versa. We explore why these relationships are so integral.

Collaboration in action 1

With thousands of products shipped between North America and Japan every year, having a clear understanding of loading and discharge requirements on both sides is paramount. Here, we meet the WW Ocean experts in Japan and the US who make great quality service an everyday reality for WW Ocean’s customers.

Masaki Kunimatsu is General Manager for WW Ocean’s Japan Port Operations and manages cargo operations at each port in Japan. Here, he explains how cross-country collaboration enhances the quality of WW Ocean’s services.

I don’t think I’m overstating it to say Japanese stevedoring is famed around the world.

In Japan, the workforce are often lifetime employees, so there’s a lot of specialist knowledge there. Many work in the same role for over 30 years – they start aged 20 and work until they’re 60. And Japanese customers are famed for being strict when it comes to cargo handling quality, which also drives up standards!

Last spring, we welcomed the US team to our terminals in Kobe, Nagoya and Yokohama.

Every week, thousands of products – which are both complex and sensitive – are shipped from Japan to North America. Optimum handling requires an end-to-end approach, where loading is designed with discharge in mind. One of our major cargo exports is injection molding machines, many of which are shipped to the US – so the US team were keen to see how we load this cargo in Japan and to find potential improvements in its discharge.

As a result of this knowledge-sharing, we’ve changed the way we work with breakbulk.

We now load cargo in more suitable directions which makes discharge much easier. The team in North America are also demonstrating their commitment to safe working by using flashlights and adding people to their teams.

Safe operation is a priority for both teams, and is something we worked on together from the outset.

Our responsibility for customers is safe transportation from the port of load to the port of discharge – and it needs to be widely understood how the loading will ultimately impact the discharge.

Collaboration in action 2

With thousands of products shipped between North America and Japan every year, having a clear understanding of loading and discharge requirements on both sides is paramount.

Collaboration in action 3

As a result of this knowledge-sharing, we've changed the way we work with breakbulk.

Baltimore native Mike Derby is VP, Port and Cargo Operations, North America, and is accountable for the vessel operation of 100 port calls every month in North America. Here’s his take on breakbulk lessons from his Japanese colleagues.

Ensuring consistent service across different locations is always a challenge – as the saying goes: ‘If you’ve seen one port, you’ve seen one port!’

Each port is structured differently so our approach has to be customised. Cargo handling equipment used will be different depending on where you are – which is why working closely with the Japanese team is so important.

When loading breakbulk, Japanese stevedores are skilled at high utilisation stowage on deck.

This sometimes means that special handling is required at the discharge port. Working with the Tokyo team, we’ve now agreed on the types of notations the load port can add to our Stowage Planning System (SPS) that will best help the discharge port prepare for a safe and efficient discharge.

Another lesson learned from our conversations with Kunimatsu-san’s team was around thickness of forklift blades.

In some cases, the load port may load a piece of cargo using thinner blades than those used on the machine at discharge. If the clearance under the crate is not high enough for the discharge port, efficiency and quality can be impacted. The teams agreed on the minimum clearance for different weights as well as committed to recycle dunnage when possible to reduce cost.

We’ve helped the Japanese team too: a stevedore in Long Beach identified a simple way to modify the gooseneck used for discharging roll trailers.

This meant that the roll trailer could be more fully utilised – and the Japanese team has now been able to load more cargo on each roll trailer as a result!

When it comes to knowledge-sharing, we’ve learnt that it’s best not to overthink it!

Sometimes you’ll try something new and it’ll work, and sometimes it won’t. Baltimore’s Natural Work Groups (a collaboration of key local stakeholders) have come up with more than 300 initiatives over the past six years. While less than 25% have stuck, it’s been worth it to find the ones that do!

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