The valuable role of a naval engineer for your breakbulk shipments

Based at our terminal in Bremerhaven, Germany, qualified naval transport engineer Luca Schmid lends his technical expertise to our breakbulk team. Here he explains why careful calculation and creative thinking are equally important when it comes to ensuring a safe sea journey for your breakbulk products.

Luca Schmid

What does a typical day involve?

My role is quite diverse so no two days are the same. I use my technical expertise to support the sales team in advising breakbulk customers on which handling equipment to choose, recommending a seaworthy packing solution, preparing feasibility studies for specialised breakbulk, or preparing method statements. I also support the operations team in the port of Bremerhaven to ensure sufficient lashing of breakbulk products and to assist with operating our specialised handling equipment like the Samson trailer.

How does your engineering background assist you in solving the challenges of shipping high-value breakbulk?

It’s the basis for all the decisions I make. I’m able to work out calculations to determine the best lashing solution based on cargo shape, weight, stowage position and lashing points as well as calculate simulations to evaluate different scenarios for loading the products as safely as possible, particularly for those on the edge of our weight and dimension limits.

I also rely on my engineering knowledge when overseeing more challenging loading and discharging operations to ensure the safe handling of high-value products. Heavy breakbulk, for instance, requires careful calculation to determine the exact positioning on the vessel for the even distribution of weight, as the vessel decks have certain areas which can take heavier load than others.

What types of breakbulk products do you typically oversee?

I handle all types of specialised, high-value breakbulk from power generation equipment to mining machinery and aviation cargo. I’ve overseen the shipment of a number of transformers and generators, which need advance planning and preparation because of their height and weight.

What are the key considerations you need to take into account when planning shipment of heavier products?

First, I consider the terminal capabilities at the ports of load and discharge. Not all terminals are built for heavier breakbulk, so I have to check the maximum weight allowed and then determine how to solve terminal weight limitations if needed. Sometimes this means using different cargo handling equipment with more axles to spread the weight more evenly or investigating what tugmaster or forklift capacity the terminal can provide. I also have to consider the pier height which has an influence on the vessel’s ramp angle.

Once I have analysed these aspects, I look at the specifics of the vessel and the handling equipment and work out a detailed stuffing and lashing plan.

You bring a strong technical understanding to your role – what other skills do you consider valuable?

A creative approach to problem solving. It is one thing to draw and calculate the handling of breakbulk products, but sometimes things don’t go according to plan and you need to be able to find new solutions quickly.

Before you joined Wallenius Wilhelmsen you worked for heavy lift and project cargo companies. How does RoRo differ in comparison and what are the advantages for breakbulk customers?

All breakbulk operations require careful planning and exact calculations, but there is less lifting, and therefore, less risk involved with RoRo operations.

With LoLo, the product is lifted onto the vessel with a crane and suspended from a crane hook at heights of up to and sometimes over 40m and moved from the pier where it is exposed to winds.

With RoRo, however, all lifting operations take place at the terminal and the product only needs to be lifted high enough for the handling equipment to be driven underneath and stuffed and secured before being driven on board and lashed to the vessel’s deck.

Risk aside, the product can be delivered a few days before the actual loading, so should the shape be unusual or the lashing points unsuitable there is time to investigate new ways of stuffing and securing the product without delaying the shipment.

What are some of the challenges you face in your role?

The biggest challenge is ensuring the product design and packing complies with our guidelines as many customers aren’t familiar with these. Unlike on a LoLo carrier, where product is often secured by blocking in a block stow or by welding stopper plates to the vessel deck, on a RoRo vessel we use lashing chains or belts to secure the product. Sometimes I have to advise customers on how to change the design or packing to meet our requirements.

You’re skilled at preparing method statements – what are the benefits of these for breakbulk customers?

For complex, high-value breakbulk shipments a method statement is invaluable. It provides the customer with all the relevant technical information in one document, from the lifting and stuffing and lashing plans, to detailed technical documents about the vessel and handling equipment, handling instructions, certificates and sometimes a risk assessment for the loading. Having this information at hand allows the customer to check if all requirements are fulfilled and helps the surveyor overseeing the operation ensure all instructions are carefully followed.

What project are you most proud of?

The shipment of a tunnel-boring machine consisting of 138 components from Europe to Australia for a hydropower project.

I had to work out lashing plans for all components over 30 tonnes, which was a complex task. Once the calculations were complete, I attended the barge loadout and roll trailer stuffing in Antwerp to ensure everything was executed according to plan.

It was very rewarding when the units where successfully loaded and shipped to the customer in Australia.

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