Logistics portfolio

Dec. 1, 2006
BULK Plus Logistics moves 230,000 truckloads of liquid and dry bulk products annually. The Canadian company does that without owning a single tractor

BULK Plus Logistics moves 230,000 truckloads of liquid and dry bulk products annually. The Canadian company does that without owning a single tractor or tank trailer.

Transloading accounts for a big part of the cargo handled by the Oakville, Ontario-based company, which is a division of Trimac Transportation Services LP. Other key bulk logistics services include transportation management, petroleum transport optimization, and freight management.

“We're seeing across-the-board growth in demand for all of the services we offer,” says David Gatti, president of Bulk Plus Logistics. “On the transloading side, in particular, recent chemical plant closings have brought the potential for more inbound rail shipments from sources beyond Canada. New auto plants are opening in Canada, which also means more shipments of plastics by rail. We are benefiting from increased use of rail to avoid border-crossing delays between the United States and Canada. We believe the driver shortage benefits transloading.

“All of this gives us good reason to be optimistic about our transloading operations. Our goal is to target shippers without easy rail access. Transloading appeals most to them, and we're willing to build dedicated facilities for these customers. We also want to work more closely with shortline railroads.

“Transloading accounts for 35% of our activity, and we handle 17,000 to 18,000 railcars a year at the various locations we own and/or operate. That adds up to around 1.7 million tons of cargo per year. Freight management generates another 40%, with logistics and petroleum optimization making up the remainder.”

Strategic decision

Bulk Plus was established in 2003 following a Trimac strategic review of operations the previous year. Senior Trimac management made the decision to bundle a range of non-trucking assets under what became the Bulk Plus banner.

Transloading was one of the key assets chosen for the new operation. Trimac owned a number of transloading facilities across Canada, and it gained additional locations in the United States when it acquired DSI Transports in 2000.

With few exceptions, the Trimac transloading sites were rolled into Bulk Plus. These facilities are in Concord, Ontario; Langley, British Columbia; Medicine Hat, Alberta; and Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and Memphis, Tennessee.

“A large transload site near Trail, British Columbia, was left under Trimac control due to strong historic ties to the trucking company,” Gatti says. “That facility primarily handles mining concentrates. A former DSI site in Fairburn, Georgia (see sidebar on page 20), also remained with Trimac's US division for financial reasons. It is one of the most impressive transloading facilities in the tank truck industry.”

Contract facilities

In addition to its own truck-rail transfer locations, Bulk Plus operates several CargoFlo locations under contract with a large Canadian Class 1 railroad.

Bulk Plus currently operates and manages third-party facilities in Canada at Concord, Hamilton, and Thunder Bay, Ontario; and Ashcroft, British Columbia. A third-party facility in Warren, Michigan, also is under Bulk Plus management. Products handled through CargoFlo include edibles, plastics, grain, jet fuel, and general chemicals.

“With nearly 500 carspots, the Concord terminal is the largest third-party-managed facility in our system,” Gatti says. “We handle the widest range of products both hazardous and non-hazardous at the Concord location and offer a diverse range of services, including certified scales, steam heat, and nitrogen.”

While Bulk Plus-owned terminals also transload a wide range of products, plastics certainly predominate. Other cargoes include construction products, chemicals, and sand. “Our Langley transload facility handles diesel, among other cargoes,” Gatti says.

Most of the transloading sites in the Bulk Plus system are served by CN Railroad. Both CN and CP Railroad serve the Ashcroft terminal, and CP is the sole provider at the Bulk Plus terminal in Medicine Hat. In the United States, CSXT serves the Bulk Plus Memphis facility. Railcar capacity at the Bulk Plus-owned sites ranges from 45 carspots (Langley) to 200 (Bulk Plus/Concord).

Railcars typically spend 35 to 60 days at a Bulk Plus facility. Both railcar and cargo status are tracked by management software developed by Trimac's information technologies group. Product outlets on the railcars are sealed after each transload, and seal numbers are tracked by the software.

Truck shipments typically are delivered within 50 to 75 miles of each transload site. However, some loads go out as far as 500 miles. Trimac provides all of the transportation from the Bulk Plus-owned facilities, but the third-party transload terminals have open access.

Computer management

Customized computer software plays a big role in coordinating those truck shipments, as well as the overall management of each transload site. Managers, dispatchers, and load specialists use TMW Suite for a variety of transport management functions. Bulk Plus also purchased very sophisticated petroleum distribution optimization software.

The software now in place gave Bulk Plus the opportunity to build a very strong freight management system. The company arranges transportation for a wide range of shipments, including bulk, flatbed, truckload, and less-than-truckload.

“This is essentially a transportation brokerage operation, but we've been able to develop standardized procedures for uniformity of service,” Gatti says. We also put a strong focus on safety.”

The company also sees excellent potential for its petroleum distribution optimization service. Powered by Aspen Tech's Aspen Retail version 7.7.5, Bulk Plus currently is managing Trimac petroleum distribution operations across North America.

“We're ready now to roll this out as a third-party service for petroleum jobbers and marketers,” Gatti says. “We also think this service could fit distributors of other commodities, such as propane and cement. It's a cost-effective service.

“We can improve fleet utilization for distributors of all sizes. We're putting in excess of five billion liters (1.32 million gallons) a year through the system now. We've run the software for three years and have a solid understanding of how it works. We also understand tank truck operations.”

The software has a predictive tool that automatically builds the dispatch schedule. It will track customer deliveries to all locations, and it maintains a delivery history for each customer. It will record carrier details and delivery equipment requirements. Products with loading restrictions (such as jet fuel and ultra low sulfur diesel) are flagged by the software.

Currently, the petroleum dispatch data is fed to the Trimac terminals, but that's about to change. Trimac is installing WebTech on-board computers in its petroleum distribution tractors, and Bulk Plus will begin sending dispatch instructions directly to the vehicles starting in 2007.

Finally, the company has developed an array of customizable third-party logistics and transportation management services. In some cases, Bulk Plus employees are being assigned to chemical plant locations to manage shipping activities.

“We see a good future as a third-party logistics provider,” Gatti says. “We can manage shipment orders from start to finish, and we can link directly to our customer's SAP system. We'll analyze a shipper's traffic lanes to find the best way to deploy carriers and optimize routes. We can manage virtually every aspect of our customer's carrier relationship.”

All in all, Bulk Plus has developed a broad portfolio of transportation management services that make it possible to serve as a one-stop transportation and distribution provider for liquid and dry bulk shippers. It's a portfolio with plenty of growth potential for the future, and transloading was just the beginning.