You can make all the product in the world but without global shipping and logistics, you're literally going nowhere. The shipping and logistics division of our company keeps track of customer’s orders, tracks the movement of freight from Asia to the U.S., and makes sure the customer’s order is received in full, intact and as close to the promised date as possible.
Recently, we loaded up the car with three members of our logistics team and drove four hours to the Garden City Terminal, just outside of Savannah, GA. The Garden City Terminal is one of five ports managed by the Georgia Ports Authority and it was an impressive sight. It’s like a city unto itself, with roads and roundabouts moving traffic from one place to another.
Remember that scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark when they’re moving the crate holding the Ark of the Covenant back into a warehouse? That’s what the Garden City Terminal reminded me of: row upon row of shipping containers stacked on each other. It was like a life-sized game of Tetris.
We were invited to climb into the cab of the ship to shore crane to watch its operator in action. Half the cab is made of plexiglass — floor, sides and roof — which allows the operator to see everything going on. The job takes an incredible amount of concentration and dexterity. Operators work two years in a different position before they receive their eight months of on-the-job training after they get the crane operator job.
We stood in the crane cab as the operator lifted one container after another off a truck, over to a ship and placed it in the hold with amazing speed and accuracy. While we were in the cab, we also witnessed a tugboat moving and turning a massive vessel in the terminal channel.
I asked my logistics colleagues to share their thoughts about the port operations as it related to their jobs. Katie Christman, an Inventory/Outbound Logistics Coordinator (below), said that "the most relevant thing I learned was the number of variables that go into the timing and movement of each container. I think it helps me to better understand and make decisions related to customer account analysis and customer status requests. Things like fog can cause delays, but technology and processing capabilities allow the port to manage slowdowns and spikes to provide consistent service."
We were all struck by the efficiency of the operation. "Being able to load a container a minute onto a vessel is pretty impressive," said Greg Richard, Administrative Operations Manager at EW (right, back). "Being able to get a truck in and out in under an hour was also impressive. It was very interesting for me to see the level of organization against the high volume. Overall it was run very well; I was anticipating it to be a little more chaotic."
We also learned that a premium was placed on the needs of the customer, and the long term growth of the terminal. "The customer service first model shown by the GPA to increase throughput shows they operate like an efficient organization that realizes the importance of each customers’ cargo, when imported or exported, as seen by their commitment to continued growth and annual reinvestment of capital," said Andy Reese, EW Director of Business Development.
Spencer Papallo, EW Logistics Administrator (above), got downright philosophical about the work of the terminal. "Logistics is the insect of the supply chain, it makes the ecosystem tick and thrive," she said. "People undervalue the importance and even might find it useless. The reality is that without logistics, we’d be out of luck. The amount of material that is imported and exported from other countries is astonishing. The US is the number one importer in the world and the second largest exporter. It provides an abundance of jobs from truck drivers to crane operators to logistics administrators. It boosts the economy with needs for warehouses, 3PL’s, logistic companies, and even companies that build the technology required for operation. It provides use for railroads that were built decades ago and seem unimportant with the technology we have today. Most importantly, it fulfills the desires of an ever-demanding population who want things immediately (thanks Amazon and your two-day shipping). Companies like Walmart and Amazon can operate the way they do thanks to logistics. I’m thankful I’ve chosen a career path of a bug that gets to make the world go round, one container at a time."
Check out these posts for more information about shipping, logistics and supply chain management: