Expert insight: THE FLAT RACK FACTOR

Ilker Sevdi
International Sales Lead, Steel & Construction

“Today, I think it’s fair to say that if customers are thinking about moving flatracks around Europe, they must be thinking of Samskip,” says Ilker Sevdi, who recently stepped up to the role of International Sales Lead, Steel & Construction Logistics for the group.

The company’s Steel & Construction Logistics department makes full use of the vast Samskip network to offer transport services throughout Europe that are tailored to suit the needs of the steel and construction industries. The team offer a range of options, including (flatbed) trailers, (semi) lowloaders and extendables, but the department’s core product is a flatrack range flexible enough to make full use of Samkip’s barge, rail, shortsea and trucking operation.

Tasked with overseeing business development in a key niche market where Samskip’s specialised fleet of flat racks can offer distinct advantages over trailers and standard containers, Sevdi says the role can often be about explaining how a single equipment piece can address multiple challenges. It is a niche that demands close scrutiny of payloads, lifting solutions, cargo restraint and stowage options, he says.

“Our local teams managing relationships and have extensive knowledge about all sorts of unitised cargoes, but we also maintain a central customer services department for flats, as a point of entry for a specialised service and as an expert group coordinating activities and responding to enquiries. We have 20ft, 40ft and 45ft flats and payloads can vary: clients need to know when to use a chain lift and when to use a spreader, about cargo protection and out-of-gauge possibilities, as well as our specialised customs services.”

For Samskip, the flat racks business is a key revenue stream in its service network development. For the moment, Sevdi says Samskip flat racks are especially in demand in the UK, Ireland and Norway, as well as in the Benelux countries and Germany, with Ireland proving a particularly strong growth market in 2019. Mainstay trades include bricks, pipes and tiles of various descriptions, while specialised stone and marble also provide regular loads. There are also solid growth opportunities in the project cargo segment, not least due to Samskip’s takeover last year of Nor Lines and a subsequent service restructure. 

UK connections

Over recent months, UK-Continent shortsea services have been strengthened with the addition of separate 3xw Amsterdam-Hull, 3xw Amsterdam-Tilbury and 3xw Ghent-Hull routes to run alongside Rotterdam-UK services into Hull (5xw), Tilbury (3xw) and Grangemouth (1xw). The new services have added significant new options for construction-based customers in particular.

With a range of flat rack unit sizes in the Samskip fleet, one persistent need is to identify the right fit between shipper needs, the Samskip network and equipment type.

  “In general, I can point to the out-of-gauge possibilities that are not available to enclosed road options, the payload advantage when cargoes such as bricks can be stacked on pallets, or the way stacking five folded flats in one container slot creates responsiveness on equipment deployment,” says Sevdi. “At the more detailed level I can – for example - show shippers of steel pipes that they are wasting space booking a 13.6m trailer length for 11.8m length standard pipes: there is a cost advantage in booking a 40ft ISO unit.”   

Unitised urban myths

His tasks sometimes include dispelling some of the myths shippers believe when it comes to the road/multimodal comparison in these specialised trades, he adds. “We get a lot of feedback that the shipper thinks the loads are open to the elements when the truth of the matter is that we can and do cover them, and that we also offer the option of shipping below deck on the sea transit.”

It’s also a myth that road transport is always cheaper, Sevdi adds. “Potential clients considering a switch will say that they also want a price advantage and, this can be achieved by using the multimodal network with barges and/or rail where there can be a price per ton advantage compared to road transport. We think the number of routes where the flat rack does bring a cost advantage will surprise many.”        

For example, Iberia and Finland also figure in Sevdi’s day to day flat rack service provisions and have been identified as a clear growth opportunity to take more market share from road trailers. Again, customers shipping loads in Flexible Intermediate Bulk Containers (FIBCs – ‘big bags’) between southern and northern Europe, such as chemical products, sand and gravel, should consider the flat rack first.

By mixing multiple transport modalities the steel & construction department is creating flexibility towards the market, making Samskip able to translate the needs of the customers for customized transport solutions in their supply chain.   

“Again part of the reason we can develop such strong relationships with our flat rack customers is that they see innovation and flat racks going hand in hand. Our work on increasing the number of lashing points for specific needs, reducing floor thicknesses and lowering tare weights have been all about meeting customer requirements – sometimes at the individual level. Our mission is to help shippers develop their specialised business by offering customised transport solutions – for every customer, no matter what their size.”