open deck freight

A Guide to Open-Deck Freight Shipping

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AN Webber Logistics

“One size fits all” – is simply not a phrase used in logistics. However, one mode stands above the rest when it comes to creative solutions for shipping tricky products of tricky dimensions: open deck. Open-deck shipping, often known as flatbed shipping, is an essential component in the logistics and transportation industry. Whether it's heavy equipment, oversized loads, or any goods that require easy access for loading and unloading, open-deck shipping provides a versatile and practical solution for diverse shipping needs. However, understanding the nuances of this sector, particularly the various types of trailers available and how to optimize their use, is imperative to maximizing efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Whether you're an experienced shipper or just starting out, this article is a comprehensive resource you can use to guide decisions, maximize shipping services, and,  ultimately, drive success.

An Overview of Open-Deck Freight Shipping

Open-deck shipping should be considered when the nature of your goods or their size prohibits the use of more traditional, enclosed shipping methods. If your cargo is oversized, heavy, or has an irregular shape that would make it challenging to load or unload from a closed trailer, then open-deck shipping could be an ideal solution. Similarly, if your goods require a crane or forklift for loading and unloading, the open nature of these trailers offers the accessibility needed for such operations. 

In addition, if your cargo is not sensitive to external weather conditions or potential road debris, open-deck shipping provides a cost-effective and efficient alternative. This method eliminates the need for additional handling, and by virtue of its design, allows shippers to maximize their load and hence, their return on investment.

The Various Open-Deck Freight Trailers

Shippers have a few options regarding open-deck trailers, and deciding which one to use mainly comes down to the size, dimensions, weight, and other characteristics of the freight being moved.

Flatbed Trailers

Flatbed trailers are the most common type of open-deck trailers. They consist of a completely flat, level 'bed' with no sides or roof, providing maximum flexibility for loading from the sides, top, or rear. They're often used for transporting heavy loads, oversized items, or those with irregular shapes.

Standard flatbed trailers typically measure 48 to 53 feet in length and around 8.6 feet in width. They have a maximum freight weight of approximately 48,000 pounds.

Step-Deck Trailers

This type of trailer, as the name suggests, features a bi-level deck that 'descends' from a shorter frontal platform to a lengthier one at the rear. A step-deck trailer might be the right choice when dealing with cargo that surpasses the height restrictions of a typical flatbed. The additional depth offered by the lower step allows your cargo to be taller, while still adhering to the 8'6" legal height limit.

Standard step-deck trailers are usually 48 to 53 feet in length. The lower deck is about 37 to 40 feet with a height of approximately 10 feet. The upper deck is shorter, typically around 11 feet in length. Like flatbeds, their weight capacity is ~48,000 pounds. However, some states may allow higher weight limits for trailers with additional axles, permits, and conditions. Check with local authorities to learn more about their restrictions.

Removable Gooseneck Trailers

Removable gooseneck trailers, known as RGNs, are unique for their front end that can be detached, enabling the trailer to descend to ground level and form a loading ramp. This distinctive design feature characterizes RGNs by their low-lying trailer deck that unhooks at the front, transforming it into a ramp that eases the loading and unloading process. This setup allows vehicles, particularly large, heavy equipment such as machinery or other sizable vehicles, to be driven directly onto the trailer. Once the loading is complete, the trailer can be reconnected to the tractor, ready for transportation. This makes RGNs an ideal choice for hauling substantial, weighty equipment.

Standard RGNs can range from 20 to 29 feet in the well (middle section), and they have a freight weight capacity of about 42,000 pounds. However, they can be extended to accommodate longer loads.

Diverse Open-Deck Trailer Options

Sliding axle trailers, also known as Landoll trailers, are designed with a hydraulic system. This system enables the axle to move in a backward or forward direction. One of the most significant advantages of this system is the improved load distribution. By shifting the axle position, shippers can balance the load more evenly across the trailer, thereby optimizing stability and safety during transit. Moreover, this feature facilitates the loading and unloading of equipment with low ground clearance. In situations where traditional loading ramps aren't feasible or the load angle is too steep, sliding axle trailers prove to be invaluable. This makes them an excellent choice for items such as heavy machinery, vehicles, or any cargo that sits close to the ground.

On the other hand, beam trailers offer their own unique set of advantages. These trailers feature a robust central beam flanked by two side beams, resulting in an open center design. This design not only makes these trailers sturdy and reliable, but it also makes them perfect for carrying tall or long items. With the open center, items such as industrial equipment, steel or wood beams, and pipes can be loaded vertically, utilizing the vertical space, which wouldn't be possible with flat or continuous surface trailers. Thus, when dealing with cargo that is lengthy, tall, or awkwardly shaped, beam trailers become an attractive option. Their specialized design ensures secure transportation while maximizing the utilization of space, thereby offering an effective solution for some of the more challenging shipping requirements.

Choosing the Ideal Open-Deck Trailer for Your Freight

Selecting the right trailer for your shipping needs requires careful consideration of several key factors. Primarily, the size and weight of the freight must be evaluated. The dimensions and weight of the cargo will determine which trailer type is suitable and can safely accommodate your load. You want to ensure your cargo fits comfortably within the trailer's size constraints and doesn't exceed its maximum weight capacity.

Equally important is the nature of the freight. Not all goods are created equal (just like one size certainly does not fit all), and what might be an ideal solution for one type of cargo may not work for another. The characteristics of the cargo – whether it is perishable, fragile, weather-sensitive, or has an irregular shape – will impact the choice of trailer.

Loading and unloading procedures should also be taken into account. Some types of trailers are easier to load and unload than others, and this can have a significant impact on efficiency and cost. Consider whether your cargo requires special equipment for loading or unloading, and whether it can be loaded from the top, side, or rear.

Lastly, adhering to guidelines for precise measurement and weight calculation is crucial. Accurate measurements and calculations not only ensure safety and regulatory compliance but also affect the cost of shipping. Any miscalculations can lead to delays, increased costs, or even regulatory fines.

Considering these factors thoroughly can guide you in making an informed decision, enabling you to choose the trailer that best suits your specific shipping requirements.

How to Evaluate a 3PL Freight Broker Who Offers Open-Deck Freight Shipping Planning

The experts at A.N. Webber Logistics suggest you consider the following ten criteria when vetting a 3PL freight broker who offers open-deck freight shipping services.

  1. Industry Experience and Reputation

Experience matters when dealing with complex logistics of open-deck freight shipping. Consider how long the 3PL has been in business: several years or decades indicate that they have weathered industry changes and economic fluctuations. Alongside this, check for feedback and reviews from previous clients. Are they mostly positive? Do they indicate successful deliveries and good customer service? Explore the types of industries they have served. A 3PL that has catered to a variety of industries is likely to have a broader understanding of unique logistical challenges.

  1. Service Scope

Does the 3PL offer a comprehensive range of services? Check whether they cover both national and international geographic regions, as this can provide more flexibility for your shipping needs. Look into the variety of shipment types they can accommodate — be it full truckload, less-than-truckload, or something more specific. In addition, consider if they offer value-added services like warehousing or distribution, which could enhance your supply chain operations.

  1. Equipment and Capacity

Investigate the types of trailers and equipment they use, as well as their condition. A well-maintained fleet signifies a commitment to reliability and safety. Consider their capacity to handle volume fluctuations: Can they manage peak seasons or sudden increases in your shipping volume? Additionally, the availability of specialty equipment like flatbeds, step decks, and gooseneck trailers could be vital for your specific shipping needs.

  1. Technology Integration

In the digital age, technology integration is key for efficient logistics management. Does the 3PL use advanced technology for tracking, management, and communication? Features such as real-time tracking, automated reporting, and advanced analytics can improve efficiency and transparency. Additionally, check if they can integrate their systems with yours to ensure seamless data exchange.

  1. Reliability and Dependability

Consider the 3PL’s track record of on-time delivery. Delays can impact your operations and customer relationships. A proactive problem-solving approach can also be beneficial — they should be prepared to handle any unexpected issues or delays promptly. Ask about their process for dealing with these situations, such as rerouting shipments or finding replacement carriers.

  1. Cost and Value

Transparent pricing structures can save you from unexpected costs later on. Compare their price to the range of services provided — is it a good value for money? Also, consider if they offer any cost-saving strategies, like load consolidation or multi-modal shipping options, which could lower your overall shipping expenses.

  1. Customer Service

Strong customer service is vital in any business relationship. Look for a 3PL that is responsive, communicates effectively, and is available for support when needed. Regular updates on freight status can also help you stay informed and plan better.

  1. Regulatory Compliance and Safety

The 3PL should be in full compliance with transport and safety regulations to ensure lawful and safe operations. Look into their safety record, accident rates, and whether they are appropriately insured. Check if they follow industry best practices for load securement and driver safety training.

  1. Sustainability Efforts

As businesses are becoming more environmentally conscious, it's worth considering the 3PL's commitment to sustainability. Do they use fuel-efficient vehicles or employ strategies to reduce empty runs? A 3PL that prioritizes reducing its carbon footprint can help align your shipping operations with your company's environmental goals.

  1. Flexibility and Customization

Finally, a good 3PL should be able to provide tailored solutions for unique client needs. Whether it’s adjusting schedules for last-minute changes, offering customized reporting, or adapting to your specific freight requirements, flexibility is a key attribute in a dynamic industry like logistics.

Ensuring Efficiency and Safety in Open-Deck Shipping

As with any mode of freight transportation, safety and efficiency are of utmost importance. Consider the following when deciding whether to use open-deck shipping.

Best Practices for Loading and Securing Freight

Loading and securing freight correctly are crucial for open-deck shipping. It is essential to distribute the weight evenly across the trailer to maintain balance and avoid dangerous situations. For instance, if you're shipping large machinery parts, make sure to position them in a way that distributes their weight proportionately across the trailer.

Securement is another vital aspect. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the cargo must be firmly immobilized or secured on or within a vehicle by structures equipped to meet this requirement, including dunnage or dunnage bags, shoring bars, or ties. For example, if you're shipping lumber on a flatbed trailer, you would need to secure it with straps that meet the appropriate load rating. For heavier or more unwieldy items, chains might be necessary.

The Importance of Adhering to Regulations 

Adherence to transport and safety regulations is crucial in open-deck shipping. These regulations, such as the FMCSA's rules on cargo securement, help ensure the safety of your freight, the carrier, and the public. For oversized or overweight freight, special permits are required, and each U.S. state or Canadian province that your shipment passes through might have different regulations and permit requirements. For example, a shipment that is wider than 8.6 feet might be considered oversized in one jurisdiction but not in another. Non-compliance with these regulations can lead to fines, delays, and increased risk of accidents.

The Necessity of Adequate Insurance Coverage 

Adequate insurance coverage is essential to protect your freight and your business. Basic carrier liability insurance often only covers a fraction of the actual cargo value. Therefore, shippers might want to consider purchasing additional cargo insurance to cover the full value of their goods in case of damage or loss during transit. For example, if you're shipping high-value industrial machinery on a removable gooseneck trailer, having comprehensive cargo insurance can safeguard against significant financial loss if an accident occurs.

Remember, ensuring efficiency and safety in open-deck shipping is not a one-time task but a continuous process. It requires ongoing attention to detail, adherence to regulations, and a commitment to best practices. By doing so, you can make the most of the benefits open-deck shipping offers, while minimizing risks and potential issues.

Leveraging Open-Deck Shipping to Your Advantage

As we've journeyed through the complexities of open-deck shipping, one crucial theme has emerged: the significant role the correct trailer choice plays in ensuring efficient, safe, and compliant transport. From flatbeds and step decks to removable goosenecks and beam trailers, each option serves distinct needs and brings unique advantages. The art of matching your freight with the ideal trailer is an intricate dance, but one that, once mastered, can propel your business forward.

Open-deck shipping proficiency isn't just about understanding trailers—it's a broader skill set encompassing knowledge of regulations, best practices for freight securement, and even the ability to evaluate and work with 3PL. Businesses that achieve this level of competence can leverage open-deck shipping to gain a competitive edge, optimize logistics, and drive growth.

Finally, remember that the road to mastery doesn't need to be traversed alone. Here at A.N. Webber Logistics, our industry expertise and vast range of open-deck options are at your disposal. We invite you to consult us for your open-deck shipping requirements. Let's take this journey together, transforming your logistics challenges into strategic opportunities that empower your business to reach new heights. Your success is our success. Contact us today to get started.


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