Breakbulk in the age of Covid-19: insights from industry leaders

It’s no secret the current global situation has had a big effect on European project cargo. But is it all doom and gloom?

As part of the Breakbulk365 series, the team has been conducting must-see webinars, helping connect key players around Europe and the world. 

A variety of industry insiders have been helping to map out a progress plan for the sector in these times. 

Fresh project cargo insights from industry leaders

Communication & collaboration

Never has there been a more important time for collaboration and ensuring robust communication. 

The pandemic has made these already vital supply chain links absolutely essential, whether internally, or between customers and clients.

Take DHL for example. Talking to us as part of the BreakbulkOne Show: Women in Breakbulk Europe on Crisis Leadership webinar, originally aired on May 28 2020, Nikola Hagleitner, EVP Marketing & Sales, DHL Global Forwarding highlighted the big benefits close inter-departmental collaboration can bring.

DHL brings together its ocean, air, and project teams together for twice weekly meetings to a) share key info quickly and b) speed up decision making.

“We’re a large company and we’re not known to make fast decisions. But if you have everybody together, everyone knows we have one hour to iron everything out for the next week. This was really fantastic," Hagleitner said.

Volga-Dnepr has also taken strides to connect all important stakeholders to ensure they can provide the best possible functionality. The company’s UK Commercial Director Ekaterina Andreeva told Breakbulk the air carrier is holding company-wide seminars on vital topics, such as personal health and safety and pandemic updates, to keep its staff informed of best practices.

However, the pandemic has hamstrung important aspects of regular project cargo operation. For Claudia Ohlmeier, Group Leader, Port State Control for DNV GL, and president, WISTA – Germany, and her team, this meant ship inspections for regulatory compliance.

Unable to board ships, DNV GL had to rely on a solution that hints at one of the wider-reaching industry themes the lockdown situation has thrown up.

“We were lucky to implement a few years ago an access system to allow customers to log in online and get 24/7 response,” said Claudia. “For us, it really paid off.”

Having a digital solution allowed for rapid regulatory-related responses. Ultimately, it leads onto a renewed push for digitalisation across the project cargo sector.

Digitalisation in project cargo 

“There’s a push for digitalization, and I think it’s a very logical one,” Cyril Varghese, Global Logistics Director – Strategy & Commercial, Fluor, said. “What can we do during this period to make these supply chains leaner and more agile, it would be upon us to make sure we do so.”

Varghese was speaking to Breakbulk during the View from the Boardroom: What Lies Ahead webinar hosted on 27th May 2020.
Traditionally, the industry has been one of the slowest to embrace digital technologies. Limited contact between employees, customers, and logistics sector members might provide the impetus to see increased adoption of digital solutions throughout the project cargo world.

Varghese’s point was mirrored by James Hookham, Secretary General, Global Shippers Forum: This crisis presents is a real chance to go back into your supply chains and your processes and start to take costs out and digitization of all that paperwork is a great place to start. 

"Physical exchange of paperwork is something we should be avoiding during the crisis anyway because of the risk of contamination. But in the longer term now is a great opportunity to really start tackling that digitization opportunity and removing costs from your supply chain.”

Certainly, it presents an opportunity for technology companies to really hammer home the importance of their solutions in a world restricted facing restricted physical interaction.

Slow recovery forecast but bright spots emerge

While BIMCO’s Peter Sand has forewarned of a slowdown in demand for global project cargo in our first lockdown webinar, the Impact of Covid-19 on Future Shipping Demand, signs of cautious optimism are emerging.

“Some of the freight forwarders when they speak to me they talk about the positive aspects of the business, the new insight which they’ve received working from home, how they’re supporting governments and hospitals fight the pandemic, finding new solutions to minimize supply chain disruptions, there are shipping lines taking delivery of new more fuel-efficient ships, heavy haulers are getting ready to expand into new territories on the back of order books,” Varghes said.

This folds into global activity, which may have a positive effect on European projects and cargo movement.

Developments mentioned in View from the Boardroom: What Lies Ahead include commitment on renewables and renewable energy storage projects offshore Norway, as well as further pledges to continue supporting heavy haulers in Arctic LNG.

Breakbulk Europe is committed to supporting the project cargo sector -Join us in September.

Breakbulk Europe remains committed to supporting and aiding industry recovery wherever it can. From the event’s revised date, Breakbulk will continue to serve this vital industry.

Our industry-leading show is taking place to 29 September – 01 October in Bremen, Germany. You can book your place here, but please contact the team with any questions or queries you may have about 2020’s event.