Questions on Flatbed Shipping

10/11/2021

Questions on Flatbed Shipping

Flatbed shipping is an essential part of the logistics industry. Flatbed trailers are incredibly versatile, offer many benefits to shippers, and are a necessity when shipping oversized or heavy haul freight. Not to mention, flatbed shipping has been on the rise in recent years. In this blog, we’ll answer all your questions and more on flatbed shipping. 

WHAT IS A FLATBED TRAILER? FLATBED SHIPPING?

Flatbed Shipping

Flatbed shipping is often the transportation choice for cargo that doesn’t need the enclosure of a dry van. It’s ideal for cargo that cannot be loaded or unloaded from a dock or does not fit within standard trailer dimensions. The design of a flatbed trailer allows for cranes and forklifts to unload and load goods from any angle. Flatbed trailers can ship nearly anything and are especially good for large or over-dimensional cargo.

Flatbed Trailer

A standard flatbed trailer is a piece of shipping equipment with a long plank-like bed. It has no sides and no roof. Flatbed trailer dimensions are often between 48 to 53 feet in length. The standard width is 8’6” but some can extend up to 11’, and the standard flatbed weight limit is up to 48,000 lbs. 

Flatbed loads that carry freight wider than 11’, longer than 53’, or more than 48,000 lbs. are considered oversized, over-dimensional, or heavy haul loads. These loads have special regulations.

Looking for all you need to know about Over-Dimensional Shipping?

Check out our Over-Dimensional Shipping Guide here.

Unlike dry vans or refrigerated trailers, there are different types of flatbed trailers because the cargo carried by them can be so versatile. So when you need flatbed shipping it is essential to find the right flatbed trailer for your freight. There are more than 14 types of flatbed trucks with a standard flatbed, step deck, and double drop deck as the three most common types of trailers.

Step decks can haul taller loads than standard flatbed trailers, usually have a ramp for loading and unloading, and tend to be safer for forklift pickup. Double drop deck trailers have extra axles for better balance, have a 25-29 footwell to hold freight, and are used to haul flatbed freight over 10 feet tall. Lowboy flatbed trailers are lower trailers to allow for greater clearance of tall cargo and are easier for the loading/unloading of vehicles like construction vehicles.

WHAT CAN BE HAULED ON A FLATBED TRAILER?

A flatbed trailer can haul almost anything. The most common freight shipping uses for flatbeds are:

o Large machinery equipment, like tractors, dozers, excavators, compactors, etc.,

o Formed concrete items, lumber, construction materials, large steel beams, trusses, scaffolding,

o Commercial heating and air conditioning units,

o Electrical transformers,

o Oil, gas, and petrochemical equipment,

o Solar panels or wind turbines,

o Baled tires,

o Mobile and manufactured Homes,

o Landscaping materials,

o Large quantities of wrapped and stackable products,

o Any other kind of freight exceeding 100’ in height or width,

o and any other freight that needs to be top or sideloaded by crane.

When it comes to flatbed hauling, there is nothing too big to transport! 

flatbed shipping
A Trinity flatbed shipment.

WHAT INDUSTRIES USE FLATBED TRAILERS?

Because flatbed trailers can carry such versatile freight, the use of flatbeds extends across all industries. Most often, flatbed trailers are used to carry oversize or unusual-shaped freight.

Common industries that use flatbed shipping are:

o Housing,

o Construction,

o Renewable energy,

o Agricultural,

o Warehousing,

o Manufacturing,

o Mining and drilling,

o Military,

o Automotive,

o and landscaping.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A FLATBED TRAILER?

There are several benefits to using a flatbed trailer for your freight. With a flatbed trailer, there is dimensional flexibility for loading and unloading large freight since there are no physical walls or a roof that restricts its use. Flatbeds are also known as the champions of hauling oversized freight. No freight is too large, heavy, or oddly shaped. It also helps that all freight can be loaded and unloaded from any angle, including from above, which means there is no need for a loading dock. Since there is such versatility in the kinds of flatbeds there are, you’re bound to find one that suits your needs. 

WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF USING A FLATBED TRAILER?

When selecting the type of trailer your freight needs, you should know the disadvantages to each. Compared to traditional hauls, all flatbeds take considerable skill, effort, and time. 

Since there are no physical walls to restrain freight, cargo securement and balance are two significant concerns with flatbeds. The FMCSA has a lengthy section in rules specifically for securements, as insecure cargo is a serious safety hazard. Proper securement is needed for your freight too because if not done correctly, your freight can get damaged from the securement itself. In addition, shipments often shift some during transportation, so even weight distribution and securement are necessary.

There are even more significant risks and responsibilities with any oversized freight and with that shipping over-dimensional freight have even more strict regulations to follow. Another challenge with oversized freight is your shipment’s routing. It’s necessary to plan your route by your freight’s dimensions, a necessity when obtaining any heavy haul permits. An example of an oversized routing challenge is the intersection of I-20/59 and I-65 in Alabama. It’s commonly known as “Malfunction Junction”. It’s an odd intersection as the two roads cross over each other twice! There have been 30 accidents at the site since 1987 caused by dropped cargo from flatbed trucks. These accidents have caused serious damage to the highway, costing up to $300,000 per incident. For that manner, a lot of flatbed freight gets purposely routed around the area.

Another disadvantage to flatbed trailers is that there are no physical walls. It’s a positive for loading and unloading. Still, it can also be negative as no enclosure means dealing with the elements (wind, rain, snow, sun, animal or human interference, truck smoke/smog, dust, and road debris). To combat this, there is the option of tarping your freight. 

FLATBED SHIPPING TIPS

Know your cargo

Be sure to know all the details of your shipment. This includes commodities, value, dimensions, and weight. This information will help logistics providers know how to properly secure your cargo ahead of time. This rings especially true when shipping oversized! If you are shipping oversized/heavy haul, be sure to know your regulations or work with a provider who does. 

Understand what trailer you’ll need

Familiarize yourself with the different types of flatbed trailers before booking a shipment so you can make the most cost-effective and safe choice. Each type of flatbed trailer has certain limitations. For example, a specific flatbed trailer like extended trailers and Conestogas can be harder to find so your provider may need advanced notice when they are required.

Be aware of accessorial charges

Flatbed shipping most often involves moving specialized loads which can require special equipment or additional services. Make sure you have the proper equipment and services needed for your freight to avoid extra charges, freight damage, or delays.

Choose to work with an expert

Arranging flatbed shipments on your own can be time-consuming and expensive. And if you’re shipping oversized freight, that can be another challenge itself. Make sure all regulations are met and your cargo travels safely. Consider working with an expert in flatbed shipping to help secure capacity and locate the right equipment for your freight.

FLATBED RATES AND SEASONALITY

Freight shipping demand, which includes flatbed demand, is something that is often based seasonally. No matter the market, shipping rates fluctuate throughout the year and rise as the demand for freight rises.

Flatbed shipping is very closely connected to construction and industrial production, which can be highly dependent on the weather. These industries often slow down in winter months, so normally, the demand for flatbed shipping will soften at the end of the year.

Smaller to medium-sized companies often slow down during winter and resume activity when warmer weather returns. However, larger companies are affected less by the seasonality and continue to move their commodities regardless of the time of the year.

Because of the seasonal rise and fall, you’ll find volume and rates lowest in the late fall/early winter, with peak flatbed season being from April to October. This is when the volume of flatbed loads is highest, as are the rates.

How to Prepare for Peak Flatbed Season

Scorecard your carriers

Develop a scorecard that captures your key performance indicators and communicates those expectations to your selected providers. This helps hold carriers accountable for their overall performance, leads to better route guide compliance, reduces spot quote activity, and maintains costs.

Maintain strong relations with quality flatbed carriers

It is important to keep quality flatbed carriers willing and ready to work with you. However, maintain enough carrier relationships to meet your demand can be challenging. Consider utilizing a third-party logistics provider (3PL). Working with a 3PL for your flatbed needs can save you time and money as they maintain the relationships, keep carrier contracts up to date and on file including things like insurance, government compliance, and Department of Transportation (DOT) safety laws. This can also reduce your risk from maintaining those carrier contracts.

Have longer lead times

The longer time between a freight tender and actual shipment date has shown to receive less expensive rates. For flatbed shipping, having adequate lead times gives you the benefit as carriers position their trucks well in advance to align with future opportunities. Having flexibility with your pick-up or delivery dates makes your freight more attractive as well.

RECENT GROWTH IN FLATBED SHIPPING

Flatbed has seen a massive increase in demand recently. At times it can be so high that trucking companies have had to delay shipments and deliver slower performance due to so many orders. So what’s contributing to the flatbed growth?

Higher import demands

Many manufactured items needing flatbeds are being imported and need to be shipped all across the country.

New home and construction activity on the rise

From January to February 2021, new homes and building permits were up 30% YOY. Higher demand for new homes and construction means growing demand for materials, components, and machinery that would otherwise not fit on other transport options.

Oil and drilling booms

As the world has seen an increased demand for crude oil, the shipment and import of oil-based goods and essential drilling equipment have also increased.

E-commerce growth

Larger goods are being moved around more. Examples of these larger goods include furniture, large electronics, and online order building materials to support e-commerce from companies like Wayfair selling furniture or Lowe’s offering residential delivery. Additionally, that supports the construction demand for warehousing needed to store these e-commerce products.

COVERING YOUR FLATBED SHIPMENT

Flatbed shipments can sometimes be tough to cover, especially if you’re working with oversized freight. Working with an expert 3PL like Trinity Logistics can help. We have over 70,000 carrier relationships, a carrier compliance Team that keeps important carrier paperwork like insurance, contracts, and certifications up to date, and a Team of experts who stay up to date on regulations. Spend less time being concerned about your flatbed shipments by outsourcing to a trustworthy expert in flatbed shipping, like Trinity Logistics.

GET A FLATBED SHIPPING QUOTE

Author: Christine Morris