A simple piece of steel and wheels support the global supply chain


Transportation officials grappling with the supply chain deadlock that frustrates U.S. importers say the ability to remove bottlenecks relies heavily on a simple piece of steel and wheels that has long been used. an afterthought in global shipping.

Truck trailers, known as chassis and used to transport containers from dockside terminals, have become more difficult to find in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., Officials said because a a flood of imports overwhelmed the facilities and brought them to a standstill. the equipment necessary for the transport of goods.

Leaders close to operations around the ports say it will not be possible to ease traffic jams on the coast, including saving more than 70 container ships anchored offshore and waiting for a berth, without resolve equipment issues, such as chassis shortage, which have crippled operations.

“The chassis is the biggest problem” in problems that span from the docks in nearby Los Angeles and Long Beach ports to deeper warehouses in California and intermodal stations in the Midwest, said Matt Schrap, general manager of the Harbor Trucking Association, which represents southern California harbor truckers.

Truck chassis stacked at a shipping terminal in the Port of Los Angeles


Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg News

The reason container ships are backed up outside the country’s largest container port complex, according to Schrap and other officials: because dockworkers cannot unload ships quickly because the terminals are full of boxes that truckers can’t pick up because they can’t find a chassis.

There are approximately 115,000 chassis in the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, according to DCLI, a major chassis supplier. Just over half of the executives are privately owned or leased. Truckers can lease the remaining 57,000 chassis from a common pool provided by DCLI and two other vendors.

Normally there are enough trailers to handle the thousands of containers passing through the ports. But executives say the relentless flow of imports that began in mid-2020, coupled with labor shortages in warehouses and other cargo handling facilities, has resulted in executives moving away from ports for long periods, reducing the ability of operators to turn around equipment to transport new boxes.

Mike O’Malley, a spokesperson for DCLI, said chassis pooled at ports in Southern California had been held outside the port in September for more than nine days, on average, double from the time they were busy before the coronavirus pandemic.

The frames are part of a choreographed operation. A truck driver picks up the chassis from a site near the ports, goes to a terminal to have a container loaded, takes it to a warehouse about 80 kilometers away, then returns to repeat the operation.

Since many warehouses are overwhelmed today, resulting in delays in unloading the container, the trucker often leaves the box on the chassis for days longer than usual at a receiving facility.

Delays at destination sites have thrown the system off balance, operators said.

Weston LaBar, chief strategy officer at Cargomatic Inc., a freight platform that pairs truckers with shippers, said that too often today chassis “are used as a storage mechanism.”

Shipping carriers have also placed restrictions on when empty containers can be returned, further aggravating congestion. A survey this week by the Harbor Trucking Association found that among 46 trucking companies, 6,592 chassis were stuck under empty containers.

“It becomes a vicious cycle,” said Lisa Wan, operations manager of California-based trucking company RoadEx America. “If I can’t bring in a vacuum to reuse my chassis, then where can I find a bare chassis to pick up the import container? “

A drop in the supply of new frames is compounding the shortage, trucking and chassis officials say. In May, the United States’ International Trade Commission imposed countervailing and anti-dumping duties totaling more than 200% on Chinese frame producers who supplied the majority of frames to the United States.

The California port of Los Angeles is struggling to cope with the influx of freight containers arriving at its terminals, creating one of the biggest bottlenecks in the global supply chain crisis. This exclusive aerial video illustrates the scale of the problem and the complexities of this process.

A coalition of US chassis manufacturers who have advocated for ITC’s actions say tariffs have not contributed to supply chain congestion. Frank Katz, CEO of Cheetah Chassis, one of the largest domestic manufacturers, based in Berwick, Pa., Said companies like his are trying to ramp up production.

Mr Katz said the real problem is that the import surge has overwhelmed the domestic supply chain. “If we could double production it wouldn’t make any difference,” Katz said.

Doug Hoehn, executive vice president of Milestone Chassis Co., a Lombard, Illinois-based leasing company, said domestic manufacturers were running out of thousands of units for his company’s new equipment orders. Milestone has a fleet of 20,000 chassis in North America, including Southern California, which needs to be constantly replenished due to wear and tear.

“If you were to come and rent a sash today, my response would be, ‘Here is a piece of paper, sign it and I can get you a sash in the third quarter of next year,’ Hoehn said.

Write to Paul Berger at [email protected]

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