Transportation + Logistics Cubix@Othello Project Written by Juliana Velez of Metric Modular

The Cross Border Journey of 40 Modules

In the early hours of July 7, 2019, two flatbed trucks arrived at Metric Modular’s manufacturing facility to begin a journey that everyone on the Cubix@Othello Project had been anxiously anticipating. The modules built at Metric Modular’s manufacturing facility in Agassiz, BC were about to embark on a cross border, one-way road trip to Seattle, WA! 

A Detailed Journey Begins

This road trip was not as simple as grabbing your passport and driving to the border. There was tremendous logistical planning that went into moving a wide load “home” down a highway and across an international border.  And not just one module but 40 modules needed to make their way to the USA for this project. Many details required consideration even before construction of the modules began.  One such consideration was tracking all the components that went into each module.

Bringing goods across an international border can be complicated. Being thoroughly detailed in what was being transported into the USA was very important for a smooth journey. Because the modules were manufactured in Canada but their final home would be in the USA, the team at Metric needed to keep track of every component that went into each module for the required cross border declarations. Every item such as plumbing parts, doors, toilets, fixtures, appliances etc. had to be recorded and tracked.  And these components varied with each module so those variances needed to be tracked as well. That was a lot of components to track! 

Additionally, loose ship materials had to be tracked separately, as items that were not fixed or attached (door headers, flooring etc.) to the modules were subject to duty if they were not manufactured in North America.  That created even more detailed tracking! But, the tracking requirements did not end there.  US Customs also required the origin and quantities of each component as well as the costing, module dimensions and weight to be provided.  This level of detailed tracking began right at the beginning of this project so a seamless cross border entry could occur.

Mod Shipping Schedule

“There is a time and place for everything.”  This proverb perfectly describes the complex scheduling and planning that was necessary to accurately define where and when each of the 40 modules would start their journey to the USA.  The project site in Seattle required the modules to be received in a specific order and upfront planning and clearly laid out roles and responsibilities were key to the success of this logistical component.

The Metric team coordinated with the Seattle installation crew to determine which modules needed to be made accessible first and by what date.  This predetermined schedule helped determine how the completed modules were placed in Metric’s holding yard prior to transport. This important logistical step helped provide a seamless flow of the right modules being transported to Seattle’s laydown yard at the right time.

Mods Awaiting Pickup

The West Coast can have its fair share of rainy days so once the modules were complete they were wrapped in thick poly to protect them from the elements. They were then each marked with a serial number that indicated their location within the building according to the craning plan.  This number helped the craning crew and the transport company identify the next module in the sequence to be craned and transported.

Once poly-wrapped and numbered, cranes temporarily placed the modules on wooden cribbing blocks in the manufacturing overflow yard to await pickup. The height of the blocks was intentional and the blocks were specifically spaced for loading purposes.  By strategically raising the modules off the ground it allowed the truck deck to slide underneath the module for easy loading at time of pickup and provided minimal downtime for the transport company. But before the modules were picked up to start their journey, they needed their “passports”.

Paperwork to Cross the Border

Cleary the modules do not need passports to cross the Canada/USA border, but what they do need are specific forms and documents completed to enter. Metric Modular worked with their customs broker to compile all the necessary paperwork required to allow transportation of the modules into the USA.  To ensure the modules would have a smooth journey from their manufacturing facility in Agassiz to the project site in Seattle, Metric needed to supply the following documentation to their customs broker before the trucks arrived at the border:

  • Commercial invoice
  • Customs clearance
  • Certificate of Origin with all itemized components as required by the North American Free Trade Agreement 
  • Special documentation as required, for instance microwaves are considered radioactive material and required a separate certificate
  • Anything required to get modules to the USA

Documents had to be sent to the agent 24 hours prior to the scheduled arrival of the modules, so good communication and coordination between the Agassiz factory, the transport company and the customs broker were instrumental in preventing any delays.

Loading the Modules onto Flatbed Trucks

With documents in order, transportation commenced. When a flatbed truck arrived, the driver first had to measure the module’s exact dimensions and the distance between the wooden blocks to determine where to accurately place the truck deck. With his mad driving skills, he backed up the truck and then maneuvered the deck precisely underneath the module and adjusted the height of the deck with a hydraulic airbag system.  The module was now loaded.  It was then restrained to the deck anchor points with transport strapping in order to avoid shifting or moving during transportation.  Ready to roll!  Well, not quite yet as the truck driver required some company for this road trip.

Permits & Pilot Cars

The Department of Transportation requires pilot vehicles for oversized loads. These are cars that escort trucks with oversized loads along its journey. The number of pilot cars required for each trip and positioning depends on the type of road/highway, time of day and overall dimensions of the modules, adding complexity to the logistics plan.  Single-trip permits were required every time a module left the factory.

With trucks loaded and pilot cars ready, the modules were ready to start their journey “home”.

Pilot cars work with and transport drivers as a team, staying connected by radio, as the pilot advises the truck driver of conditions all around them. All trucks that are hauling oversize or overweight loads must have a strobe, flashing or rotating amber light mounted to the roof that is visible from 360 degrees at a minimum distance of 200 meters (656′).

Road Transportation and Design Constraints

The complex scheduling, planning and detailed tracking was integral for this component of the Cubix@Othello Project.  But it also went all the way back to the details in the manufacturing of the modules that helped in the smooth journey.

Transporting modules by road creates movement in the modules that is likely more than what they would see during a seismic event. Because of that, transportation requirements are one of the initial design constraints when undertaking a modular project.  The design team must take into consideration width, length, height and weight restrictions of every module in order to create the final modular design. The modules therefore, must be designed and built to very high structural standards to preserve the integrity of not only the modules, but also of all the finishing components that go inside. Therefore, transportation requirements are an integral part of a modules journey, right from the beginning.

Lessons Learned

Planning and collaboration is intrinsic to modular construction and it is even more so when dealing with cross-border shipping. It is also very important to have clear communication with all parties involved to define scopes and responsibilities and define a clear strategy to make the process flow efficiently. Some of the key items to consider are: 

  1. Choosing a transportation partner who understands all the complexities involved in the import/export process as well as the transit regulations and road requirements.  This includes:
    1. Mod size, weight, height restrictions
  1. Road restrictions/curfews + pilot vehicles requirements  
  2. Documents + paperwork required at the border
  1. Minimizing loose ship items significantly reduces time and paperwork administration
  2. Creating a shipping schedule based on the craning schedule and ensuring the transportation company is clear on the sequence the modules
  3. Implementing an after-hours access plan so trucks can load modules day or night when they arrive at the plant 

Completed Milestone

As each module left the manufacturing yard to start their journey to their new home in Seattle, the team at Metric Modular got a bit emotional.  Just as parents get emotional when they send their kids off to University, Metric got emotional too as this marked a key milestone for the Cubix@Othello project. Two countries, one border, countless team members, 40 modules, 40 trucks, and a good few pilot cars driving down the Interstate 5 in a span of 2 weeks and this Cubix@Othello project milestone was complete.

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