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A day in the life of Penn Warehousing and Distribution

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A day in the life of Penn Warehousing and Distribution

May 01, 2011 - 21:08
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NEW YORK, May 2, 2011 (RISI) -PENN Warehousing and Distribution spent April 29th unloading the rest of a cargo of high-quality coated paper rolls from TransFighter, a TransAtlantic vessel that regularly calls on the Port of Philadelphia. Severe weather the day before threw dangerous storms across the region and forced PENN to change the normal schedule. As the sun rose, PENN crews and staff started a busy morning to get back on track.

To handle the approximately 15,500 metric tons of cargo delivered by TransFighter, PENN usually schedules a total of 20 hours, 12 the first day and 8 the next. With rain hampering the first day, crews of longshoremen worked with a fleet of 35 flatbed trucks to catch up the unloading and stay within the two-day goal.

"We're very sensitive about the weather," says Jim Lyons, president of JH Stevedoring. "But we have a dedicated house gang with the experience to adjust to what's needed."

Handling one or two vessels a day is common for PENN; they have a record of handling three vessels in a single day. But the crews focus on one vessel at a time for the best quality of the cargo.

As one truck is loaded inside the hold, a second stands ready at the bottom of the ramp. The white stripes on the tires are a safety initiative developed by the work crews. When cranes are used to load cargo on the flatbeds, the visual reference helps prevent damage by letting the operator know the trucking is moving.

The TransFighter has two cargo holds, an upper hold in the middle of the ship and a lower hold below. Trucks drive up the ramp into the upper hold where forklifts with Bolzoni Auramo clamps load the rolls onto the flatbed trailers. In the lower hold, forklifts work in tandem teams, one inside the hold and one on the side dock with another round of flatbed trucks.

Inside the ship, water- and dust-proof doors compartmentalize the holds, protecting the cargo from moisture and damage during any movement while at sea. Not surprisingly, paper rolls are packed from floor to ceiling, and from port to starboard. Once the ships docks and the side-hatch opens, it's takes creativity and ingenuity to pull out the first rolls and make room for the handling equipment to work inside the hold.

While stevedores unload the rolls, the crew of TransFighter keeps a watchful eye on the ship. Over the course of unloading the vessel, the port will see both high and low tide, which constantly changes the level of the boat and the angle of the main ramp. To compensate, the crew adjusts the vessel's ballast, making sure the ramp doesn't reach too-steep an angle, jeopardizing safety or the product.

"We're constantly coordinating with the ship's crew throughout the entire process," says Lyons. "And the pilot works with the port crew to see when we'll finish and how to adjust the ship's time to leave for the quickest turnaround."

Inside PENN's offices at Piers 78 & 80, the main forest products terminals for the Port of Philadelphia, the office staff checks and double-checks the ship's manifest, the condition of the product, and coordinates how to store the cargo depending on the customer's needs. Pre-planning with the warehouse sets the rolls in allotments based on storage time, transportation needs and customer preferences.

Family-owned and operated since 1920, PENN is composed of three companies: PENN Warehousing and Distribution, JH Stevedoring and Murphy Marine. Using a strategic alliance of the three companies, PENN has developed a unique, consolidated approach to maritime freight delivery and storage. Aside from forest products, PENN also handles fruits and other commodities at Philadelphia and the Port of Wilmington, Delaware.

"We work hard to find the most viable and best solution our customers," says Tom Mutz, director of global development with PENN. "I think there's a lot of truth in the phrase: every customer is different. So, we maintain a level of flexibility to meet and exceed the customer's requirements. In short, we are an extension of their organization."

Off the ship, cargo is transferred to the check station. Each roll is scanned using RFID to verify against the manifest and the shipping sheets. The data is loaded directly into PENN's warehouse management system, giving customers a real-time view of their cargo through a web-based portal application. Through the double- and triple-checks, PENN's system inventory maintains an accuracy of 99.9%.

If any rolls are damaged during transit, it is marked with white chalk and sent to the re-wrap and repair station. The onsite facilities are another unique PENN feature, allowing them to repair rips, tears or gouges before the product is warehoused. PENN's warehouse crew will repair or trim based on customer guidelines and then re-wrap the roll, reusing the same label to maintain quality control.

"Our objective is for the product to leave here clean for the customer," says Mutz. "It just goes directly to the fundamentals. Every product should be marketable for our customers and their customers."

The final step will be distribution from the warehouse to the customer. With over 2 million square feet of warehouse space, PENN boasts 70 rail car sidings (including 15 inside the warehouse facilities) and access to three Class 1 rail systems.

PENN offers intermodal capabilities to customers, with access to the US East Coast major interstate system, and over 50 truck bays with automatic loading and unloading capabilities. PENN consistently meets its goal of less than one hour for gate-to-gate service.

From ship hold to railcar or truck, safety and product quality are integral parts of the entire process. Crews look for new initiatives at nearly every turn. In the railcars, for instance, cardboard runners are put down inside the car to prevent damage from the flooring. Rolls are bundled together with red straps, allowing the entire load to protect itself against moving or shifting during transit.

By lunch, PENN's handling of TransFighter was back on schedule. "Employees are our main asset," says Lyons. "At the end of the day, we take care of the product and we make sure everyone goes home safe."

PENN handled over 389,000 tons of forest products cargo in 2010, a 53% increase over the previous year. In addition to high-quality coated paper, PENN specializes in a wide range of products, from newsprint and Kraft liner to pulp and lumber, using both breakbulk and containers.

Kenneth Norris is a US based contributing editor to PPI magazine and the RISI community website and can be contacted