Their mission, should they decide to accept it, is to transport sensitive materials around the globe. They'll grapple with issues of size, time, cost, scheduling, security, and fragility. Failure is not an option. They are project logistics professionals.Whether they're transporting priceless objects between museums, delivering life-saving medical products, provisioning one-of-a-kind public events, or simply opening a new store, the people who work in the hectic, high-pressure world of project logistics routinely handle critical shipments encumbered with unique characteristics and demands.They must typically cope with long-distance hauls, oversized cargo, perishable items, fragile merchandise, and various other types of hard-to-handle shipments. They often face time and security constraints as well as the need to reach remote and difficult-to-access locations.Project logistics imposes demands and carries responsibilities that might make a typical logistics manager cringe with horror or cry in despair.
It's not an area for the meek," says David Simchi-Levi, a supply chain analyst with the Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences (INFORMS), a society of operations research professionals based in Hanover, Md."Special-needs logistics situations are generally so demanding that few enterprises are willing or capable of supporting them on their own."The companies that do handle project logistics are "fixers"—capable of tackling just about any assignment, no matter how difficult or complex.Project logistics experts pride themselves on being able to offer a level of in-depth knowledge about shipping modes, schedules, routes, handling procedures, local services, and government regulations that even the most capable mainstream third-party logistics (3PL) provider might be hard-pressed to match.Businesses tackling critical projects can benefit from an outside expert to handle customs, security, and other crucial details, says Dominique Bischoff-Brown, chief operating officer of New York-based project logistics specialist Quick International Courier."Because the rules change every day, companies risk a serious disaster if they lack compliance understanding or proceed without proper support," she says. "Project logistics providers are heavily regulated."For most companies facing unique projects, it simply doesn't pay to train employees in processes and regulations that they may never again encounter. "For such business needs, outsourcing is the logical solution," Simchi-Levi says.On the following pages, learn how three project logistics providers handled mission-critical challenges: mobilizing a 2,000-year-old army, rushing life-saving perishables to Africa, and performing a logistics balancing act. Troop MovementsChina's priceless Terracotta Warriors invade major cities this year, thanks to a plan of attack masterminded by UPS.When Shi Huang Di, the first emperor of China, began building his terracotta army in 210 B.C., he never imagined that many of its members would one day be whisked halfway around the world to tour major cities in a continent that he didn't even know existed. Yet that's exactly what's happening this year.Atlanta's High Museum, working with the British Museum, has arranged for selected pieces of the Terracotta Warriors collection to visit several U.S. cities, giving museum-goers a close-up, once-in-a-lifetime view.The High is an experienced hand at arranging tours of such one-of-a-kind art collections. Most notably, in 2006, the museum launched "Louvre Atlanta," a three-year series of exhibitions showcasing hundreds of masterpieces from the Louvre Museum in Paris.Over the years, the institution has gradually become an expert at project logistics. It's a trend that's sweeping the museum world."Many museums now employ registrars to arrange logistics and insurance for their exhibitions," says Frances R. Francis, the High's registrar.Even with the High's experience handling high-profile international exhibitions, getting the Terracotta Warriors to the United States wasn't easy. The detailed, life-like warriors are no toy army. The figures range in height from six to 6.5 feet, according to their role (the generals are the tallest).Other figures include foot soldiers, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians, as well as horses and chariots.To move these formidable objects to the states, the High turned to UPS, the carrier it worked with to transport the Louvre masterpieces."UPS has proven to be a responsive and effective carrier for international museum loans, and we knew it would be well-positioned to handle this project because of its depth of experience in Asia, both as an official carrier for the Beijing Olympics and its prior success transporting pandas to the Atlanta Zoo and whale sharks to the Georgia Aquarium," Francis says.Getting the figures to the United States was a massive job. In Shanghai, the exhibit was packed into 42 specially constructed crates that were loaded onto a 747-400. A giant air freighter was built with a nose that rises and flips open, allowing the large cargo to load through the front."We wanted to load the cargo in the safest possible way, with plenty of room to spare," says Bland Matthews, loadmaster for Atlanta-based UPS Airlines and head of the team coordinating the Terracotta Warriors shipping project.Specialists in China designed the project's crates and packing techniques to insulate the artifacts from extreme temperatures and humidity, and protect them from vibration."The horse, for example, is suspended within a cushioned inner frame to prevent stress on its long, slender legs," Francis notes.At each transit phase, UPS worked closely with the Chinese specialists and handling agents to ensure the crates were treated not just with care, but with respect for the contents as national treasures.UPS flew the Warriors to Anchorage, then to its Ontario, Calif., air hub, where workers loaded them on three UPS Freight trucks equipped with air-ride trailers. The figures' first stop was the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Calif. The exhibit debuted at the museum May 18, 2008.Over the next two years, the Warriors will be trucked from Santa Ana to museums in Houston and Washington, as well as the High. In 2010, the exhibit will fly back to China from Washington.