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If you see a super-sized tractor trailer with the name Mobile Mechatronics Lab tooling down the highway, you're looking at a million-dollar investment. It's a custom-made showroom filled with high-tech marvels, the brainchild of Festo, a leading world-wide supplier of automation technology.
"Our mobile showroom features 22 dynamic displays with fully functional operating machines, as well as 21 static displays," says Festo Exhibit Coordinator Andrew Wagner. "We had it made so we could take the trade show to our customers... it's designed to pull right up to the door, so they can step in, like they're stepping into another room of their own building."
Since its Long Island debut in June, the showroom has averaged about two stops a day at customer and distributor locations as it winds across the U.S. and Canada. Andrew says it was important to find a transportation partner with the experience to handle such a piece of equipmentas well as the many details and the related red tape for a busy schedule of transit between states, territories, and countries.
"We thought about setting up our own in-house logistics system and hiring an operator," says Andrew. "But we recognized that's not our area of expertise. We needed a turn-key solution."
Andrew got in touch with Joe McNamara, Certified Van Service (598), who had helped him before with trade show traffic. Joe in turn reached out to Atlas STG and its agent network, connecting with Bill South at Avatar Moving Systems (444) and Professional Van Operator Paul Schmitt.
"Paul is an awesome operator," says Andrew. "Extremely conscientious, and a real asset to our effort."
Paul says the work is different from typical STG assignments. Fewer miles per day and multiple stops means less time behind the wheel, and more time on setup and takedown. And he gets plenty of help when he needs it. "The people at Festo are the greatest," Paul says. "They work with me in any way they can." Paul also enjoys the interaction with people – lots of people. "During the first week in September, we took part in the World Skills Conference in Calgary...we estimate as many as 10,000 people came through the exhibit."
The Mobile Mechatronics Lab will make approximately 500 stops during its maiden year. It will see about 11 months of active sales duty, with scheduled time off for routine maintenance and mechanical touch-ups for the displays.
Most specialized transportation professionals are used to moving large and unusual objects. But few are called to transport a giant of the sea. Even fewer have occasion to do so twice. Atlas agent Bekins Northwest is one of them.
This whale of a moving tale began in June 2007, when the Bekins Northwest team transported Qannik, a beluga, on the last leg of his journey from Shedd Aquarium in Chicago to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma. In his new home, Qannik became a companion to Beethoven, a fellow beluga. But in March of this year, Qannik came down with a mysterious infection and died.
"Whales are social creatures," says Assistant Manager Kim Flannagan, Bekins Northwest in Tacoma. "So, when Qannik passed away, the zoo needed to find a new home for his buddy."
Beethoven's new digs turned out to be nearly 1,800 miles away, at Sea World in San Antonio, Texas – where he was born 16 years earlier. And it was Bekins Northwest's job to make sure he received a proper send-off.
"Whale moves need to take place after dark," says Kim. "It helps to keep the move discreet. Plus, traffic delays are less likely at night – the animal should not be on the road any longer than is necessary."
To transport Beethoven from the zoo to the Seattle-Tacoma airport, the moving team used a modified flatbed onto which they rolled a whale-sized tank. After filling the tank with water, the zoo's animal handling team used a hoist with a big sling to lift the 1,700-pound beluga into the water. Handlers from Sea World and Point Defiance rode with Beethoven to keep him reassured throughout his journey. A heavy curtain shielded the tank from the elements and from view.
At the airport, the Bekins Northwest crew, including Van Operator Mike Duffy and Sales Representative Tom Rowland, helped roll the tank from the trailer onto a platform. From there, animal handlers rolled the tank into the hold of the cargo plane for the trip to Texas.
Beethoven completed his homecoming on June 2. He joined a pod of eight other whales, including a few friends from his early days. Curators say he is in good health and will have an opportunity to become a father. Who knows... some day the Bekins Northwest team may be called to escort one of his kin back to Tacoma.
"We look forward to further projects with the Point Defiance Zoo," says Kim. "And we hope to see the beluga exhibit reopened soon."
When it comes to orchestrating road shows, Ace World Wide (142) in Orlando has gained a fair amount of experience. Over the last 8 years, the Atlas agent has been closely involved with helping retail giant Sears conduct training events for the myriad products it sells. Most recently, the Ace World Wide team catered to the Sears Blue Appliance Crew in a cross-country training tour that concluded in early fall.
Work on the project started in May, when goods began arriving at the Ace World Wide warehouse in Elgin, Illinois. All told, 325 major appliances – refrigerators, washers and dryers, ranges and dishwashers – would travel more than 21,000 miles. In the weeks leading up to the June 15 kickoff, the logistics experts at Ace World Wide and Atlas STG developed a schedule for five trucks to serve 71 venues in a little over 16 weeks. The agency team also refined a loading and unloading plan and familiarized itself with setup requirements. At each location, the team would be responsible for six 20' x 20' booths – one each for Whirlpool, LG Electronics, Samsung, Bosch, Electrolux, and GE. Each booth setup included carpeting, piping and drapes.
Following a successful "train the trainers" run and a week of instruction for Sears associates in the Chicago area, the trucks embarked on circuits connecting diverse locations – civic centers, hotels, and fairgrounds. At each, manufacturers' representatives demonstrated the selling points of their new goods to the local Sears sales professionals. Ace World Wide supplied a seasoned, four-person team to assist with setup and tear down. Ace van operators made sure the work was handled smoothly, and provided superior service throughout as an adjunct of the Sears team.
How do you transport a 190 pound tiger? Very carefully, according to the specialized transportation experts at Advance Relocation Systems (59). In July, the Atlas agent took Melati, a female Sumatran tiger, from the Smithsonian National Zoological Park to Dulles International Airport.
"We arrived at about five in the morning to load the animal," says ARS President Dalton Conklin. "We met a team of about ten people from the zoo, who brought the cat out to us."
Melati traveled in a specially built cage of solid aluminum with small holes for breathing. Although it shielded the animal from view, Dalton says he could sense the cat's tremendous power from 20 feet away as it moved and lunged within.
"One of the handlers joked, 'Don't you find it reassuring to know this cage was provided by the low-cost bidder?'" Dalton recalls, with a laugh.
The handlers strapped the cage tightly to the forklift, to keep it secure as they hoisted it into a 35-foot climatrailer. "The refrigerated van we used is a highly specialized piece of equipment, unique to the Atlas system," says Dalton. "It was perfect for this particular application."
The ARS team also packed a lunch for their guest – a tiger-sized assortment of raw meats in a cooler of ice – just in case she might get hungry at some point in her travels.
With a police escort, and animal handlers in vehicles ahead and behind the truck, van operator Gary Gillespie took the wheel and Dalton accompanied him in the cab. At the airport, the crew made sure the special cargo was secured safely in the plane for the next leg of Melati's journey to her new home in Texas.
"It was an interesting move," says Dalton. "I can tell you this, I would never want to meet that animal in the wild."