Poor handling of chemical products may have catastrophic consequences, such as explosions, environmental damage, harm to employees, and more. Given the inherent risks associated with handling chemical products, many chemical producers choose to outsource their chemical warehousing and transportation to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider. 3PLs operating in the chemical sector offer the right certifications and experience necessary to deal with hazardous chemical cargo.
Not every 3PL in the chemical space is created equal, however, making it essential for chemical companies to carefully vet potential new logistics partners. This blog post will offer tips to assist chemical shippers with sourcing a quality chemical logistics partner.
Tip #1: Experience
A chemical logistics provider should have more than general chemical sector experience. There are numerous classes of chemicals, each with very specific handling and storage requirements. Some 3PLs will label themselves as a chemical logistics provider even though they’ve only worked with harmless or unregulated chemicals. A chemical shipper should never assume that a potential 3PL is prepared to handle any class of chemicals just because they have general chemical experience.
Don’t be afraid to ask for more information about the 3PL’s experience with your specific chemical class, including references. Also inquire about the level of experience the provider’s staff brings to the table. The relationship with the chemical 3PL becomes much easier if their chemical expertise extends beyond the warehouse crew and into sales, customer service, and management teams.
Tip #2: Reputation
Most chemical 3PLs will happily provide references that can speak to their competence. While these references may offer valuable insight into the provider’s capabilities, remember that any reference provided to you has been carefully selected by the 3PL because they know that particular client will offer a glowing review. To get the full story, try to find more disinterested sources that would have no reason to withhold information.
Look at trade publications and search local newspapers near the 3PL’s facilities to see what sort of media narrative surrounds the company. Local fire departments and regulatory inspectors may also be willing to offer insight into the provider and its operations.
Tip #3: Compliance & Certifications
Any chemical warehousing and logistics provider will have numerous certifications for various chemicals and hazardous materials (hazmat). At a bare minimum, a chemical logistics company should have certifications from:
• OSHA hazmat
• USDOT hazmat
These certifications demonstrate a general competency when handling hazardous chemicals. To find a provider that goes above and beyond the basics, look for the American Chemistry Council’s Responsible Care® certification. Responsible Care partners demonstrate a commitment to environmental, health, safety, and security standards that significantly exceeds the minimum legal requirements.
Beyond chemical and hazardous material certifications, sustainability initiatives show that the 3PL operates ethically and responsibly. Some examples of environmental commitments to look for include:
• EPA SmartWay Transport Partner
• Operation Clean Sweep® partnership
• Lean methodologies
• Internal recycling programs
Tip #4: Tracking and Visibility
Many chemicals require advanced tracking and traceability throughout the supply chain. As such, any 3PL operating in the chemical sector should have an advanced Warehouse Management System (WMS) that can differentiate between chemical classes when storing and shipping chemical products. Internet of Things (IoT) and RFID sensors have also gained prominence in chemical logistics, offering superior inventory accuracy and granular data about chemicals throughout their lifecycle.
Through better transportation and supplier data, chemical businesses will be able to better predict and withstand disruptive events. Advanced logistics technology has become increasingly popular as chemical companies strive to build more resilient supply chains.
Tip #5: Scalability
A relationship with a 3PL typically goes well beyond simple vendor dynamics. The 3PL will be an essential component of the overall business, making it critical to select a logistics partner that can scale up with the growth of the chemical company. The chemical shipper should consider any growth projections and forecasting they have available and evaluate the ability of prospective partners to scale accordingly.
Also, consider any operational shifts that may occur down the road. For example, if the chemical manufacturer seeks to implement direct-to-consumer (D2C) capabilities in the next two years, then they will need a 3PL that can handle variables in packaging and shipment sizes.
Chemical Logistics With WSI
At WSI, our chemical sites are certified as Responsible Care partners with the American Chemistry Council, and we are a member of Operation Clean Sweep. We possess the experience, certifications, and sustainability commitments necessary to store, distribute, and transport any chemical product safely and ethically. Reliability is Everything™.