Breakbulk Americas connects shippers, breakbulk and project cargo companies from all across globe

Breakbulk Americas, the largest exhibition of its kind in the Americas, which brings top-tier shippers together with breakbulk and project cargo service providers, drew a total attendance of 4,555, including 326 exhibiting companies and 462 cargo owners in 2017.

The event, which connects the industrial supply chain in North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, was Oct 17-19 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.

While the majority of attendees hailed from Texas, representatives from more than 50 U.S. states and Canadian provinces, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia were present, as well as companies from as far away as Singapore, Spain and Saudi Arabia — in total, 67 countries were represented at this year’s event, according to Marketing Director Leslie Meredith at Breakbulk Events & Media.

At one end of the supply chain were cargo owners, which include the world’s top engineering, procurement and construction companies, such as Bechtel, Fluor, CB&I, AECOM, Jacobs and Kiewit; leading oil and gas companies, such as ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell; plus global manufacturers, including GE, Lockheed Martin, Spacex and Caterpillar. Making up the supplier links are more than 326 exhibitors that represent many of the region’s leading transportation and freight forwarding providers.

There’s nothing ordinary about breakbulk cargoes, which consist of things like steel, forest products and project cargo — anything that can’t be broken down into little pieces like iron ore, is not a liquid and is too big to fit into a container, Meredith says.

“We say that breakbulk moves the world because all of the oversized components that are used to build refineries, chemical complexes, power plants and steel structures such as bridges all involve the transport of project cargo, and without them we wouldn’t have the products and energy that drives development in every nation. These pieces can weigh over 1,000 tons and all require specialized transportation and logistics, running into the millions of dollars per project,” said Meredith.

At Breakbulk Americas, industry professionals who represent the complete project lifecycle from industrial equipment manufacturers to the heavy hauler carrying the last piece of equipment to the jobsite have the chance to meet and share their expertise.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for vendors, ports and carriers to showcase their business, and a very good event for everybody involved,” said Ernest Bezdek, director of trade development at the Port of Beaumont. And Bezdek should know — this was his 23rd time attending Breakbulk Americas. The Port of Beaumont set up a booth, as it does each year, showcasing the Port of Beaumont magazine and filling guests in on the importance of the busiest military port in the world, which is currently working on growing even further through $169.2 million in capital improvement projects.

This year’s conference included an in-depth look at energy projects in Mexico featuring Brandon Strange from Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, whose company brought in product from eight different countries, totaling around 5,500 tons of cargo to each power plant site. Joining him on the panel were project teammate Armando Lee of ISI Proyectos & BASE Logistika, Raul Cuevas from heavy transport provider Muciño, and Jurgen Hess from IPA Steel Terminal at the Port of Altamira in Mexico, where the shipments converged.

Along with practical knowledge, Breakbulk Americas conference panelists also share their views on where the next opportunities lie.

“My company has made a huge investment in the markets from Mexico through South America just in the last six to 12 months,” Strange said. “We foresee the power surge in Mexico to continue in the coming years.” Forward-looking speakers at this year’s event included Ed Gore with Bechtel Oil Gas & Chemicals, who discussed the outlook for oil and gas projects from the engineering, construction and procurement firm’s perspective. Conference goers also heard from Rodger Baker of global analyst Stratfor, who offered a more rational forecast of NAFTA.

Attendees also received an Americas Trade Update from Rodger Baker, vice president of strategic analysis, East Asia and Pacific for Strafor.

Showcase sessions gave exhibitors a chance to hold their own smaller presentations. Jeff Tucker, president and CEO of Tucker Company Worldwide, the oldest privately held freight brokerage in the U.S., spoke about how to optimize inbound freight. The Business Journal spoke to Tucker specifically about how the petrochemical plants can do so.

The two-day conference ended with an overview from Bechtel, Alllianz, Siemens and DHL of new technologies that are changing the way the industry works — drones, 5D simulation models, digital twins and mixed reality, proving that hi-tech gear like AR headsets aren’t just for gamers.

“With projects in 100 countries and materials sourced from across the globe, on-time and efficient logistics are crucial to delivering our projects with cost and schedule certainty. The Breakbulk Americas event provides an opportunity for our industry to collaborate and exchange ideas on ways to continually improve project logistics. I appreciate the event’s focus on education, with execution-focused seminars,” said Bill Keyes, logistics director for Fluor Corporation, a Texas-based multinational engineering and construction firm.

This year’s event marked the 28th consecutive year for Breakbulk Americas, which has grown in size each year since the first gathering of about 100 in Atlanta, Georgia, in June 1990.

Photo by Kevin King - The Port of Antwerp booth is located next to the Port of Houston booth at Breakbulk Americas 2017, a perfect example of how the event connects shippers, breakbulk and project cargo companies from all across globe. Leslie Meredith contributed to this article.