Born in Bochum in the Ruhr Valley in Germany, Ralf Naujoks is proud of his background. One of the defining characteristics of the people from Germany’s former coal mining area is that they stuck together through thick and thin – a trait which is essential in Naujoks’ line of work. “Being able to work in a team is our top priority. Above all, this includes being able to take information on board and pass it on with absolute accuracy,” the 51-year-old answers when asked what he needs to survive in the KHS Packing and Dispatch Department.
When it comes to moving the Dortmund systems supplier’s lines and machines from the local factories to destinations all over the world, Naujoks and his team are called for. At the KHS headquarters in Dortmund they make sure that for all of KHS’ production sites worldwide every single attached part is reliably and punctually delivered to the engineers waiting to install the machinery. A certain amount of improvisation is required here – yet the chief task is to painstakingly plan even the most minute detail. In its dismantled state a machine can consist of up to 800 individual components; the colleagues on site must know in which of the up to 70 containers and 20 crates they can find which components so that the customer can start production on the agreed date.
Before things reach this stage, however, there are a number of challenges to be met. Elaborate packaging has to be coordinated, which protects the systems en route, customs documents obtained and transportation organized. The latter task includes reserving trucks and ships and – if the customer needs something especially quickly – cargo aircraft.
Large-scale invitations to tender not only help to identify the most economic cargo rates but also those which can promise the shortest run time and present the best concept. What fascinates Naujoks most about his job is the degree of complexity caused by the sheer size of the goods to be dispatched. “Our loads are often so tall and so wide that we can’t simply put them on the road,” he explains. “We have to obtain authorization for the entire haul from all the authorities responsible. From a certain size the police even escort us from the factory to the highway.” In order to ensure that everything goes as planned and that road construction work doesn’t suddenly appear on the designated route overnight, possibly bringing the KHS convoy to a halt, the entire roadway is first traveled and tested by KHS’ transport agents.
Yet there are limitations even here: from a width of seven meters goods have to be sent along inland shipping routes to the major ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam or Hamburg, for example, where they are handed over to international shipping companies. From here the KHS plant engineering then travels to Singapore, for instance, to the biggest transshipment port in the world. Here, the machines are loaded onto smaller ships which take them to their specific destinations in Vietnam, Thailand or Indonesia, among other places.
The occasional container is sometimes inadvertently left in port. “This is a scenario we absolutely dread but thankfully it’s also extremely rare,” stresses Naujoks. “To check that transshipment runs smoothly, we send surveyors from our transport insurance companies to the distribution ports. In the end, however, it’s always impressive to see just how perfectly the complex worldwide logistics system works.”
Routine and improvisation
Despite his euphoria Naujoks can look back on some extreme events. “The most curious thing I’ve ever known to happen was on the border between Poland and Belarus where our load literally became stuck at a little customs office hut. We were only able to continue on our way after a considerable amount of rebuilding.” Whether snowed in with KHS fillers in the Urals or stuck in a thaw in Kazakhstan, things like this usually happen when there’s absolutely no time to lose.
Naujok’s personal highlight is loading KHS equipment onto an Antonov 124, with a load capacity of 90 metric tons one of the biggest cargo airplanes in the world. He’s now done this a number of times, the last one being in August 2015 when eight big-format KHS machines were flown to Entebbe in Uganda. “Even though this is now somewhat routine, it’s still an extraordinary experience,” he enthuses, his eyes shining. The planning itself is more meticulous and has to be much more precise than usual. “Each kilo too many or too few has an effect on the flight attitude of the aircraft. We have to consider exactly where the attachment points are on our machines which the flight crew uses to chain the cargo securely in the hold.”
“It’s always impressive to see just how perfectly the complex worldwide logistics system works.”
To date Naujoks has always been present during loading, peering over the shoulders of the airline staff to make sure “that our systems are treated as they should be.” In view of the cost of transportation, which ranges between $500,000 and $750,000, he’s happy and relieved each time an enormous jumbo takes off and he can finally rest assured that his KHS machines really will arrive at their destination a day later – usually in the presence of the customer who is just as excited as Naujoks.
In private the passionate logistics specialist, who says he has strong nerves and can keep a cool head, likes sports – preferably skiing when on his winter vacation. The question as to who packs the suitcases at home is obviously one Naujoks didn’t expect. He hesitates for a moment and then admits, laughing, “This is one logistical challenge my wife wins hands down!”
“Our loads are often so tall and so wide that we can’t simply put them on the road.”