UPS Solutions: Handling History

NOAA Entrusts UPS With Fragile Facial Reconstructions

UPS has moved pretty much everything--from pandas to whale sharks, to temperature-critical vaccines to artifacts and art. With an impressive history of safely moving packages of every flavor from Point A to Point B (and everywhere in between), the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) knew we would be able to deliver a one-of-a-kind piece of history.

NOAA tasked UPS with shipping forensic facial reconstructions of two sailors who died when the USS Monitor sank in a storm 150 years ago. The skeletal remains of the unidentified soldiers were found in the ship's gun turret during a 2002 recovery operation conducted by the NOAA and the U.S Navy. The goal is to find someone with connections to the soldiers--maybe even descendants--to identify them.

Using the skulls, a team at the Louisiana State University (LSU) Faces Lab, created clay models of the soldiers' faces. Once the work was complete, the reconstructions needed to be transported from Baton Rouge, LA, to Washington, DC for unveiling at the United States Navy Memorial Foundation. Shaking and vibration during transport could damage the faces, so there was zero margin for error. Because of our logistics expertise, NOAA knew UPS would be up to the challenge.

Creating a Solution

USS Monitor

Shipping feats that could be head scratchers for others come naturally for UPS. Creating specialty shipping solutions for items like guitars, mufflers, windshields, televisions, and a whole slew of potentially problematic packages is part of our daily routine. The UPS Packaging Advisor, for example, gives tips on all of the nitty-gritty details of cushioning, the container type and even how to close the box and tape it.

For more intricate projects like the USS Monitor, UPS pulls out all of the stops with the UPS Package Design and Test Lab. The lab, comprised of packaging experts and engineers, taps into technology and experience to work with clients to create the right package for the right project. The lab worked directly with NOAA to create the custom-designed containers to transport the delicate reconstructed heads.

The containers had to offer protection from shocks and vibrations inevitable during transport, from loading to unloading. One little misstep would be one large mishap, so the project team looked at the supply chain with an eagle eye--taking into account weather patterns, positioning of the container on the aircraft and even touching down earlier on the runway to lessen vibration from braking.

"We wanted to make sure the sculptures stayed within the center of the packaging and that they would be able to sustain a certain level of shock and vibration," explains Earl Lee, a package engineer on the team. "We put them in wooden crates and used foam to absorb some of that shock and vibration."

Quinto Marini, UPS Package Lab manager, says much time was put into studying the product itself as well as the supply chain the sculptures would flow through.

"Once we found out about the complexities of the clay and resin and how it was going to sit, then we were able to use our expertise in shipping small parcels to create the packaging," he says.

Preparations Pay Off

Despite fog and traffic delays, the precautions, testing, and preparations paid off.

Adam Kik, a certified loadmaster and eight-year Navy Reserve veteran, was assigned to accompany the sculptures on their journey and ensure precise loading and unloading methods were used.

"We moved a piece of history for the military, and it was a great honor to be a part of that," says Kik. "With my Navy background, it's something special to be able to help recreate some history to see if we can solve this mystery."

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"Once we found out about the complexities of the clay and resin and how it was going to sit, then we were able to use our expertise in small parcels to create the packaging."


--Quinto Marini
UPS Package Lab Manager

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