The way goods are moved around the country hasn't changed all that much over the years. Ships, trains, trucks and planes for smaller shipments remain the primary methods of shipping. What has changed is how large the shipments are and how they are tracked by software. We now see smaller, more personalized orders, more frequent shipments and a predominant rise of e-commerce in logistics. There has been a lot of innovation, and transportation has become more nimble because of it.
Transport by Ship
Ocean liners are giant ships used to transport goods. These ships traverse regular routes on fixed schedules. Liner vessels include container ships, bulk carriers and tankers. Container ships carry most of the world's goods, while bulk carriers transport raw materials like coal or iron ore, and tankers transport oil, petroleum and other chemicals.
Because they can carry a lot of cargo, up to several warehouses-worth of goods, liner ships are very efficient. Although shipping has been around for a very long time, today's ships can carry more cargo and are more fuel- efficient.
Carrying Goods by Train
There are two main options when it comes to shipping goods by rail.
- Carload service: If your business is located close to a rail station, you can load freight directly onto or into rail cars and have it delivered to its destination.
- Intermodal service: This type of transportation involves two different forms of freight, such as trucks and trains. The freight is first loaded into trailers, then trucked to the rail station where the freight is loaded onto the train. At the final destination, trailers are loaded back onto another truck and delivered.
Rail shipping has several benefits. It's cost-effective and environmentally friendly because trains use less fuel than trucks to transport goods across the country.
Shipping by Truck
A semi or trailer truck, also known as a freight truck, transports items larger than 150 pounds. If your shipment exceeds 10,000 pounds, an entire freight truck is required to move it. Some companies also offer an LTL (Less Than a Truckload) option. In this shipping situation, you will only pay for the space you use.
Shipping by truck has some advantages. You have greater flexibility than you do with a train. Transportation is direct, rather than the go-betweens needed with a train, and transit times are often shorter. However, trucking causes environmental damage. Trucks are subject to accidents and inclement weather may cause delays.
Shipping by Planes
Shipments by plane will cost your company the most but will deliver goods the fastest. Light shipments that need to arrive quickly will benefit from a plane shipment. In 2017, Amazon shipped over 200 million pounds of goods by air, leasing planes from two different airlines.
Changes to the Logistics Industry
Companies used to talk a great deal about inventories. Today, large companies such as Amazon are trying to understand human behavior and predict where and when people will need products, instead of worrying about inventories. Overall, companies now keep much lower inventories than they did in the past.
New manufacturing methods may also have an impact on logistics. The possibilities created by 3-D printing, for example, might one day allow companies to manufacture goods in-house rather than making them in one spot and shipping them to another.
So while software, drones, automated trucks and 3-D printing are slowly changing some of the methods of logistics, the trains, ships, trucks and planes won’t be disappearing from the supply-chain model anytime soon.
Heather Skyler is a business journalist and editor who has written for wide variety of publications, including Newsweek.com, The New York Times and Delta's SKY magazine. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Miami University and a master's degree in writing from the University of Washington in Seattle. Before writing for a variety of publications, she taught business writing in Seattle.