With vessels exceeding 400 meters in length and carrying over 23,000 TEU (twenty-foot-equivalent units), it is often the size and capacity of the freight and logistics industry that is at times difficult to comprehend. But with many industries now relying on ‘express freight services’ and ‘just-in-time deliveries’, it is the speed and efficiency with which cargo can be moved from one side of the world to the other, that is truly impressive and often goes unnoticed.
Whilst most businesses would not benefit from a supply chain relying on next day freight deliveries, there will undoubtedly be times during the working year when production does not go to plan, and you need to move your cargo fast.
From production line mishaps, to goods stuck at sea, this short guide will give you a few points to consider when you next need to route your shipment, in a situation where time is of the essence.
The Location And Destination Of Your Goods
Where your goods are and where they need to go, will certainly dictate which options are available to you and how quickly you can access them. With over 6,000 miles between the UK and mainland China, cargo movements from the Far East to Western Europe are undoubtedly going to have fewer options to choose from. In most scenarios, you will find yourself looking for the support of an air freight company.
Being the fastest mode of transport, shipping via air freight will give you the best chance of getting your goods across the world in the shortest time possible. That is, assuming it has been booked on a suitable service and you have considered the potential terminal delays either side of the transit. More on this later.
But what if you are not moving your goods around the world? Whilst air freight is your best bet for fast international movements, long haul European road movements will often bring equally fast transits for a much lower cost. With European transport providers offering ‘express delivery services’, - an express van can usually move your goods between Eastern and Western Europe in as little as 48 hours, with far less notice and forward thinking.
Weight & Dimensions
Contrary to the above, the weight and size of your cargo will also limit the options available to you. With express vans coming in various shapes and sizes, the maximum payload of a vehicle will determine whether it is suitable to carry your goods. If your cargo is particularly large and / or heavy, you will be limited to correspondingly larger, slower moving, road vehicles.
This may revert you back in the direction of air freight, which is far more suitable for moving large and heavy products, but does so at a cost. Air freight is by far the most expensive mode of transport, with the calculated charges levied against the chargeable weight of the cargo. In other words, an aircraft has a limit on how much cargo it can carry. The larger the portion of the total space you occupy, the higher the cost will be for shipping your goods.
Top Tip: If your order is spread across multiple pallets, consider breaking the order down and sending what is crucial first. This will allow you to manage your overall expenditure and ensure you are not unnecessarily routing all your goods on an expensive service.
Urgency vs Cost
An important business decision you will have to make during this process is whether the urgency of the situation, outweighs the increased transport costs you are likely to incur.
That is not to say that your decision should always be financially motivated, as letting down a VIP customer or failing to hold stock during a products peak season, can result in far more long-term damage than the short-term effects of a single order. But with air freight costs sometimes accumulating to 10 times more than the equivalent sea freight costs, (and for just a fraction of the quantity), making a snap decision without completing your own risk assessment beforehand, could in every sense, be very costly.
As with 'weight and dimensions', if you have the luxury of breaking down your order and managing your overall expenditure, you should do so.
Consider routing the most vital parts of the order via air freight or through a ‘next day’ pallet delivery service and look at a more cost-effective way for the bulk of the order. Conventional sea and road transit times can vary, so if the shipment is days behind schedule rather than weeks, making subtle changes to the routing could be all that is required, without drastically altering your supply chain and changing the mode of transport.
What Not To Do
Whilst we have highlighted some of the key points that you should consider before shipping your cargo, we have not yet highlighted some of the common traps businesses fall in to when making a high pressure and sometimes hasty decision.
All Air Freight Is Fast
This is a dangerous assumption and is one that often leaves importers paying excessive transit costs, whilst still missing their anticipated deadline.
As with any mode of transport, there are different schedules for different price points. Usually a lower cost results in a longer and less direct service. Air cargo services are the same.
Shippers will often try to cut their losses by booking on an indirect and cheaper service, which will result in cargo being transhipped at numerous airports around the world before reaching its final destination. It can often include intermodal transport legs, as the shipments are moved via road from one airport to another, which inevitably slows the transit down.
Only Looking At The Transit Time
Time in transit is often the key figure that shippers will base their decision on, but in reality, there are numerous time-consuming tasks that need to be completed at either end of the transit.
Air freight shipments have a considerable number of administrative tasks to be completed before the booking can even take place. When you consider how many times the cargo is then unloaded and reloaded between the factory door and the end customer, what is envisaged as a free-flowing movement, is in reality, very 'stop and start'.
Be realistic in your planning and make sure you allow time at both origin and destination, to avoid being disappointed when your goods do not arrive within your projected timeline.
Outsourcing Your Risk
If the deadline is your own, it is often hard to emphasise the urgency of the situation to a third party. Despite this, outsourcing the responsibility to your supplier and asking them to solve the problem for you is a tempting option. Even more so when express shipping is the anomaly within your organisation.
For some, this may be a sensible and suitable option. But taking into consideration the two preceding points, this may all too often result in a lacklustre attempt that does not match your own expectations.
Don’t be afraid to take control of the situation. There are a lot of good and versatile freight forwarders who will work with you to manage the shipment. They should keep you updated throughout the process and will use their industry knowledge and experiences to guide your decision-making and align your expectations what is realistically achievable.