Freight transport is a world full of alternatives. Even before having to choose a logistics operator, we must decide what type of freight transport we want to use. And it is that the characteristics, qualities, pros and cons of the different means mean that the result, the time and the cost of transport can vary greatly.
Depending on the path we decide on – road, rail, sea or air – our merchandise will travel very differently.
Types of freight transport
Within land transport we have to differentiate two types: road and rail.
It is the preferred medium for not very long distances in developed countries. Its preponderance in these countries is due to the fact that they usually have a highly developed infrastructure and roads, which allows a fast and efficient movement of trucks.
Another of its virtues is the ability to make door-to-door deliveries. While planes, trains and ships often require other means of transport to reach their destination, the truck is more autonomous and more capable of reaching less populated, rural and last mile areas. It is also more efficient in time on short stretches when it allows us to save those combinations between transports, which usually waste time.
The freedom of schedules is also another point in favor. The rest of the means are much more restricted to departure times and being late for a connection means having to wait until the next set time. But the road is exempt from these schedules and can transport goods more freely. This also makes it an interesting option when it comes to solving unforeseen events or problems.
The road is making great efforts to improve its environmental impact and the new generations of trucks are offering much better consumption and emissions data than their predecessors. In addition to the use of new fuels, such as LNG and new announcements about electric motors. Trucks are also used to paying tolls, thereby contributing to the maintenance of the roads they use.
The transport of goods by rail is gaining ground as the distance to be traveled increases. Among the characteristics that make it more efficient is that of needing a single driver for loads greater than those that trucks or planes can carry. While a truck from Europe to China will hardly be profitable, the train already has several lines that link the ends of both continents. For example, in 2015 the first truckload of ISO containers arrived in Rotterdam from China in 18 days, significantly less than the usual 44 days per ship.
The train also performs well in terms of safety and environmental care, in addition to achieving good punctuality records. Another benefit is that its use helps reduce traffic on the roads.
Maritime transport accounts for 90% of international trade
It is a fact that usually surprises people who are less knowledgeable about the matter, but around 90% of international trade travels by ship. In 2015, more than 177 million containers moved around the planet, a figure that has continued to grow. The container is precisely one of the most distinctive features of maritime transport, since it facilitates the loading and unloading of the merchandise in a safe way. In addition, the 20-foot container also gives rise to the TEU, the cargo measurement unit used in maritime transport.
Among the most outstanding benefits of maritime transport is the price, which is the lowest of all. In addition, the lower fuel cost also places it as a green and planet-friendly solution. The large dimensions of the ships also make them ideal for bulky cargo, such as bulk products, be they cereals, metals, coal, oil, etc. However, its slowness means that it must basically transport non-perishable products. If your logistics need to be fast, respond to unforeseen events or it is difficult to anticipate your demand, the ship may not be your best option.
The plane is the means of transporting goods that moves less material. However, its sales volume continues to increase annually. The most obvious advantage is its speed, which allows it to cover enormous distances in a very short time. As is also to be expected, it is the most expensive of all freight transport, which means that you have good reasons to use it.
Among the types of products that use the air service we find luxury items, express couriers, toilets, incidents in JIT chains (such as those of automobile companies, in which it can cost a lot of money to stop), etc. . That is, products with a large margin, a great need or urgency and/or low volume.
If air transport stood out for TEUs, air transport has ULD pallets or containers, whose shape is adapted to the aircraft fuselage. These also allow the merchandise to travel safely inside the plane. However, it does not prevent the plane from having significant restrictions when transporting large, bulk, or irregularly shaped goods, due to its space limitations. It is also the most polluting medium of all.
One last advantage that should be remembered is the ease it provides by saving procedures, inspections, customs and paperwork. While the rest of the means have to comply with the laws of the different countries through which they transit, the plane saves all those intermediate countries, having to respond only in the destination country.
Multimodal freight transport is one that makes use of several of the above methods during the same shipment. For example, it can be a trailer that goes loaded to a port, embarks there and then, after disembarking, continues its journey on its own. Or a shipment by rail to a port that the ship then uses to its destination. Studying multimodal options can seem overwhelming at first glance, due to the number of possibilities that open up. But it allows us to find adjusted combinations and play with the times and costs that we need.
As you can see, the choice of freight transport depends on various factors: distance, type of product, access to different types of transport, urgency in shipping, ability to predict demand… A whole menu of variables to resolve in order to hit the right the decision.