The Art and Science of Intermodal Container Routing

Posted by World Trade Distribution
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Filed Under: Container Freight

In 1956 a new shipping concept was put into practice as “containers” were sent by sea from Newark to Houston. Since then, two concepts have revolutionized shipping in recent decades: using containers rather than loading cargo directly and routing those containers over a variety of transportation methods. Now that cargo is not restricted to point-to-point shipping, how does it get directed over all these potential routes?

To optimize intermodal shipping requires balancing basic elements such as cost, speed, risk, and the value and requirements of the shipment. In addition, though, there are unique considerations for each transportation method, such as:

  • Shipping delays due to “blank sailing” when cutbacks occur due to national holidays (Chinese Lunar New Year, a major national holiday, for example)
  • Weather issues such as trucking and rail transport through mountainous areas
  • Cost increases due to busy routes (PSS — Peak Season Surcharge)
  • Localized risks due to conflicts, illegal acts, or natural disasters

How does emerging technology affect intermodal shipping?

It takes a lot of information, experience, contacts around the world and active communication to make sure our customers’ shipping contracts meet their unique goals. We’ve also got our eyes on changes such as driverless over-the-road trucking and automated drayage options, new air-based options, and shifts in international freight systems as countries like India increase their port capacity and other container services.

What about intelligent logistics planning and forecasting?

While the talents of an experienced shipping expert won’t be replaced any time soon, the complexity of intermodal container routing is a perfect subject for artificial intelligence and machine learning applications. Over time, we expect that these technology options will help us to help our customers plan ahead and predict when and how their shipments would be best transported. With those insights, our ability to help manage costs, especially for expedited shipments, will be enhanced. We’ll also have increased options for tracking and intelligent management while cargo is en route.

What does real-time tracking offer?

Electronic shipment tracking options have become an important part of intermodal shipping technology. Techniques such as local verification of shipment completeness using Bluetooth and RFID tags and satellite-based following of key cargo as it travels the world using GPS keep our eyes on shipments. The ability to use inexpensive electronic tags to provide accurate information about shipments helps us to lower risk and also gather data for future use.

Along with the evolution of intermodal shipping, the allied services that we offer are expanding to meet the needs of new shipping methods. We offer help with crating and preparing shipments, dealing with customs and bonded warehouses, preparing export shipments and receiving imports. As intermodal shipping evolves, we’ll be there for our customers on all these fronts to make sure that shipping with us is the easy part of doing business.

Jan 28 2020

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