St. Onge Company Links Supply Chain Blog
Strengthening your supply chain one link at a time.

Ensuring Less-Than-Truckload Shipments are not Less Than Acceptable!

There are two perspectives for an LTL shipment.  From the shipper’s point of view, the shipment needs to be picked up on time and when delivered, it is still on time, intact, and without damage.  From the carrier’s point of view, the shipper should have the shipment ready to go when the driver arrives including proper labeling and packaging to keep the contents intact and protected from transport over the road and movement on the dock.

But the shipment’s data is just as important to the carrier.  To satisfy the shipper’s needs, the LTL carrier must have the correct information about the shipment as soon as possible. This allows for the carrier to plan for driver and equipment capacity for pick up, transport from origin to destination, and delivery.  For some carriers, the planning may also determine how the shipment moves through their network of terminals and hubs.

The pick-up request for a shipment is the earliest opportunity for the shipper to share information.  When a shipper has freight for the carrier, the pick-up request is called in to the carrier, entered through the carrier’s website or transmitted electronically through the shipper’s ERP system to the carrier.  While it’s important for the shipper to provide accurate shipment data, it’s just as important for the carrier to make it as easy as possible to get that data.

Even though there are multiple methods to make a pick-up request, each method requires the same essential information for each shipment – shipper information, pickup location, consignee destination ZIP code, number of handling units, and total shipment weight.  The bill of lading (BOL) document requires more information and will be collected by the driver at pick-up.

Shipper and consignee information is easy to provide since it’s where the shipment is being picked and delivered.  Weight and dimensions are finite metrics that can be measured with scales and tape measures.  A shipment’s pieces, however, is more subjective.  This is because of the difference in the carrier and shipper’s perspectives for the shipment.  While counting is easy, it’s the how the pieces are counted that can cause confusion.

Consider an order of 96 toasters going from a manufacturer to a retail distribution center.  Each toaster is packaged in foam and a cardboard box.  For easier movement and storage, four boxed toasters are packed in a case.  For shipment, 12 boxes of 4 toasters build a pallet.  This shipment of 96 toasters will be packed in 24 cases and shrink wrapped to 2 pallets of 12 cases each or 48 toasters.

2 pallets, 12 cases per pallet, 24 total cases, 48 toasters per pallet, and 96 toasters.  For this order, it’s apparent how the shipper can communicate the wrong information to the carrier.  It may not be as easily as apparent to the shipper but this is where the two perspectives of a shipment will come into play.  A shipper wants to be certain it fulfills the order with 96 toasters.  The carrier wants to know how it will transport those toasters.  Because the toasters are packaged into cases which are then shrink-wrapped onto pallets, the shipment’s accurate number of pieces is two.  It’s not as important for the carrier to know that each pallet contains 12 cases.  One pallet could hold 18 cases and the other 6 – the carrier really wants to know they will be moving two pallets and need to reserve that amount of capacity.

Then there’s those shipments that aren’t in neat cases and easy to move.  In this example, the shipper is sending a large heating unit that has a footprint of 7 feet by 4 feet and 8 feet tall.  It is secured to two standard-sized pallets.  That would mean that the shipper would tell the carrier two pallets, correct?  It would be much easier if the answer to this question was “yes.”  Instead, the carrier needs to know that the shipment is one piece.  In this case, it is also very important for the shipper to include the uncommon dimensions because it will take up more trailer capacity than a typical two pallet shipment.  This also goes for shipments that don’t take up much capacity height-wise but do take up more floor space such as long pipe.

Communication is key to both the shipper and carrier perspectives.  If a pick-up is called in, the carrier’s representative must ask the right questions and be able to provide clarification if there is confusion.  If the pickup is entered via the carrier’s website, the form must be easy to understand with minimal text to what defines accurate entry.  When the shipper uses their ERP system to transmit the pick-up request, it is both the shipper and carrier’s responsibility to ensure the correct data is exchanged since there is little to no person-to-person interaction.

The more both parties to the transaction understand before a truck is ever dispatched to pick up a shipment, the greater the odds of that shipment arriving on time, intact, and damage free.
—Susan Young, St. Onge Company

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