Cross-Docking and Intermodal Freight Abilities | Everything You Need to Know

Your business has an order that needs to make it to your customers as soon as possible. Except it’s not an Amazon box you can have delivered by traditional means, and it doesn’t demand a giant shipping container to cross the ocean blue either.

In this situation, cross-docking and intermodal freight abilities from Canal Cartage offers business the tools they need to deliver a great customer experience. Business owners need to know about how cross-docking and intermodal freight abilities can empower their businesses, control shipping costs, and deliver what their customers need right when they need it.

What are Cross-Docking and Intermodal Freight Abilities?

Cross-docking and intermodal freight abilities are both parts of the freight shipping process and often go hand-in-hand.

Intermodal freight involves products and raw materials transported in shipping containers using a variety of vehicles. There are two types of intermodal shipping:

  1. International intermodal (i.e. by ship)
  2. Domestic intermodal (i.e. by rail)

It is essential to understand the differences because freight movement looks quite different between the two types of intermodal shipping. International intermodal shipments are packed in containers ranging from 20 feet to 40 feet and transported by truck and ship without changing containers.

Domestic intermodal shipments travel in 53-foot containers. If they were initially international shipments, they may need to be transloaded into 53-foot containers and switched to a domestic intermodal identity. Transloading occurs at a cross-dock warehouse, a trans-loading facility, or a distribution facility.

As for the cross-docking meaning, it’s relatively simple. Cross-docking means transferring goods from the manufacturer to the consumer with little or no material handling in the interim. Cross-docking allows manufacturers to expedite shipping while reducing the need for warehouse storage.

Types of Cross Docking

You could break cross-docking into various categories, including manufacturing cross-docking, retail cross-docking, distributor cross-docking, and transportation cross-docking. However, the easiest way to think of it is with two types of cross-docking:

  1. Pre-distribution cross-docking
  2. Post-distribution cross-docking

Pre-distribution cross-docking happens earlier in the supply chain. The supplier does a lot of the work upfront by sorting and loading products with customer delivery instructions before the freight shipper picks them up. Walmart uses this technique extensively, and it’s common among companies with vertically integrated supply chains.

Post-distribution cross-docking happens after the products have left the supplier. The shipper sorts and loads products in a warehouse to separate disparate orders into the appropriate transport vehicles. Pre-distribution cross-docking is usually done with less-than-truckload (LTL) orders which combine several small truckloads to make one complete truckload.

Cross Docking Examples

Customers choose to transport a variety of materials via intermodal drayage and cross-docking, such as:

  • Soil
  • Coal
  • Metal
  • Gravel

The choice of how to ship those materials depends on several factors, including the shipment volume, cargo type, and delivery schedule. The raw materials listed above, for example, are frequently transported in bulk by rail as a cost-saving measure. Delivery by train takes longer, but you save money because it demands less manpower and far less fuel. Trains don’t have to stop as often as trucks, the transfer of the cargo to a train car is simple, and the shipments will arrive in the same place at the same time.

When Do You Need Cross Docking?

Cross-docking and intermodal drayage both rely on the same basic principle; less material handling is more cost-effective. In practical terms, cross-docking has benefits in three specific shipping areas.

First, if you regularly ship the same type of cargo and need a continuous supply chain, intermodal drayage is a good option. It maximizes efficiency while mitigating costs.

Second, from an economic perspective, if you’re shipping something further than 300 miles or further than a single day of travel, intermodal freight is the most cost-effective.

Finally, think about the type of freight. Suppose you’re looking at rail freight consisting of finished goods in loading units of less than 25 tons. In that case, you’re looking at the ideal intermodal freight.

As for cross-docking, it pays to remember that cross-docking is based on just-in-time principles. Cross-docking is most useful for items such as:

  • Perishable items with a short shelf life
  • Chemicals
  • Food and beverage
  • Cold food chain items
  • Staple items with consistent demand

Remember, one of the key cross-docking benefits is the speed of delivery. The shipper handles the goods and loads them with minimal wait time in a warehouse, which means they can travel pretty quickly. Plus, you don’t need to pay for warehouse storage costs in the interim.

Disadvantages of Cross Docking

There are three disadvantages to cross-docking: capacity, precision, and control.

On the one hand, cross-docking eliminates the need for a great deal of warehouse space. The catch is that it shifts the demand for space to the loading docks and terminals, which means your distribution partner needs the facilities and skills to pull it off.

Then there’s precision, which isn’t a disadvantage as long as you partner with the right cross-docking business. Because cross-docking is made for small orders, you need way more precision to track multiple small orders through the supply chain.

Last but not least is control, which is to say that if you don’t have the facilities or logistical skills to pull off cross-docking on your own, you’ll need a good partner. Again, this isn’t a weakness as long as you find a robust cross-docking partner like Canal Cartage.

The Cross Docking Partner You Need for Successful Shipping

Whether you’re a small business looking to branch out, a mid-size company that needs cost-effective shipping, or a large corporation that doesn’t want to choreograph your fleet, cross-docking and intermodal freight abilities can open up a whole new world for you and your customers. You just need the right partner for the job.

That’s where we come in, with effective, efficient cross-docking services in Port of Houston. We’ve been an industry leader since 1983, and we know what it takes to deliver outstanding results, whatever that looks like for your business.

Ready to change the way you think about shipping? Get in touch to let us know how we can help.

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