Their names rattle around unheard and seldom considered in the quiet, rarely visited world of logistics history: Dr. William Muller, U.S. Air Force Gen. Augustine Warner Robins, Henry Eccles, Hannibal of Carthage and the builders of the pyramids. All are variously credited with being fathers of the art of getting materials from one place to the next, a riddle that never has been more complex.
Using trucks, trains, boats, planes or computerized technology, goods andmaterial of every form and size are shipped by road, rail, water, air, pipeline or cable to destinations that includewarehouses, stores, homes or another factory, all part of an industry that racks up more than $1.3 trillion in U.S. spending annually, accounting for 8.5percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
A quarter away from the close of another year, logistics stands at a crossroads. A truck driver shortage that briefly abated is expected to kick back into gear. Port authorities in California, where backups are a perpetual problem, are requiring appointments to pick up containers, a move that has stirred the ire of trucking. Some ports still are scrambling to ready for so-called PostPanamax ships, far larger container vessels expected to begin sailing next year through the expanded Panama Canal.
Making it all work requires networking a labyrinth of vendors of varying levels of expertise, depending on the mode, meaning real challenges for shippers.
“The line between disorder and order,” said Sun Tzu, a Chinese general, “is chaos.”
Enter Allied Logistics.
“Supply-chain management never has been more critical than it is today,” said Michael J. Carroll, president of Allied’s West Virginia operations. “You can see a real impact on your bottom line based on how this aspect of your business is managed, and that work is more challenging than ever.”
Recent developments prove the point: Plagued by lines at gates, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach plan to require appointments for container pick-up at 10 of 13 terminals. Combined container volume makes those ports the busiest in the country. Five other Southern California ports already require appointments.
Trucking companies say appointments sometimes work and sometimes not. The principal beef for many is not appointments but consistency — a port-wide appointments system that the trucking industry helps plan could work, they say.
The Port of Virginia has been meeting with logistics and trucking companies, contractors and drivers to develop an appointments program.
Congestion is a concern across both the U.S. and Canada with larger vessels bringing in more containers, and that problem is only expected to worsen once the expanded canal opens. Hours and money are drained as trucks sit idling waiting to haul away containers.
If that’s not enough, there’s the ongoing concern about a driver shortage. While the shortage seems to have eased in recent months, some shippers are hedging their bets by signing contracts at higher rates to get guaranteed service for up to a year.
“Freight moving is good for the economy, so it’s a positive that we’re dealing with how to get that done,” Carroll said. “We just want to ensure for our customers that we’re getting it done in a way that makes sense for their business and their bottom line.”