Commerce has come a long way through the ages, with every aspect seeing resounding changes, even over as little as a few years. Whole transactions now happen online (over the internet), involving complete strangers. The ability to conduct financial dealings online, has made this possible.
An area that has seen extensive evolution in its own right, is the transportation of goods. Man has invented massive airships and water vessels, to convey goods, to various locations. The economic definition of freight is goods or produce conveyed, for commercial gain. Freight is a synonym for cargo. It may be transported via air, land, or sea, although, cargo originally referred to shipload.
The many faces of cargo
The term now comprises all types of freight conveyed by train, van, truck, or intermodal container. Cargo also means goods in the cold chain (a temperature-controlled supply chain). The perishable inventory that is headed for the end customer, even in cold storage or other climate-controlled environment is always in transit.
Multi-modal container units built to be reusable carriers that make unit load handling of goods possible, are also called cargo. Just as with shipping lines and logistics companies, aircraft unit load device (ULD) boxes are also cargo. They are duly accompanied by documentation, to this effect. The boxes also come with a packing list of the items, within them. Where it happens that empty containers are shipped, each unit is documented as a cargo (singular). Otherwise (that is, with goods stored within), the contents are termed containerised cargo.
Types of transportation
Various means exist to transport cargo, a few of which we have pointed out before. We look at them in greater detail here, highlighting the various vehicles, useful in each type of situation.
Seaports are equipped with terminals that handle a vast range of maritime cargo.
- Automobiles are handled at many ports, and specialised roll-on/roll-off ships are utilised to carry them.
- Break bulk cargo involves stacking goods on pallets, which are lifted into and out of the vessel hold, via on-dock cranes, or onto the ship itself. Containerisation has led to a decline in global volume of break bulk cargo. Dunnage bags are one way, to secure break bulk and freight, within intermodal containers.
- Bulk cargo refers to commodities that are not in pallets. They are also not in containers, and include goods like rice, oil, sugar, tallow, and scrap metal. Bulk cargoes are not handled individually, like as it is the case with heavy-lift and project cargoes. Grain, logs, wood chips, and coal are examples of bulk cargo.
- Neo-bulk cargo is made up of individual units, counted per piece during loading, and unloading. They are unlike bulk cargo, and are not containerised.
- Containers are the most ubiquitous cargo category at ports globally. They are also the fastest growing, in addition to being the largest. They include an endless list of stuff, ranging from machinery and manufacturing components, to frozen food, meat and plant produce.
- Heavy lift cargo and Project cargo include items like air-conditioning units, manufacturing plant fittings, heavy-duty equipment, machinery, military equipment and any oversized or grand cargo, with surpassing dimensions for any container.
Air freight is assumed by firms from shipping companies and then delivered to customers. As early as 1911, mails were cargo for aircraft. Other types of freight are now conveyed by air. Manufacturers, custom-built aircraft for this purpose, as the market blossomed. The Boeing 747 and its bigger counterpart, the An-124, are examples of commercial aircraft, suited for freighting needs. The An-124 was built exactly for easy conversion, into a cargo aircraft.
Large cargo aircraft as these, utilise quick-loading containers – the unit load devices (ULD) referred to above, to function. The ULDs make the aircraft simulate containerised cargo ships. ULDs are located at the front section of the aircraft. To cater for logistical assignments, it is common for nations to own untold numbers of cargo aircraft, such as the C-17 Globemaster III.
Businesses consider the economics of every action. Thus, to maximise revenue and profitability in short- and medium-haul operations, some aircraft are designed for this, like the Saab 340A.
Freight trains have the ability and capacity to transport huge numbers of containers, from shipping ports. Trains can be adapted to convey petroleum products, water, cement, cotton, coal, grain, wood and steel. They can convey large amounts of these products, and use mostly direct routes, to their destination. They also come with the added advantage of being reliably prompt, at their speeds and do not contend with traffic jams.
Under the right conditions, transporting freight by rail is more economical and conserves more energy, than road travel. This is an obvious advantage, considering bulk and long distances. Rail’s biggest challenge when compared with road transport, is its lack of flexibility.
Rail often comes with trans–shipment costs, because it still has to be transferred from one mode of shipping, to another. Containerisation aims at minimising these costs. In transporting point-to-point bulk cargo like cement, with specialised bulk handling facilities at the rail sidings, rail continues to be the leading option. Many countries urge shippers to use rail more often, for its environmental benefits.
Road transport of freight conveyance is quite a natural option, for many companies. Road also affords the ability to convey all types of cargo. Food is an example of cargo that uses road, to limitless frequency.
As supermarkets must replenish their stock daily, deliveries must arrive as planned. Retail firms, bakeries and manufacturing companies, all use delivery trucks of varying sizes that ply all types of roads. The best routes and prices are very important to these companies, to get their products to the end customer.
Economic development can indeed be gauged from the level of commercial freight, transported by small businesses. The reason is these vehicle types, move and transport almost anything.
It is best to categorise freight, before it is transported. This is good for organisation, efficient loading, and unloading. Factors to determine and item’s category include:
- the item type
- shipment size and quantity
- transit time for item
Shipment can be categorised as household goods, express letter shipment (overnight express), parcel or ground shipments, and freight shipments. Freight incurs shipping costs, which are often determined by a variable number of factors, and can heavily influence the shelf price of a product.
Other important considerations in freight shipment are security and stabilisation of containers. The freight value chain is enormous and requires detailed study and involvement, to come to terms with.
Refrigerated freight shipping
Perishable goods are important elements of freight. Such freight must be refrigerated and shipped with care. Refrigerated freight shipping is temperature-controlled shipping, for perishable foods and certain types of liquid. Special refrigerated containers, called reefers, are used in intermodal freight transport.
Reefers often have their own refrigeration unit, although they depend on external power from electrical power points, known as reefer points, at a quay, container ship or land-based site. When transported over the road, diesel-powered generators can power them. Reefers can control temperatures from -65 °C to 40 °C.
Refrigerated containers have global impact, as consumers are able to enjoy fresh produce, all year round, regardless of location. There is also indirect economic benefits, from the activities of refrigerated containers, around the world. Indeed, refrigerated freight is now an integral part of the cold chain.