Transportation – Functionality and Principles

Transportation is one of the most visible elements of logistics operations. As consumers, we are accustomed to seeing trucks and trains moving products or parked at a distribution facility. While this experience provides a good visual understanding of transportation elements, it does not allow the necessary depth of knowledge to understand transportation’s role in logistics operations. This section establishes that foundation by reviewing functionality provided by transportation and the underlying principles of transport operation.

Transportation functionality

Following are the two major functionality of Transportation

  • Product movement
  • Product storage

Product Movement

Whether the product is in the form of materials, components, assemblies, work-in-process, or finished goods, transportation is necessary to move it to the next stage of the manufacturing process or physically closer to the ultimate customer. A primary transportation function is product movement up and down the value chain. Transportation utilizes temporal, financial, and environmental resources, it is important that items be moved only when it truly enhances product value.

The major objective of transportation is to move product from an origin location to a prescribed destination while minimizing temporal, financial, and environmental resource costs. Loss and damage expenses must also be minimized. At the same time, the movement must take place in a manner that meets customer demands regarding delivery performance and shipment information availability.

Product Storage

A less common transportation function is temporary storage. Vehicles make rather expensive storage facilities. However, if the in-transit product requires storage but will be moved again shortly (e.g., in a few days), the cost of unloading and reloading the product in a warehouse may exceed the profitability. A second method to achieve temporary product storage is diversion. This occurs when an original shipment destination is changed while the delivery is in transit. Traditionally, the telephone was used to direct diversion strategies. Today, satellite communication between enterprise headquarters and vehicles more efficiently handles the information.

Principle of Transportations

Economy of scale

It refers to the characteristic that transportation cost per unit of weight decreases when the size of the shipment increases. For example, truckload (TL) shipments (i.e., shipments that utilize the entire vehicle’s capacity) cost less per pound than less-than-truckload (L TL) shipments (i.e., shipments that utilize a portion of vehicle capacity). It is also generally true that larger capacity transportation vehicles such as rail or water are less expensive per unit of weight than smaller capacity vehicles such as motor or air. Transportation economies of scale exist because fixed expenses associated with moving a load can be spread over the load’s weight. As such, a heavier load allows costs to be “spread out,” thereby decreasing costs per unit of weight. The fixed expenses include administrative costs of taking the transportation order, time to position the vehicle for loading or unloading, invoicing, and equipment cost. These costs are considered fixed because they do not vary with shipment volume.

Economy of distance

It refers to the characteristic that transportation cost per unit of distance decreases as distance increases. For example, a shipment of 800 miles will cost less than two shipments (of the same combined weight) of 400 miles. Transportation economy of distance is also referred to as the tapering principle since rates or charges taper with distance. The rationale for distance economies is similar to that for economies of scale. Specifically, the relatively fixed expense incurred to load and unload the vehicle must be spread over the variable expense per unit of distance. Longer distances allow the fixed expense to be spread over more miles, resulting in lower overall per mile charges.

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