What is Multimodal Shipping?

StrategyDriven Tactical Execution Article |Multimodal Shipping|What is Multimodal Shipping?When you ship items from your warehouse, you likely place them on a truck and send them on their way. Not all shipments stay on the ground the whole time, though. An increasing number of transportation providers are implementing multimodal transport to improve the efficiency of their operations and get shipments to their destinations at a lower cost.

In the simplest terms, multimodal transport or multimodal shipping means that a single carrier uses a combination of round, air, sea, or rail transportation to move goods from one location to another. Opting for this type of shipping offers a variety of benefits to both the shipper and their clients alike, and preserves the supply chain in the face of challenges brought on by major businesses like Walmart and Amazon, as well as disruptions like those created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Multimodal vs. Intermodal Transport

Before getting into the benefits of multimodal transport, it’s worth discussing the difference between multimodal and intermodal transport.

Although both types of shipping use at least two forms of transport (for example, land and air), the primary difference is that intermodal shipping uses multiple carriers. In other words, one carrier manages the ground portion of the shipment, and then hands off the shipment to another carrier for the air transport, or vice versa. The shipper pays each carrier separately, and your reports, receipts, and tracking details will come from each carrier individually, and only deal with their portion of the journey.

Intermodal can help speed up shipments, but it can be complex to manage. That’s why many shippers are turning to multimodal shipments instead.

How Multimodal Shipping Benefits Businesses

Opting for multimodal shipping can benefit your business in a number of ways.

Reduced Costs

Although you may receive competitive rates from an intermodal shipping company, opting for multimodal can be a more cost-effective option. Transport providers often provide more competitive rates when you allow them to handle the entire shipment, and offer priority status. Multimodal shipping can also result in tax incentives for shippers. Because these arrangements typically involve making infrastructure investments, companies that opt for multimodal transport enjoy certain incentives that would not otherwise be available. Multimodal transport also reduces carbon offset costs, further reducing expenditures.

Improved Communication

In contrast to intermodal shipping, multimodal shipping only requires communicating with a single operator. The central provider manages all of the communication with the actual transportation providers, ensuring you have a single point of contact in the event there is an issue. For instance, if you receive data from an impact recorder indicating rough handling or excessive vibration, you can work with the multimodal provider to solve the problem.

Faster Delivery Times

There are times when intermodal transport may be the faster option, but multimodal transport is often the faster option. Federal regulations govern how long a single carrier can move freight in one trip under the Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) Mandate. Essentially, this only allows freight to be in motion for a certain amount of time before the operator must rest. It’s mostly applicable to trucking, but it does add time to truck transport.

When a driver can transfer a load to another form of transport, like a train, though, the shipment is able to keep moving despite those limitations. Instead of sitting idle for 24 hours or more while the truck driver rests, the shipment reaches its destination more quickly. Using multiple modes of transportation can also cut shipping time for shipments traveling long distance. For example, shipping partially by air cuts a significant amount of time, even when the last leg is handled by truck or train.

Getting the Most from Multimodal Shipping

Using multimodal shipping can be beneficial to your company, but it does require proper management. That begins with evaluating all of the modes before selecting one for your shipments. Not all shipments are well suited for all modes, and what works for other companies may not be ideal for yours.

It’s also important to connect your transportation management system with the carrier, so you can effectively monitor your shipments at every stage. All of your freight processes should be data-driven and based on real-time, contextual data collected at every step of the shipment process. Armed with this information, you can implement efficient, cost-effective shipping policies and procedures that align with your company’s strategic goals and budget.