Container Mobility and the Logic of Integration

FTW - Gauteng Edition Sept 2013The latest Freight & Trade Weekly (FTW) [Gauteng special edition] publication reminds me of a very interesting article I read a few months back – refer to my post “What are surfaces?” of 23 June 2013. The article dealt with the question of surfaces (i.e. land and sea) in relation to the multimodal movement of containers and envisioned by the logistics and supply-chain management practices.

I bewailed the fact that the actual dissertation would set me back a US$1000 but remained intrigued by the content which such dissertation would contain given the very interesting abstract I had just read. Given the high cost of such, obviously acknowledging the expertise, knowledge and resourcefulness which often goes into the preparation such papers therefore puts them beyond the reach of most.

To my amazement, a few days later I received an email from a fellow blogger – an expert in supply chain logistics – who was happy to share with me his copy of the paper.  The paper is titled “Shipping container mobilities, seamless compatibility, and the global surface of logistical integration”, published by Environment and Planning (EPA) volume 45 (2013). The author, a Dr. Craig Martin has delivered a masterpiece (my view) which considers the subject matter way beyond what I, as a Customs and Trade specialist, would consider or envision. I thoroughly enjoyed his bringing together of historical and current concepts and principles (attributed to many experts and peers) in the matter of intermodal containerisation.

Understanding the supply chain is a critical pre-requisite in the international Customs and Trade arena, at least since 9/11. In addition to the various WCO guides and standards, one needs to locate and digest papers such as this – and here I refer also to the many other websites, reference portals and publications of international experts in the global logistics and supply chain field.

Some of the more salient statements contained in the  Dr. Martin’s paper confirms that the ‘ideology of containerisation emanates out of a wider body of reasoning based on the notion of integration.’

The Need and Logic of Integration

Integration focuses on interactions between various aspects of a supply chain and is defined as “a systems approach to viewing the supply chain as a whole, and to managing the total flow of goods inventory from the supplier to the ultimate customer”.

From the late 1950s, management theory began to emphasize the importance of “how industrial company success depends on the interaction between the flows of information, materials, money, manpower, and capital equipment”.

By the 1980s, the emphasis of the logistics sector’s control of company functions, including materials management, transport, storage, and information management, highlighted the importance and process of integration.

During the mid-1990s, the notion of integration extended even further with the move towards supply chain management (SCM), where aspects of supply, materials management, distribution, and retail functions were placed under the control of a single company. The overarching ideology of logistics and SCM are systemic completeness and the management of flow.

The movement of containerised cargo is a critical component of SCM, as it accentuates surface control through the integration of land and sea transport. As far back as the 1960’s, experts opined that “most types of liquids and solids may someday be moved in sealed containers interchangeable among road, rail, air, and marine transport. Advantages would include reduction in damage and loss in the time and cost of loading and unloading. Containers may prove to be the catalyst that integrates the various components of the transport sector which are now being independently planned, financed, and operated” – and this is exactly what is happening today.

Standardisation towards Intermodal Integration

In 1953 Malcolm McLean developed the idea of transporting truck trailers on ships rather than on the congested highways of the US East Coast. His rationale was to overcome congestion by consolidating the transport system: at this time the truck and ship industries were entirely separate. He is ultimately credited for the invention of the modern cellular container we have today.

Vital to structural integration was the standardized nature of infrastructure itself – enabling the coupling of a container with a variety of nodes. These include the design of container-cell vessels, the redesign of road haulage vehicles and railway rolling stock, the design of container handling vehicles in ports, the construction of large-scale dockside gantry cranes, the design of spreader bars, and not to forget the design of the container corner fittings – these are standardized across all of the equipment related above.

It can therefore correctly be asserted that “the container links land and sea transport in an almost seamless and profoundly international continuum” (Broeze 2002)

So I guess what I’m trying to emphasize is that close on 70 years of continuous harmonization and integration in the supply chain logistics industry, specifically in regard to multimodal (door-to-door) containerized transport, as well as the substantive facilitation support accorded thereto by both the WTO and WCO, the basis of containerisation must surely be a consideration when applying regulatory control measures whether it be in the export leg or import leg of an international supply chain movement.

The key enabler in a modern Customs environment is undoubtedly automated processing and no less automated risk assessment. Facilitation on the other hand is a tool whereby, in combination with risk assessment, Customs focuses on entities and patterns rather than transnational intervention. Unreasonable (and mandatory) termination of a multimodal movement destroys the benefits of containerization and will add costs and loss of competitiveness for traders. Our beautiful country can ill-afford this given burgeoning competition from our neighbours up north. Finally, The matter of regional integration is another aspect which needs in-depth consideration. As we enthuse and wallow in our new found technological state, physical borders remain the biggest inhibitors to trade. More on this another time.

Recommended Link

Hi-tech shippers switch from air to ocean

sea_freight_trackingCargo traditionally sent by air is increasingly switching to sea as shippers capitalise on the mode’s lower transport costs – a trend expected to continue over the coming years.

Lloyds List reports that several leading freight forwarders reported in their full-year results that certain cargo types — particularly hi-tech and telecoms — switched from air freight to sea freight last year.

DHL Global Forwarding CEO Roger Crook said the switch was the result of a price difference of 10 times between the two modes of transport. He said: “Obviously many companies are under cost pressure and looking to reduce total supply chain costs. Therefore, they are buying and moving by ocean freight, and particularly it is happening in the technology sector.”

Panalpina chief operating officer Karl Weyeneth said he expected the trend to continue. “There is a maximum shift you can achieve, depending on what industry you are talking about,” he said.

“But I believe that now supply chains are used to working with more ocean freight, this impact will stay for at least a couple of years, until the economy has really recovered, then it will start to shift back again.”

“We really see this as an important factor in our market for the next two to three years.”

Kuehne+Nagel (KN) chief executive Reinhard Lange said the decision on whether cargo was suitable to be switched from air to sea partly came down to the weight of the shipment. He said that if two products had the same market value, but one weighed less than the other, the overall cost impact of flying was less for the lighter cargo because air cargo costs were based on weight. He said this explained why hi-tech products had transferred to ocean freight while lighter products, such as pharmaceuticals, had, in the main, continued to utilise air freight.

The forwarders said the impact of the switch from air to ocean freight was partly to blame for a decline in air freight volumes last year, while container volumes continued to grow. In its full-year results, Panalpina saw air freight volumes decline 6% last year while ocean freight volumes grew by the same amount. Meanwhile, DHL Global Forwarding’s air freight volumes slipped 5.3% in 2012 with ocean freight increasing 4.3%, while KN saw its air freight volumes grow by 2% while ocean freight increased 6% year on year. Source: LloydsList