What is Intermodal Drayage & Cross Docking? When Should I Use Them?

Intermodal Drayage and Cross Docking explained by BR Williams

What is Intermodal Drayage?

In the world of shipping and logistics, intermodal drayage is an all-encompassing term.

What is Intermodal Trucking?

Intermodal means using more than one mode of transportation when moving containers or cargo. Traditionally, intermodal services include a combination of ocean/shipping, truck, and rail.

What is Drayage?

Drayage is defined as goods transported a short distance, usually as a small part of a longer and more complex supply chain system.

With the use of today’s powerful, real-time warehouse management systems (WMS), intermodal companies can reduce the handling of cargo, improve security, allow for faster transportation and more control, and finally reduce damage and loss.

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What is Cross Docking?

Cross-docking allows for one central inbound dock, but several outbound docks at the same time, creating a network of distribution and an integral part of intermodal services. This allows companies to reach the maximum amount of destinations using the minimum number of routes.

Cross-docking is a type of freight movement system that promotes a flowing, seamless supply chain. Like intermodal drayage, materials can be received from truck, rail, or ocean containers.

In a non-intermodal supply chain system, cargo will leave the manufacturer, reach an inventory buffer (traditional warehousing) and then be sent to the customer based on sales.

In a cross-docking system designed for intermodal services, cargo is sent from the manufacturer via ship to a local port. The cargo may then be trucked to a local distribution center or cross docking terminal for cross-docking.

Once cargo is received at the cross-dock terminal, it is unloaded, sorted by destination, reloaded (usually within 24 hours), and sent directly to the final location.

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When to Use Cross Docking

Companies who are deciding between intermodal drayage and cross-docking have several points to consider. Companies who find themselves in the following situations should consider cross-docking solutions:

Companies who are shipping materials…

  • …that do not need handling at a warehouse
  • …that do not need to be stored or repackaged
  • …to similar end points near each other
  • …that can be screened quickly through automated systems and sent automatically, without needing a surplus inventory
  • …that are time-sensitive or perishable
  • …on a recurring delivery
  • …where the destination point is greater than 300 miles from the port of entry (ex. Port of Mobile)

Cost-Effectiveness of Cross Docking

Most companies who switch to cross-docking as part of a modern intermodal services solution do so because of the savings in cost compared to intermodal drayage or point-to-point transportation systems. Cost can be saved by using cross-docking in the following ways:

  • By cutting out warehousing and handling, there is no cost associated with storing or managing an inventory
  • Less freight handling means less damage to products
  • Cross-docking systems are well-calculated and managed through an automated warehouse management system, cutting out human error and saving money
  • Long-hauls are avoided, cutting transportation, gas and routine service costs

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Things to Consider When Cross Docking

Cross Docking can save cost and time, but it is important to ensure that you are using a carrier who can handle your specific supply chain demands. Consider the following points when choosing a full service supply chain management company to manage your intermodal services.

  • Transport carriers must have enough fleet for the cross dock to run smoothly at all times
  • A computerized and automatically updated warehouse management system must be used to transmit real-time information to its users
  • Cross Docking solutions should offer a competitive price compared to intermodal drayage of specific products or materials

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