If we believe the proverb, all roads lead to Rome. But in any case, the most diverse types of freight lead to their destination. Whether by road, rail, air or water, logistics has various modes of transport at its disposal to get goods from A to B at the right time and in the desired quantity. In this article, we compare the different types of freight, their characteristics and their respective advantages and disadvantages.
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Freight - what is that actually? Of course, most logistics professionals and laypeople alike will have the goods that are to reach their destination via the various modes of transport directly in mind. But strictly speaking, the word "freight" in its original sense actually means something else - namely the costs incurred for transportation.
The roots of the term apparently lie in the Low German word "Vracht" - which in turn is the amount that used to be paid for a sea transport. Over time, the use of the word in everyday life has changed. Even though, strictly speaking, it continues to refer to the cost, "freight" in colloquial language today refers to the cargo that is to be transported by truck, ship, train or plane.
A wide variety of freight types are available for transport - suitable for the respective freight and its properties. For example, is it a particularly time-critical transport? Are the goods perishable and must be continuously cooled during transport? Are the goods stowed in a closed container or are they loose bulk goods?
Is the transport company dealing with hazardous materials for which special handling is required? Or are there liquids or gases to be transported? The type and characteristics of the cargo have a significant influence on which mode of transport is best considered.
The dominant part of all freight traffic is handled as truck freight over the roads. Whether it's last-mile parcel delivery, urban mass transit, or long-distance transport, truck freight is often the first choice due to its flexibility and attractive price-performance ratio.
Transports can - if necessary - be brought directly from the starting point to the destination without reloading. Even more attractive in terms of price are often groupage transports, in which various orders are combined into one transport. Another decisive advantage of truck freight: There is hardly anything that cannot be transported by road.
Special trailers are available for a wide variety of goods, regardless of whether they are containers, bulk goods, liquids or gas, or hazardous goods. Temperature-controlled transports and refrigerated trailers meet special requirements of the cargo.
The high degree of flexibility and the good price are both blessing and curse of truck freight. Because of the advantages described, the volume of truck freight has grown continuously over decades and today contributes to permanent congestion, overloaded traffic infrastructures and high emissions. Added to this is the chronic shortage of personnel, which is increasingly becoming a problem for the entire logistics industry.
Nevertheless, the ecological balance could improve if commercial vehicles were increasingly equipped with battery-electric drives (e-trucks) or if CO2-neutral, synthetic fuels, hydrogen-based fuels or fuel cells were used in the future.
Freight transport by rail is referred to as rail freight. Freight trains can carry enormous quantities of a wide variety of goods and raw materials over long distances. Bulk goods, gases or liquids, for example, can be transported in special wagons. For goods packed in containers, special wagon bodies are available that can load the container directly.
Accounting for a good quarter of the total transport volume in Germany, rail transport continues to play an important and growing role. However, rail freight is frequently used not only for heavy and bulky goods, but also for letter mail and parcel shipments.
The ecological advantages of rail as a means of freight transport are the most important. Compared with truck freight, for example, emissions are sustainably reduced, and road traffic, which is already overburdened, is relieved. However, trains need a railroad track - the transport routes are therefore predetermined and inflexible. At the start and end points, the goods often have to be reloaded onto a truck. In addition, road transport is usually cheaper than rail freight.
Transportation by ship is called sea freight, and it includes a wide variety of cargoes and goods. Tankers, for example, are designed to transport liquid and gaseous goods over long distances. Special ships such as car carriers are designed precisely for their cargo and its requirements.
Today, however, the container dominates the sea freight sector. They offer a number of advantages: Containers are standardized worldwide with standard dimensions, which creates a high degree of flexibility and enables easy handling in any seaport around the world. Full Container Load (FCL) is the term used for (sealed) containers that exclusively contain the goods of one customer.
If transport orders from different customers are packed together in one container, this is called Less Than Full Container Load (LCL). Loose goods, on the other hand, such as construction materials, coal or ores, are loaded into special ships as bulk sea freight and transported in this way.
Ocean freight offers the decisive advantage of being able to handle enormous transport volumes over long distances at an attractive price-performance ratio. However, this takes time, and container ship traffic is generally dependent on fixed schedules. In addition, the destination of a cargo is often inland. So it has to be reloaded again, for example onto a truck.
If you're in a hurry, take to the air: air freight is tailor-made for particularly time-critical transport goods, for express shipments and for valuable items. Various transport options are available for air freight: Scheduled passenger aircraft can carry a limited amount of freight as payload in transport boxes or on pallets.
On a larger scale, pure cargo aircraft can pick up goods and transport them on international routes. For express shipments, for example, courier services maintain their own fleets of cargo aircraft and operate their own central airfreight hubs as hubs and hubs.
The time factor is the decisive argument in favor of air freight; even long distances can be covered quickly. However, space is at a premium in airplanes - and thus correspondingly expensive. Air freight is therefore particularly suitable for time-critical and correspondingly valuable goods.
However, air freight does not usually reach the final destination of a shipment; the aircraft are on fixed routes. As in the case of sea freight, reloading and an appropriately timed and coordinated transport chain are therefore required.
Water, air, rail: these transport routes each offer their own advantages. But at the beginning as well as at the end of a transport chain, a truck is usually needed again to cover the last kilometers to Sites . In addition to the means of transport, this requires precise planning and close coordination between all parties involved. Paper and telephone have long since ceased to be sufficient for this.
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Deliveries can be coordinated with the software and tracked in real time. All data is brought together centrally and clearly by TradeLink. The simple and effective solution for delivery coordination pays off. Because time-consuming e-mails, phone calls and Excel spreadsheets as well as expensive and error-prone paper processes become superfluous! For more information and a free demo of the TradeLink software, simply contact our experts.
By road, by sea, by rail or by air: the various types of freight offer extensive possibilities for finding a tailor-made solution for every transport order and all requirements. Factors such as time, costs and flexibility are decisive in planning. In addition, other parameters flow in.
Decision factors for the choice of freight type:
When these points are weighed up against each other, the bottom line is that there are often only one or two types of freight that can be considered at all. And even if it goes by air or out to sea: at the beginning or end of a transport chain, truck freight must also be booked. Because without a road, it is generally not possible to transport the goods to their final destination. With the right software, even complex transport and storage processes can be planned reliably and transparently.
Trucks remain the frontrunner and the most widely used means of transporting goods. Road freight transport has many advantages, but will encounter more and more problems in the future.
Logistics is always a race against time. And when it comes to road freight, the time factor will continue to become increasingly scarce in the future due to driver shortages and crowded roads. An optimized truckTime slot management can provide relief.