Technology & Managing Intermodal Capacity - Global Trade Magazine
  August 2nd, 2019 | Written by

Technology & Managing Intermodal Capacity

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  • “Knowing exactly where a shipment is in transit has quickly become the expectation rather than exception."
  • Norfolk serves as a transportation industry leader, boasting 19,500 route miles in 23 states.
  • Companies and consumers expect near real-time notifications about every step of a product’s journey.
  • Your business simply cannot afford to not have a reliable TMS in place.

In a world where operations don’t have an option to slow down, capacity concerns are issues that will always be a burden in the back of any operator’s mind. Whether you’re running a rail, port or even distribution center, capacity options are vital to keeping operations running–and efficiently. The last thing you want to see is a competitor taking the business you could’ve easily handled, but didn’t, all due to capacity restraints. Even worse, capacity restraints you didn’t anticipate, leaving your company seeming to look unprepared. Not only that, it ultimately tells prospective, lifelong customers that proactivity doesn’t exist in the company strategy and day-to-day operations. Proactivity is equally important as visibility.

These two features are complementing elements to operational success, but it’s nearly impossible to tap into their potential the old-fashioned way. The good news is there are options in the form of technology and innovation that stay one step ahead of you–meaning you have a system completely capable of updating you on what’s going on and what needs to be addressed, all at the click of a button while taking the stress off you. Insight given from leaders in transportation all share a common theme: visibility is key.

“There is not any difference in the requirements for [handling] truckload versus intermodal in today’s market,” InTek Freight and Logistics President Shelli Austin recently told Intermodal Insights. “It’s now falling into the need for visibility and on-time service. Before, it was the deferred ‘it will get there when it gets there’ type of freight. All successful 3PLs need to have the same real-time information for intermodal that they do for [over-the-road] freight.”

“3PLs are being asked to do more multi-leg management, particularly of drayage at both origin and destination,” says Tommy Barnes, president of project44, which bills itself as the world’s leading advanced visibility platform for 3PLs and shippers. “It is a little bit harder, but they are providing a lot more value to customers.”

Automation continues to make news headlines with its unmatched ability to seamlessly connect almost every aspect of each industry, including intermodal transportation. The main takeaway from automation integration is the level of visibility and connectivity provided among workers and companies that partner for the bigger picture. This shows customers the level of expertise and preparedness your company provides for their needs, ultimately creating competitive advantage and ensuring business keeps moving. The theme of the solution in demand is an increase in more accurate information.

“The key technology for the intermodal product is the ability to capture real-time drayage information at pickup and delivery,” Austin noted in the article. “It is easy to get the information once the container is in the possession of the rail lines. The challenge is grabbing the information from all the different truckers that can and will be used to create capacity for these moves.”

With that being said, blockchain technology continues to provide the solutions, information and visibility necessary for providers and terminal operators to ensure the measures needed are in place to avoid operational hiccups such as terminal overload and miscommunication.

More recently, Kalmar Global announced how it would provide its SmartPower rubber-tyred gantry cranes (RTGs) to Norfolk Southern in an effort to extend capacity efforts through its integrated system.

Norfolk serves as a transportation industry leader, boasting 19,500 route miles in 23 states. The company can also brag about an extensive network at every major container port in the eastern United States. Kalmar’s SmartPower RTGs were specifically chosen to improve capacity at Norfolk’s intermodal terminals in Chicago and Rossville in Memphis, Tennessee.

“We are very pleased to be able to continue our collaboration with Norfolk Southern and to support them with the optimization of their intermodal operations,” says Troy Thompson, vice president of Sales at Kalmar Americas. “The proven Kalmar SmartPower RTG provides the perfect balance between productivity and cost efficiency in a variety of container-handling applications.”

Whether it’s partnering with a company that knows what it takes to keep capacity issues minimal or implementing a technology platform—or both—the bottom line is to ensure visibility, ability and operations are not compromised. In a C.H. Robinson blog, author Phil Shook, the director of Intermodal, explains that intermodal shipping will play a role in driving business growth for American railroads, citing that “the 70 intermodal ramps continue to expand.” With this expansion will nonetheless come capacity concerns, providing even more of a reason to invest in automated technology that can keep up with rapid expansion and demand without falling behind.

In his post, Shook makes a fantastic consideration by adding that, “Knowing exactly where a shipment is in transit has quickly become the expectation rather than exception. Companies and consumers expect near real-time notifications about every step of a product’s journey—including facility and town names. And just like the truckload sector, intermodal providers are working hard to deliver.”

This snippet from his blog reiterates the need for an uncompromising level of knowledge from when and where the next load is going. Because the market and its ever-evolving nature continues more demand, it’s imperative to invest in an all-in-one transportation management system that goes beyond what an average TMS provides. Why? Your business simply cannot afford to not have a reliable TMS in place. If you’re lucky enough to find a provider that can not only provide a robust TMS but also integrate new levels of technology, even better, albeit difficult to come across.

Beyond your company’s terminal capacity management, technology integration is now the new standard to global operations. Customer demands will continue to rise, at times becoming more complex and challenging than before. Consider the missing elements in your operations strategy that ultimately hinder providing the very best to customers. Additionally, don’t forget to thoroughly educate and inform employees of changes to come, showing them how to work smarter and not harder. Through this level of anticipation, proactivity and integration, you will foster an environment that motivates instead of overwhelming.

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