Ocean carriers are offering a menu of new services to improve the supply chain efficiency and reduce the cost of delivering cargo from Asia to U.S. inland destinations, shipping executives told The Journal of Commerce’s Inland Ports conference.
Some of the strategies are purely operational. Maersk Line, for example, attempts to coordinate the unloading of imported containers at inland destinations with the reloading of the empty containers with export cargo for the return trip to Asia.
“Anything we can do as an industry to better match exports with imports improves asset utilization,” Gordon Dorsey, U.S. country operations manager at Maersk, told the meeting in Chicago on Tuesday.
Shipping loaded containers outbound as well as inbound from Asia improves the round-trip economics of the move and helps shippers as well as carriers, Dorsey said.
APL is reducing supply chain costs by introducing more 53-foot marine containers into its fleet. The merchandise import trade from Asia is dominated by the use of 40-foot marine containers. The contents of those containers are often transloaded at West Coast ports into 53-foot domestic containers for shipment to inland destinations.
The containers can be shipped intact to inland hubs such as Chicago, eliminating the transloading costs on the West Coast, or the contents can be transloaded on the West Coast into domestic 53-foot containers and matched with other cargoes to build full domestic containers for inland destinations.
Gene Seroka, president of the Americas at APL, said the use of 53-foot marine containers is proving so popular that APL is considering building purpose-built vessels that can carry larger numbers of 53-footers.
Maersk Line is deploying some 53-foot marine containers in its operations for certain cargoes, but Dorsey noted the equipment is limited in its use for export. U.S. exports tend to be heavier commodities such as agricultural and scrap products that weigh out a container before the box cubes out.
And Dorsey said the success of such efforts at inland ports depends on the coordination of all parts of the distribution chain to provid seamless, on-time delivery. Maersk sets as its standard a minimum 95 percent on-time delivery performance, but reliability is compromised when railroads are satisfied with an on-time performance of 80 percent, he said.