Your Air Freight Questions Answered – Part 1

Your Air Freight Questions Answered

Loading air freightHere at the Exporting Excellence™ blog we invest a great deal of time in answering questions about international air freight for our clients.  What we find most interesting is the fact that these questions don’t just come from small or mid-sized customers, but even from Fortune 500 sized shippers who have large air freight volumes.  One of the most important ways we at Crescent Air Freight add value to the business of our clients is by eliminating the complexities that come with international logistics.  To that extent, we’ve put together a series of FAQ’s that we have encountered from shippers of all sizes and from across various industries.  Here’s a selection of some of the more frequent questions and our answers:

Q:             Why does air freight cost so much? 

A:              The answer lies in simple economics: there is a scarcity of space on an aircraft.  Long range, wide body passenger aircraft typically carry 15 – 20 tons of cargo on a flight and that’s only if passenger baggage and fuel capacity allow for it.  On top of that, since cargo on a passenger flight goes in the aircraft belly, the maximum allowable height of the freight is only 64 inches.

With freighter aircraft, the maximum payloads are about 100 – 110 tons per flight, and maximum heights can go up to 108 inches (sometimes more depending upon the contour of the aircraft and the cargo).  Contrast this with a 20’ ocean shipping container which can accommodate a payload of more than 20 tons, and you begin to see why space is always at a premium on an aircraft.

Q:             Are there any ways to reduce or offset the costs of air freight, without settling for an ocean freight transit time?

A:              We get this question very often, and there are several ways to answer it.

To begin with, the economics we mentioned above can’t be totally ignored.  Space on an aircraft always comes at a premium.  Typically direct flights and non-stop flights justify a higher price because of the speed of transit and reduced potential for delays.  Hence, one cost saving solution shippers can opt for is an indirect service, which typically involves a slightly longer transit for a slightly lower price.  As an example, cargo flying from New York to Sydney, Australia on a direct flight with QANTAS moves at nearly double the cost per kilogram of the same shipment traveling on Qatar Airways via Doha, using 2 flights.  This may seem odd to the consumer: 1 flight ought to be cheaper to operate and load versus 2 flights and a longer route.  However, the carrier offering direct service justifies their price premium by getting cargo directly to destination in a shorter time frame.  The indirect carrier justifies their discount by pulling in cargo from all their destinations into a single freight hub and profiting from the potentially greater volume (in theory, anyways).

What new shippers typically fail to understand is that the cost cannot be continuously decreased by increasing the transit time.  So this creates a common follow up question such as “Can you give us a really slow service that takes 7-10 days maybe for a really low price?”.  This is something that really doesn’t exist, and if a huge price discount is to be found it’s probably because the airline has no traffic going to a particular destination and hence markets the space more aggressively, rather than pricing the service based on transit times.

There are, however, some scenarios where we are able to get creative with the mode of transport by adopting a multi-modal solution.  For example, cargo being routed to landlocked countries in Central Africa, Central Asia or Central Europe can be sailed to major nearby cargo hubs such as Abidjan, Bremerhaven, Dubai or Sharjah and then flown or trucked a short distance to countries of final destination such as Afghanistan, Mali, Switzerland, etc.  This sharply reduces the total landed cost of product at destination and also improves transit time over a pure ocean service.  We offer similar solutions for our customers in the garment and textile industry by sailing cargo from Bangladesh to Dubai and then flying the goods to the United States, thus taking advantage of low inbound air freight rates and ample capacity that is typically not available in the country of origin of the goods.  Sometimes the opposite works too as cargo can be flown from a landlocked country such as Nepal, into a major nearby port city and then transferred to ocean containers for final transit to Europe or the United States.

The ultimate way to avoid air freight costs, of course, is to not ship via air at all, and for customers who do not ship enough material to fill an ocean container on their own, the option of LCL ocean freight exists.  Of course this is a longer transit time service than even standard containerized ocean freight, but the cost is often justifiable.

All of these scenarios, however, do require planning and that’s really the most important thing for a logistics manager to realize.  Planning with your service provider and sharing information on required transit times, budget constraints, deadlines at origin or destination, etc. will allow your freight forwarder to come up with the right solution for your business and even for your individual shipment.  “Just get it there” doesn’t work and is akin to randomly pulling a suit off a department store rack and telling the tailor to “just make it fit”.

Q:             Do we really need to pay for a premium or time defined/guaranteed service?  Can’t you just use your influence with the airlines to make our cargo move faster? 

A:              Definitely, maybe…

This question comes up a lot and many times the part about using “your influence with the airlines…” can come across as more of a taunt than a request!  The reality is that just like in many other businesses, with air freight (and logistics in general), you get what you pay for.  If your cargo needs to be kept in a cooler between flights and upon arrival at destination, then a freight forwarder will usually get you a service that may be slightly more expensive than general cargo, but far less than the cost of leasing a refrigerated air freight container.  The airline would want you to lease the refrigerated container and maybe even pay them round trip airfare for it, but your forwarder adds tremendous value here by providing you a “product appropriate”, cost effective service option based on their knowledge of your product, temperature requirements and by proposing reasonable alternatives.  However, once again the key here is communication.  If a shipper fails to disclose their true temperature or handling requirements for the sake of saving money and the goods suffer damage as a result, then there’s nothing a forwarder can do, especially after the shipment has been executed.

Temperature controlled goods present a truly special case as do high value goods and a few other select product categories.  Other times shippers have general cargo to ship via air on a very tight deadline.  In such circumstances time definite or guaranteed services are worthwhile.  The cost may be triple that of regular air freight, but if a customer is facing a production shut down, or an inventory problem that must be solved in a short time frame then it’s obviously worthwhile.

Over the past 39 years we have accumulated a lot of questions about the air freight and logistics process in general. In fact we just focused on price issues in this post and next month we’ll focus on air freight service and operational questions that arise on a daily basis.  In order to make the series work for you, we suggest you leave your questions in the comments below, or if you prefer, try sending us your questions by email at or on Twitter at @CrescentAF.


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Breakbulk Shipping

Breakbulk Shipping

In shipping, breakbulk cargo or general cargo are goods that must be loaded individually, and not in intermodal containers nor in bulk as with oil or grain. Ships that carry this sort of cargo are often called general cargo ships. The term breakbulk derives from the phrase breaking bulk—the extraction of a portion of the cargo of a ship or the beginning of the unloading process from the ship’s holds. These goods may not be in shipping containers. Breakbulk cargo is transported in bags, boxes, crates, drums, or barrels. Unit loads of items secured to a pallet or skid are also used. A break-in-bulk point is a place where goods are transferred from one mode of transport to another, for example the docks where goods transfer from ship to truck.

Breakbulk was the most common form of cargo for most of the history of shipping. Prior to the mid 1950’s ocean shipping looked very different from what we know it to be today.  Cargo was loaded onto vessels in barrels, crates, sacks and other forms of bulk packaging that were irregular in size and shape.  Manual labor was required to physically unload these goods from ships onto piers where consignees took delivery of their cargo.  In the 1950’s the advent of containerized shipping created a revolution in the way goods were transported by ocean.  This standardized method of shipping changed everything from the nature of ships used for cargo to the need for manual labor and even allowed ports to move away from the edges of major cities into areas where larger terminals could be built to manage the inventory and flow of containers.

Since the 1960’s the volume of breakbulk cargo has declined dramatically worldwide as containerization has grown. Moving cargo on and off ship in containers is much more efficient, allowing ships to spend less time in port. Breakbulk cargo also suffered from greater theft and damage. There were some basic systems in place, of course, to make the process more efficient, such as the use of rope for bundling timber, sacks for carrying coffee beans, and pallets for stacking and transporting bags or sacks. However, industrial and technological advances, such as the spread of the railways in the 18th century, highlighted the inadequacies of the cargo shipping system. The transfer of cargo from trains to ships and vice versa became a real problem.

Before the container shipping industry emerged, boxes of various types and sizes had often been used in transporting cargo simply because this was the logical way to move things en masse from one location to another. However, despite these developments, cargo handling was almost as labor-intensive after World War II as it had been in the mid-1800s.

According to, the interest in breakbulk shipping has grown so large there are conferences dedicated to just that topic such as Breakbulk Americas 2015, which is the largest exhibition and educational forum in the Americas addressing the needs of traditional breakbulk and project cargo logistics professionals.

The method of loading cargo in a “loose” or non-containerized manner, however, persists to this day. Breakbulk is the method of shipping needed for cargo that is too big or heavy to be loaded into a shipping container, or for cargo that cannot enjoy economies of scale through containerized shipping.  The most obvious commodity that comes to mind is an automobile, which can be driven onto a Roll on/Roll off (“Ro/Ro”) vessel thereby allowing a liner to transport more vehicles than they could if shipping containers were used.

080113-N-0292S-066Breakbulk shipping has now come to be a key mode of transport for shippers of large freight such as oil & gas equipment, military vehicles, cranes, earth moving equipment, large reels and spools of cable, manufacturing equipment and other oversized goods.  The impact & benefit of breakbulk shipping is obscured by the volume of container shipping.  However, consider the fact that it is breakbulk shipping which allows major oil and gas projects to become operational by facilitating delivery of oilfield compressors and drilling equipment.  Similarly, worldwide construction is directly affected by the availability of construction cranes.  Major infrastructure projects such as road, train, and dam construction would not be possible without the use of massive earth movers, pile drivers, and other excavating equipment.  All of these key elements of the global economy and the movement of capital goods are made possible by breakbulk shipping.

The specifics of breakbulk shipping are often overlooked, but highly relevant to shippers of large cargo.  Here are some general insights into how such cargo is loaded:

  1. Unlike containerized cargo which can be loaded at a shipper’s facility or a container freight station, breakbulk cargo has to be delivered directly to the port of departure and stored in warehouses.  From a cost standpoint, shippers should be aware that there are almost always receiving and warehousing charges applied by the origin port for receipt and storage of this cargo.
  2. At time of loading the cargo is moved to the quay and can be loaded onto ships in several ways.  For example, ports may have cranes on the port side of the vessel which actually hoist the cargo onto the ships.  Many breakbulk ships also have their own cranes on board which can lift the cargo from port side onto the vessel.  Shippers of cargo built onto a platform such as an oilfield compressor, or cargo housed in large crates such as turbine parts or industrial machinery often have their cargo hoisted onto vessels by either port or ship cranes.  Cargo that is “self propelled” such as heavy vehicles, construction cranes and other cargo of a vehicular nature will often be driven onto the vessel.
  3. Once on board, a pattern of load planning is implemented by the lines.  For example, large wooden crates are often stowed in the mid or “’tween” decks of the vessel, with heavier crates often being loaded at the bottom of such decks.  Also, the cargo is often lashed, strapped or otherwise secured in place to prevent shifting in transit.  Vehicles, are usually driven on & off the vessel but can also be hoisted on board by cranes, and are secured on board with lashings. Vehicles, especially cranes, and military vehicles are often towed on board with the use of MAFI trailers which are essentially platforms or chassis that can haul the vehicle.
  4. Cargo is unloaded at destination in much the same manner as it is loaded, only in reverse of course. Aside from conventional unloading at destination piers, cargo can also be hoisted from one ship to another, a process often referred to as “hook to hook” delivery.  For example, mining equipment, oil and gas equipment and similar products which are to be barged or sailed to remote destinations often are delivered this way.

Despite its importance to the worldwide market for project cargo and capital goods, not all logistics providers are capable of offering breakbulk service to their customers.  The planning that goes into the quoting, booking and execution of such shipments can be painstaking and the cost of mistakes can be high.  For example, a logistics provider will often have to account for haulage costs which include specialized trucks, port receiving charges, usage of port equipment such as cranes and hoists, port warehousing charges and inspection charges at time of loading.  And these are charges to be considered before the cargo even gets on board.  Similarly, logistics providers must be aware of costs, permits, and potential problems at destination ports as well as in any transit points en route.  The potential for cost overruns and unanticipated costs is very high.

A logistics provider also must have sufficient knowledge and capability in place to meet the needs of clients who ship large or oversized cargo that would require breakbulk service.  Many a freight forwarder has quoted and accepted breakbulk business only to realize at time of booking that the cargo simply does not fit in an ocean container and falls outside their expertise.  The ensuing costs and trouble to shippers can be significant as cost overruns, delayed pick-ups or sailings and other problems can arise that adversely impact the success of an order for such an important part of their business.  Breakbulk shipping does involve a high degree of complexity and hence each shipment requires unique practices and protocols to ensure proper execution.

While close collaboration and planning is required between a shipper of breakbulk goods and their logistics provider, shippers should have clear plans in place to address the following issues related to a breakbulk shipments:

o      Transit times & Vessel frequency – breakbulk vessels do not always follow the weekly sailing schedules that are typical of containerized vessels.  Also, breakbulk ships can often be diverted to pick up special shipments on a charter basis.  Accordingly shippers need to share their lead times, required delivery timeframes, and other key transit details to plan accordingly.

o      Inland – as mentioned above, large cargo may often require special permits due to domestic road restrictions, size limitations, etc.  Also, ports may have restrictions on times or types of cargo delivery.  Shippers need to be aware of this as “just get it there” is rarely an option where it comes to breakbulk shipping.

o      Permits & Restrictions – continuing on the matter of inland shipping, shippers need to know what limitations their cargo faces.  Is the product so large that it can only be trucked at night time to avoid traffic problems?  Does the haulage of their product require multi-state permits?  Failure to know any of these requirements can stop a shipment right at the factory door, long before reaching ports.  Failure to comply with inland regulations can additionally cause penalties to be enforced against the shipper or their vendors.

o      Loading – hoisting, roll on/roll off, towing, and other means of loading result in charges.  Ports will charge for usage of cranes with a minimum of several hours usage even though hoisting may only take a few minutes.  Costs need to be budgeted accordingly.  Similarly, durability of packing and crating needs to be considered; not just for the haulage and sailing of the cargo, but also for the loading of the cargo.

While the advent of container shipping has brought fantastic advantages and benefits to the shipping industry and the global market, we cannot discount the fact that breakbulk shipping still has its place. At the end of the day, a shipper needs to understand all facets of breakbulk as well as containerized shipping if they are going to efficiently and effectively charge for the job and get it done right.

Container Info & Spec Sheet

Top 10 Markets for U.S. Exports

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At the Exporting Excellence™ blog, we’re all about international trade.  International trade does more to create jobs, promote cultural ties, create an interchange of ideas, transfer technology and promote understanding throughout the world than any other means of diplomacy, foreign aid, statecraft, etc.  Most of all, international trade is a great enabler of economic growth and wealth creation for all countries of the world.  While we have posted content about specific markets on this blog, we’d also like to introduce a series of lists that outline the best markets for U.S. exports in general and by specific industry.

The proof is overwhelming: export sales can grow your business far more than local sales.  After all, why limit yourself to your zip code when you can literally sell to the world.  Here then, is a look at the top 10 markets for U.S. exports:

# 1 – Canada.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$301.6  billion. Exporters of automobiles, trucks and accessories thereof take note: Canadians love large and midsized cars and trucks made in the USA.

#2 – Mexico.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$226.1 billion.  America’s neighbor to the south is well situated to engage in two-way trade with all NAFTA countries as we detailed in a recent blog post.  U.S. exporters of industrial machinery, agricultural products and dairy products will find a great deal of opportunity in Mexico.

# 3 – China.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$121.7 billion.  See, it’s not a one way street!  While China does supply an enormous amount of manufactured goods to the United States, American companies exporting agricultural products and hi-tech equipment are going to see growth in China for years to come.

# 4- Japan.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$65.2 billion.  Japan has a diverse consumer market as demonstrated by the fact that U.S. exports of medical instruments, aircraft equipment and industrial machinery are in high demand.  Japan, like China, is a good market for U.S. technological goods and services.

#5 – United Kingdom.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$56 billion.  See how trade works?  Not only political allies, but also major trading partners, the U.S.-U.K. relationship remains one of the closest in the world on so many levels.  U.S. exports of agricultural products as well as foods continue to enjoy growth in the U.K. despite the economic turbulence of recent years.

# 6 – Germany.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$44.2 billion.  Technological goods, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment from the United States are in high demand in Germany.  It is the strongest of Europe’s economies and should be a key part of your Europe export strategy.

#7 – Brazil.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2014: US$44.1 billion.  We profiled Brazil in a recent blog post as it offers great potential for U.S. exports.  Machinery and aircraft equipment account for the lion’s share of Brazilian imports from the U.S.  Tourism also remains a growth sector with substantial interest from U.S. tourists and investors.

# 8 – The Netherlands.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$42.6 billion.  U.S. exporters in the fields of “Clean Tech”, medical equipment, and biotechnology will find The Netherlands to be an attractive market with strong growth potential.

# 9 – South Korea.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$41.7 billion.  Along with Canada and Mexico (NAFTA), South Korea is one of the few countries that shares a Free Trade Agreement with the United States.  Opportunities abound for companies exporting aircraft related equipment and for providers of research and development services and technology.

# 10 – France.  Value of U.S. exports purchased in 2013: US$31.8 billion.  Known for their rich artistic tradition, ironically, French imports of U.S. artwork exceed $200 million annually.  Industrial goods such as specialty chemicals and high technology equipment from the United States enjoy strong demand in France as well.

Sources for this list include the U.S. Commerce Department which publishes superb trade data available at no cost to U.S. businesses. 

Additional country data was obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Census, and Inc. Magazine.

Importing & Exporting with Indonesia

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Continuing our focus on the global markets that offer the brightest prospects for U.S. exports and imports, we now turn our attention to Indonesia. Our previous reports had focused on the BRIC countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India and China. Subsequently, a new crop of countries known as MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria & Turkey) has arisen as drivers of future growth for U.S. businesses. MINT is an acronym originally coined by Fidelity Investments, a Boston-based asset management firm and was popularized by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs, who had created the term BRIC. The term is primarily used in the economic and financial spheres as well as in academia. Its usage has grown especially in the investment sector, where it is used to refer to the bonds issued by these governments. These four countries are also part of the “Next Eleven”. We recently profiled Mexico and identified it as a source of excellent two way trade with the United States. This month we turn our attention to the Indonesian part of MINT

Based on key metrics such as market size, growth potential and accessibility, Indonesia has emerged as a country offering strong economic growth potential. According to World Trade Organization statistics, Indonesia is the world’s 27th largest exporting country. Indonesia is also the world’s fourth most populous country after China, India, and the United States and the world’s third most populous democratic country after India and the United States. In 2009, BRIC and Indonesia represented about 42 and 3 percent of the world’s population respectively and about 15 percent of global GDP altogether. All of them are G20 countries. By 2015, Internet users in BRIC and Indonesia will double to 1.2 billion. In 2009, Indonesia was the only member of the G20 to lower its public debt-to-GDP ratio – a positive economic management indicator. U.S. companies exporting industrial machinery and equipment, chemicals and food products can benefit from opportunities in Indonesia.

From a logistics perspective, Indonesia does have some significant limitations that can adversely affect your export business. The primary issue the country faces in this regard is a weak transportation infrastructure. While Indonesia has been steadily investing in its ocean ports and diversifying traffic away from the main port of Jakarta, there is still a great deal of work to be done. Airport infrastructure in the major cities of Jakarta and Surabaya also are strong and well suited to international trade. However, poor road infrastructure can create significant challenges for U.S. exporters who are selling goods on a DDU or DDP basis. Delays in delivery times and increased costs associated with locating suitable trucks for local delivery can inflate costs thus eroding profit margins on export sales.

Another major issue that U.S. exporters must contend with, and one that poses serious obstacles to Indonesia’s growth as a desirable market for foreign goods and investment, is that of customs procedures. The basic documentary requirements for import into Indonesia are rather straightforward. Exporters must provide:

1. Airway Bill or Ocean Bill of Lading that show the actual cost of transport.

2. Commercial Invoices that clearly state the buyer and seller of goods.

3. Certificate of insurance.

4. Certificate of Origin.

Despite these clear and brief requirements, however, the potential for delays and cost overruns resulting from customs compliance issues is significant. For example, the requirement that shipping documents should state the actual cost of transport is significant as Indonesian customs charge import duties on the combined value of merchandise value and cost of transport. Exporters must be aware of this as it has a direct impact on the landed cost of their merchandise. Logistics providers should be aware of this and ensure that their documents reflect accurate charges so as to prevent their clients from unnecessarily facing excessive duties which can result in lost profits and claims from dissatisfied or “overcharged” customers.

Similarly, the accuracy of information stated on commercial invoices is of utmost importance. Discrepancies in the details of the seller, buyer or merchandise stated on invoices can cause Indonesian customs officials to withhold release of goods until corrections or amendments are made thereby resulting in additional costs such as storage, detention charges, courier costs for replacement documentation and fines or penalties for incorrect paperwork.

While the potential of Indonesia as a market for U.S. goods is significant, exporters and logistics companies must be keenly aware of the pitfalls that come with shipping to this market. Knowing these pitfalls is significant to your growth in logistics. Even with pitfalls Indonesia will be ranked seventh in GDP by 2050 according to Jim O’Neill. The country is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and a member of the G-20 major economies. Currently Indonesia has the world’s 9th largest GDP-PPP and 16th largest nominal GDP. Definitely not a market to ignore.

Container Info & Spec Sheet



Exporting to Mexico

Exporting to Mexico

MexicoContinuing our series of reports on emerging markets, we now focus our attention on Mexico as the first member of the MINT group of countries whom many believe offer the strongest growth prospects and opportunities for U.S. exporters in the years to come.

Bolstered by the existence of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), U.S. exports to Mexico reached $226 billion in 2013 making it the 2nd largest export market for U.S. goods. The leading products exported from the United States to Mexico included electrical machinery, vehicles and plastics. However, significant trade opportunities exist in sectors such as agricultural products, professional services and mineral oils and fuels.

Mexico also serves as an excellent source of imports for U.S. businesses as the country has a very strong and developing industrial base. These capabilities, combined with Mexico’s proximity to the United States have allowed it to become the country’s 3rd biggest supplier in 2013. In this respect Mexico is unique as a country that offers large export sales and import sourcing potential. Only China is similarly positioned as a vital source of two way trade with the United States.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of this two way trade is the country’s logistics and transportation infrastructure. Trucking, in particular, accounts for the largest share of U.S.-Mexico trade and as a result the country offers excellent options for overland shipping to and from the United States. Due to the substantial volume of traffic between both countries, the Mexican market can even provide very creative logistical solutions such as consolidated shipping across various industry segments resulting in a more favorable logistics cost structure.

Despite the well-developed logistics capabilities that Mexico has, there are some parts of the cross-border shipping process which can cause problems for U.S. exporters. For example, when cargo crosses the border by truck, there may be multiple intermediaries (transporters, customs brokers, etc.) who are involved in the clearance and handling of your cargo. As a result, it can be difficult at times to obtain proper tracking & tracing information on cargo entering Mexico. Working with a logistics service provide that not only has the tracking tools in place, but also maintains a system of careful oversight can help mitigate this problem considerably.

An additional source of trouble for U.S. exporters can arise in working with Mexican customs. Mexican customs brokers face significant regulatory compliance standards and the entries they submit are subject to scrutiny long after a shipment has cleared the border. In fact, Mexican customs can request data on shipments going back up to 5 years. This is significant because any mistakes in classification of cargo or improper filing of a customs entry can result in future shipments being held at the border due to past non-compliance. The upside to this is that a high quality, reputable Mexican customs broker is absolutely invaluable and U.S. companies who are required to arrange customs clearance should ensure that they hire the right parties or work with a logistics provider who has collaboration with a strong Mexican broker. Proper attention to this detail will ensure long term success in terms of export sales and profitability in the Mexican market.

Shippers of small lots of cargo will continue to find the Mexican marketplace to be challenging. While large, full truckload (FTL) shipments are easy to coordinate cross border, or even within Mexico, the market for less-than-truckload (LTL) is considerably underdeveloped and as a result service levels are spotty at best. In order to offset some of the risks posed to your freight by this dearth of service options, U.S. companies should consider working with specialists in the Mexican market who often have larger volume and can combine loads into a dedicated full truck. This practice is used by some of the largest companies doing business in Mexico and it allows multiple companies to access the safety and reliability of a full truck while also offsetting the hidden costs of wasted space and underutilized capacity.

Insurance liability is another key attribute of the export process to Mexico that can pose significant challenges. Mexican insurance regulations are extremely favorable to the transporter of goods, and as a result, relying solely on a carrier’s coverage is not likely to offer sufficient protection to a U.S. company in the event of loss or damage of goods. Additionally, collecting insurance compensation within Mexico is not an easy process and is often unsuccessful. Companies who currently have a global insurance coverage in place are advised to utilize it for their trade with Mexico. Smaller companies who may not have a global policy should consult with an insurance broker to make sure that their exports to Mexico are properly covered for loss, theft or damage.

Mexico offers excellent opportunities for U.S. exports and imports due to its proximity to the United States, its strong manufacturing and transportation sectors and a good labor and consumer market. Companies should consider this market as a source of growth opportunity in years to come and prepare for the challenges and rewards that it offers accordingly.

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Supply Chain Metrics as a Predictor for your Business

Supply Chain Metrics as a Predictor for your Business 

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As supply chain and logistics have transformed from afterthoughts of the business process to areas of preeminent concern, companies have adopted a variety of metrics to analyze their performance. The impact of supply chain reliability has been tested in recent years by events ranging from the latest iPhone introductions by Apple to the scarcity of gasoline in New York City after Super Storm Sandy. While these events occur on a massive scale, the key to successful execution lies in proper planning and measurement of a company’s supply chain and logistics processes. Outside of emergency events, supply chain metrics can be key predictors of future cash flow, profitability, market share, brand equity and many other variables that are crucial to an organizations success.

Some key elements of the supply chain that businesses of all sizes should be concerned with include the following:

  1. Backorder reporting – this metric essentially keeps track of the number of orders a company is not fulfilling due to lack of product. While the causes for backorders can vary from lack of raw materials to insufficient production, logistics professionals need to be aware of this information as it directly influences key transportation decisions such as mode of transport (air vs. ocean), cost of transportation (expedited vs. consolidated), and logistics budgeting (how much will your company spend to get goods to market in order to alleviate backlogs or backorders).
  2. Cycle Time – While often associated with manufacturing, the concept of cycle time applies to every business function. For logistics professionals key measurements such as “Order Promised” cycle time or “Order Actual” cycle time are important. Both of these measurements ultimately hinge on the ability of a company’s logistics process to deliver goods their customers. The impact of delays on customer satisfaction, cash flow/cash realization and brand reputation are significant and mode of transport is the final leg in the process.
  3. On Time Shipping/Delivery – This is an obviously crucial element of the logistics process, but there are a number of different ways to analyze it and its impact on an organization. To begin with, logistics decision makers should decide what they really want to measure. For example, a 99.9% on time transit rating of your logistics provider could apply to airport-to-airport transit time only, or perhaps the reporting is only accounting for the transit time from the moment cargo is received at the logistics providers warehouse, thus eliminating the time for booking processing, inland haulage and other elements from the process. In the ocean freight business for example, transit times are almost always quoted on a port-to-port basis. However, the shipper needs to be aware of lead times for haulage, close out times at the port and unloading time at destination.
  4. Transportation Metrics – There is a large amount of data that goes into transportation analysis. What’s relevant to your supply chain can vary based on your geographical location and markets, modes of transport and specific commodities. However, all logistics professionals will find themselves directly concerned with concepts such as “Freight Cost per Unit Shipped”, “Claims as a Percentage of Freight Costs” and “Transit Time” to name but a few. An understanding of these elements will help logistics decision makers understand the true cost of logistics and to avoid hidden costs that are often overlooked when the logistics buying process is based on price alone.

One key element that is a precursor to implementing these or any metrics is proper planning. Taking the time to understand what your firm actually wants to measure and why that’s important is necessary. In order for a logistics process to be successful, logistics decision makers must also be ready to share their plans and strategies with their logistics providers in order to ensure the metrics are met and the goals of supply chain efficiency are realized.


The Importance of Getting the Paperwork Right

Logistics Planning

The Importance of Getting the Paperwork Right 

There is no question that pre-planning and making sure everything is addressed ahead of time is the key to successful international shipping. Those who try to manage cargo movement without taking the time to address these seemingly bureaucratic issues will quickly find themselves being stymied and losing money as material sits for months on end at the first port of entry. Here are some time-tested tips on how to handle the paperwork successfully:

Different Country, Different Documentation Requirements – Every country’s government, even the smallest one, has some kind of regulation on what comes through its ports into the country. This is often a means by which the government can raise revenue through tariffs (import duties) or control competition at home (blocking competitors from shipping in or restricting them to a costly level). That regulation includes a list of documents that must be presented, including the cargo manifest, commercial invoices, certificates of origin and others. Fortunately, most countries make known what’s required ahead of time. Not providing these documents is just asking for a delay.

Make sure the documents can be read – If going into a country that speaks Spanish, English shipping documents aren’t going to help much. A copy should be prepared ahead of time in the destination country language. This expedites the review and eliminates delays due to not understanding what’s being shipped. It also helps avoid filing mistakes that could result in higher fees and tariffs.

Where possible go electronic – Most modern countries have the ability to take shipping documents electronically. This allows mistakes and issues to be spotted way ahead of the shipment arriving, giving time to sort out issues. It also improves transmission and proper receipt of shipping documents by the port authorities.

Double-check records regularly – Whenever possible implement a process whereby paperwork is checked over regularly, no matter how experienced export documentation personnel may be at preparing the shipping documents. This ensures that even the hardest to see mistakes are usually caught ahead of time instead of by a port authority.

Don’t Take Someone’s Word for It –

It's all good!Always confirm in writing that shipping documents have been received and are approved by a port authority. Relying on someone’s word only is a amateur mistake, and most port authority personnel shake their head at how often this error still occurs. It’s also usually a source of fraud if handled through a third party who disappears after the fee is paid for brokering services. By confirming ahead of time if things are in order, mistakes or corrections can be made early, well before a shipment arrives. That saves time as well as money in deliveries.

If all of these requirements sound like more risk than you are willing to take, then bring in a professional service that can manage this entire process for you. Companies like us have the ability to manage your shipments through our logistics process which we ensure aligns with your process as well as the import regulations of the country we are shipping into. As always, don’t be penny wise and dollar foolish when it comes to your logistics.

What You Need to Know When Transporting Lithium Cells

What You Need to Know When Transporting Lithium Cells

lithium-battery-labelIt is estimated that more than a billion lithium ion cells are shipped annually, and with good reason. These batteries are found inside almost every piece of technology that we consider indispensable: cell phones, laptops, MP3 players, cameras, etc. More lightweight and inexpensive than other types of battery technology, it’s no surprise that lithium ion batteries are a frequent choice for use in our everyday devices.

But these types of batteries also come with serious restrictions to consider when shipping. Recent stories of batteries and the devices they come in catching fire or exploding during the shipping process have brought extra attention from regulatory agencies on how and when these items are shipped. If you are in the business of shipping these batteries or the devices that use them, keep these three issues in mind:

1.  There are few exceptions to the regulations. Always assume that your goods are the rule, not the exception. Regulations surrounding lithium ion batteries apply to most situations, including: batteries packed and shipped as individual items; batteries shipped in the same box as a device; and batteries installed in a device. You may have heard that certain batteries are exempted based on size or power rating. This may not be the case, so always assume that your goods will fall under the restrictions and act according to the regulatory requirements for shipping.

2.  Cell testing is an almost universal requirement. With very few exceptions, lithium ion cells must be tested to see if they meet with United Nations standards. This type of testing will mimic actual transportation conditions and assess the safety of the cells during shipping. Additionally, once cells are built into actual batteries, they may be subject to subsequent testing. Obtaining proof of compliance with the UN specifications remains one of the most difficult challenges for shippers of Lithium Ion batteries and is nearly impossible to obtain for secondary shippers or resellers of goods using Lithium Ion batteries.  This poses substantial problems for freight forwarders who are trying to satisfy customer demand to move the goods while remaining compliant with the law.

3.  Proper packing standards must be followed. In order to ship lithium ion cells and batteries, proper packing protocol must be observed.  Penalties for failure to comply with the law can be in the tens of thousands of dollars per package. If you are found to be willfully in violation of the packing standards—that is, aware of the deficiency in light of the regulations—you may even be subject to criminal prosecution.

If you are shipping lithium ion cells, whether as part of batteries inside of other devices or individually, you need to ensure that you are following regulations for safety. By working with an experienced shipping logistics provider, you can be sure that your packages will be in compliance and save yourself from time-consuming and costly headaches down the road.