‘Less than truckload’ freight shipping (LTL) is a commonly-used way of transporting smaller cargoes that do not require trunking capacity of a full truck.
This represents an efficient way for moving goods around, and there are several advantages to LTL shipping to organizations looking to move smaller volumes of goods. As well as cost, these benefits can include delivery to limited access locations that may not be possible with full-truckload providers.
What is LTL trucking, how is it organized, and what are the commercial benefits? We look at the ideal use case, and where LTL shipping can bring real commercial value to organizations.
What Constitutes a Less than Truckload Consignment, and How are They Organized?
What constitutes a LTL load varies by carrier. Definitions vary, and some operate in increments of total weight, often up to a total of around 15,000 lb.
Because of this, the size of LTL loads vary. Shipping companies can consolidate different amounts of LTL cargoes onto one truck. This number varies on the shape and size of the different cargoes to be transported, but it is usually between two and six different customers’ freight in one truck.
Some trucking companies organize LTL loads into the number of pallets they are comprised of, or by poundage on those pallets. This can be a more efficient way of organizing LTL loads than by handling ‘loose’ freight packages separately.
LTL trucking is often organized with a ‘hub and spoke’ method of distribution. This involves longer haul transit from the origin point to a regional distribution center, or hub. From there, spoke operations involve more localized deliveries from the hubs to ‘spoke’ local terminals.
Spoke hubs represent the end of the line for the LTL carriers. From there, goods are often carried to their end destination by local couriers.
This means that in essence, many LTL operations involve a three-journey process from the goods’ point of origin to their final destination.
How Efficient is LTL Trucking?
From a resource perspective, LTL trucking is efficient since it maximizes available space in each truckload.
From a time-perspective, LTL consignments do take longer to reach their final destination. This can be planned into delivery schedules and is not a negative point. The distance the goods are moving does not always have a bearing on the delivery time of LTL consignments. This is because their movements are dependent on how the freight network is setup between the hub, spoke and local couriers.
It is possible that LTL consignments reach their destination on the next business day. This depends on how much sorting and re-routing it needs during its journey. For consignments or routes that will take longer depending on their distance and the logistics network, longer timeframes can be required.
However, with the right forward planning for non-perishable goods, this is not a disadvantage to many organizations. Instead, due to the resource efficiencies that are built into the LTL shipping model, it enables many firms to move goods for a fraction of the cost they would otherwise need to budget.
In comparison to exclusive trailer shipments, LTL trucking also offers other efficiency benefits. Many LTL providers offer additional extras such as the use of liftgates on collection and/or delivery. They also include the option to have goods delivered to a particular point inside a premises, and notification updates during transit.
Limited access deliveries are also possible with LTL carriers. These are not commonly available with full truckload services and can facilitate delivery to construction sites or more remote locations.
These services can often be added as optional extras, and are priced based on the units or weight of the load. Additional services such as this are often not offered by full truckload carriers.
Paying Attention to Security and Tracking
Security of goods in transit is also another major advantage that LTL shipping options offer. Because LTL shipping often works on the principle of pallet loads, goods are all moved in well-wrapped, secure units. As pallets are tightly wrapped in film, this significantly reduces the chances of tampering in-transit.
LTL loads are also known for their close tracking capabilities. With documentation such as a bill of landing number, PRO and PO numbers and shipping references, senders and recipients can closely control and plan for collection and delivery.
How are LTL Shipping Prices Calculated?
LTL shipping is generally priced depending on the origin and destination of the goods, and their dimensions. The freight class is also calculated based on what the cargo is, and how carefully it needs to be handled.
With pre-planning, different types of cargoes can also be handled in LTL trucking environments. Perishable goods, dangerous items or especially fragile loads can all be handled, but specific preparations may need to be made to accommodate them.
Faster options can also be factored into the calculations. With additional fees, cargoes can be expedited. The feasibility of this depends on the how the logistics network is comprised and how practical it is to move the goods between the hub and the spokes in faster time.
The Use Case for LTL Trucking
Firms that have requirement to ship freight above 150 lb but under approximately 15,000 lb. will find LTL shipping to be a practical and cost-effective solution. This can be for regular loads, or one-off consignments. LTL freight is a particularly good option when loads are not urgent, and do not consist of perishable goods.
When planning LTL shipments, firms should allow time to provide accurate dimensions to the carrier. This will optimize capacity, and reduce the need for adjustments to be made at a late stage. Pallets should also be constructed in a logical fashion, with larger, heavier items at the bottom and smaller, lighter goods near the top.
Because LTL truckloads are comprised of between 2-6 separate customers’ cargoes, accurate paperwork and record keeping is essential. Bills of landing provide the carriers with confirmation the goods have reached their destination, and the customer with record of the process.