This month, in our series on primary LTL operational functions, we will address the next operational step after the P&D pickup, the dock operation. Carrier dock cost is one area where a shipper can have a significant impact on carrier cost. Key factors that affect dock cost include the handling units of the shipment (number of cartons/pieces or pallets) and the number of times a shipment must be transferred in its movement from shipper to consignee. For example, a shipment consisting of two pallets versus 300 loose cartons greatly reduces the actual shipment dock cost.

    In all dock operations, the primary objective is to minimize the shipment handling frequencies and the travel time/distance of moving the shipment from the unloading trailer door to a loading trailer door. In most cases, the shipment will be transferred directly from the pickup unit at the origin terminal to the linehaul trailer, which is known as a cross-dock operation. However, if the shipment is of significant weight, cube, or handling units and the carrier has properly planned by picking up the shipment on a linehaul trailer and loading in the nose of the trailer, then a transfer of the shipment may not be required at the origin service center. In trucking lingo, this is known as a headload. The carrier simply unloads the trailer down to the headload and then fills the trailer with other shipments for the linehaul movement. This is why it is critical that shippers provide accurate information when notifying carriers about a large shipment for pickup. Carriers have operational planning systems that develop linehaul trailer projections based on shipments tendered or picked up. Big shippers that load spotted trailers at their dock can also greatly assist carriers by doing what is known as breakbulk directional loading. The closed trailer is moved directly to the first breakbulk service center, which eliminates all origin dock cost.

    Breakbulk service centers are typically a carrier’s largest door facilities with many having over 100 doors. Old Dominion Freight Lines recently expanded their Indianapolis, IN breakbulk facility from 223 doors to 325. When you have a dock platform this large, reduced dock travel distance is imperative for an efficient operation. Carriers utilize planning tools that track each shipment’s next scheduled dock loading door location and strategically designate the unloading door for the inbound trailer in order to reduce the dock travel distance. 

    Service center dock operations are made up of three types: inbound, outbound, and possibly breakbulk. As mentioned earlier, outbound operations are typically a cross dock, but the inbound and breakbulk are usually a combination of cross dock and floor staging for freight rehandling. Inbound staging facilitates the sequence loading and routing of the P&D delivery unit, while staging in the breakbulk allows the dockman on long haul linehaul lanes to maximize trailer cube utilization. 
    Carrier dock metrics include measurements as simple as shipments per hour, or industrial engineered time standards based on dock size, number of handling units, and average weight per piece. Dock operations at the major carriers utilize bar code scanners to process each shipment’s dock movement and trailer location.

    Consult your carrier representative for ways that you can help to reduce their dock cost and improve your pricing. In the next article I will discuss how twin trailers have revolutionized linehaul and provide operational flexibility.

    Joe Heilig is a Senior Transportation Analyst with enVista, a leading supply chain consulting and IT services firm specializing in freight audit/payment and carrier contract analysis/negotiation services that delivers significant transportation savings to their clients. Joe as been with enVista for nine years and prior served in the LTL industry for over 30 years as Director of Industrial Engineer and in management for several major LTL carriers. He specializes in conducting shipper LTL rate analysis and RFP engagements. Joe can be contacted at 803.708.8657 and