Call it dull. Call it boring. But dont call logistics a dry subject anymore at least not if you want to be accurate. These days, its tough to find a supply chain that doesnt involve water and everything that goes along with it.


Since the start of the decade, many businesses have plunged headlong into international manufacturing. Some have moved their plants to the worlds factory floor in China. Others have relocated to up-and-coming venues like India and Vietnam. But most have essentially added a new element overseas transits to their supply chains.


In the process, theyve encountered a whole new world of logistics challenges that have made this decade one of the most interesting business eras to date.


Logistics Challenges

Foremost among these challenges is the lengthier nature of getting goods from point A to point B. International supply chains are typically 5,000 to 8,000 miles longer than domestic ones, a fact that inevitably leads to more complexity, longer transit times and greater challenges for the improved global manufacturing price tag.

Compounding this issue is the fact that fuel prices have risen significantly. All indications are that the worlds fuel production is peaking while its fuel consumption is rising, especially as China and India create a growing middle class and a new universe of oil consumers. 


Also affecting performance is a global malady known as transportation congestion. The logistics industry saw one of the worst bouts of it a few years ago, and although the past few years have admittedly been better, theres no guarantee that another potential meltdown isnt just around the corner. The countrys transportation infrastructure is aging and is already having periodic trouble keeping up with demand. And with transpacific shipments to the United States still on the rise (by 2010, containerized imports will be 50% higher than they were in 2005, and by 2020 theyll have doubled), this doesnt bode well for the smooth flow of internationally sourced goods.


Logistics Changes

In light of these issues, its easy to understand why vocational counselors arent likely to recommend logistics as a low-stress career option anytime soon. The stakes are higher, the expectations are more intense and the potential for managing risk is greater.

However, its just as easy to see why supply chain management could wind up becoming one of the most exhilarating fields around because the time is ripe for change and innovation. And leaders in the field are rising to the occasion with solutions that are helping to minimize total landed cost while increasing efficiency and reliability.

In the past couple of years alone, shippers have seen developments such as:

the introduction of an alternative to more expensive air freight: a fast-track, day-definite ocean transportation for less-than-containerload shipments

new Asia-to-East Coast delivery routes through the Suez Canal

the development of the first ocean-ready, 53 containers

Many shippers have also discovered the merits of previously untapped distribution strategies such as port diversification, deconsolidation and freight management. And most are more open than ever before to advanced logistics engineering techniques such as optimization and simulation.


Each of these innovations has done its part to help shippers cope with the variability and congestion that are so typical of todays supply chains. Just as importantly, theyve helped make it possible for virtually any company to better navigate the high seas and uncertain waters of todays business world.


Can a sound logistics strategy alone keep a companys international sourcing initiative afloat? Perhaps not. But one things for sure: No company should leave port without one.


Tony Zasimovich is Vice President of International Services for APL Logistics (, an international provider of supply chain services that operates nearly 25 million square feet.