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Shipping Companies as Supply Chain Facilitators?

by Gray Rinehart

The thought occurred to me when reading a June news item from the UK — Collaboration in supply chain can cut fuel bills — that shipping companies could, if they wanted to, re-brand themselves as facilitators of entire supply chains.

(The author has a soft spot for Freightliner trucks, since he drove an old cabover Freight when he was in the USAF. Image: “freightliner-trucks-07,” by David Guo, from Flickr under Creative Commons.)

According to the article, panelists at the International Festival of Business “looked at the possible benefits of collaboration across various supply chain disciplines, including training, driver standards and supporting end customers.” Part of the discussion concerned the skills of drivers, as one panelist observed that

the difference between best and average drivers was worth £3,000 in fuel efficiency alone – and if those drivers were up-skilled to be more effective, the total fuel savings would equate to four times the operating profit of the entire road transport industry.

The issue of collaboration to achieve greater success goes beyond driver training, though, and even beyond the promise of Daimler’s self-driving trucks.

I agree that collaboration has tremendous benefits, more than most companies ever explore or even admit, but what struck me was the possibility that transportation companies — especially if they are large enough — may be in a good position to help their customers optimize their supply chains. How many shipping companies employ supply chain experts who consult with their manufacturing clients on their shipping and receiving needs? A service like that, especially if it evaluated and offered a wide enough variety of shipping options, could help manufacturers reduce the risk of disruptions and achieve the most effective and efficient means of meeting their supply transit needs, which could help ensure their businesses’ health and longevity — and thereby improve the shippers’ own long-term business prospects.

Combine that inbound-shipping optimization with the ability to handle outbound shipments — including drop shipping — and transportation companies would be well-positioned for the future.

What do you think? If you’re a manufacturer, would you appreciate a shipping company helping you optimize your supply chain? If you’re a shipper, have you ever worked with a client to examine the whole of their needs, or collaborated with another shipper to meet clients’ needs at a minimum overall cost?

Other Interesting Items:
The 10 countries most vulnerable to supply chain disruption
Intel removes ‘blood chips’ from supply chain
Board Game Seeks to Transform Supply Chain Learning

Meet the Author

Gray Rinehart

Gray Rinehart spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, during which he refurbished space launch facilities, fought rocket propellant fires, commanded the Air Force’s largest satellite tracking station, and did other interesting things. Gray spent 6 years with the North Carolina MEP Center, and has been a contributing editor for Baen Books since 2007. He is an author of fiction and nonfiction, and his web site is Connect with Gray on LinkedIn at on Twitter at

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