All modes were not created equal, so take the phrase “mode neutral” out of your vocabulary.
The recent focus on time and cost without consideration of the transportation mode employed has taken us down the pathway to ruin. OK, maybe there's time to avoid the precipice.
Ask yourself whether your loss and damage claims have gone up in recent years — and include OS&D (over, short & damage) on inbound. When your company responded to customer requests for less packaging waste, did the compromise put product more at risk during handling and shipping? Did your own requirements create similar effects in shipments from your suppliers?
Can you identify whether damage was higher with truckload shipments or intermodal shipments? Do you know if more goods arrived broken when you shipped less-than-truckload? Can you describe the different forces that create stress on an air shipment that don't affect ground modes?
Each transportation mode has physical characteristics that affect your ability to deliver product to your customer on time, damage free and at a reasonable cost. The forces of acceleration, pitch, yaw, temperature and even air pressure interact with your product and your packaging, and affect your ability to satisfy customer requirements and your own cost controls if they aren't balanced with packaging, loading and bracing techniques.
The number of stops your goods make and how many times your shipments are handled through the transportation process will also show up in damage, loss, time and cost. The sophistication (or lack thereof) in handling during the move also shows up in shipment accuracy, timeliness and the delivered condition.
Are your shipments subjected to the additional rigors of automated handling systems at sortation hubs? Or do they suffer at the hands of dock workers who handle and load the shipments without benefit of material handling equipment?
The quality of the workforce employed by carriers, which may be a factor of who's available and willing to work at industry wage levels, is just as critical to the overall performance of a mode. A driver shortage, low pay and poor working conditions can all work against you by reducing the quality and professionalism of the people who handle your product and deliver on your promises to your customers.
As if to underscore these differences, U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection set different requirements for each mode for prenotification on imports and exports. Further, if you ship on an airway bill but the goods actually move by truck, Customs says the import or export notification requirements are guided by the actual mode.
Shippers need to avoid surprises by keeping in touch with transportation arrangements. If you didn't package for air shipment or your product carries a “cargo only” restriction by air, you can't always rely on your intermediary to recognize all of the nuances of your logistics requirements. You don't want to learn that you need to strengthen your packaging after the truckload shipment you tendered moved by rail and arrived damaged.
Mode selection will drive a number of requirements up and down your supply chain, from packaging to documentation, and even security. You can't afford a hands-off attitude, so forget the idea that mode doesn't matter.