Understanding the Expedited Freight Shipping Model: On Time and On The Money

May 7th, 2020

We've all heard the expression "time is money" — the expedited freight shipping model operates on exactly this principle. To expedite something is to speed it up, to get it where it needs to go faster — often overnight or within a day. Although this can cost significantly more in the short term, there are certain industries that simply cannot afford delays. 

In previous posts, we've touched on the urgency of medical specimens, supplies, and pharmaceuticals — lives may literally depend on them. Other expedited shipments may not have lives at stake, but they certainly might impact livelihoods — think of a manufacturer or construction site that needs certain parts or materials to continue a major project. Or an ecommerce retailer trying to meet a last-second demand to win over a customer. The potential profits or losses riding on these deliveries often far exceed any surcharges. 

What qualifies as expedited freight and how is it transported?

First, let's clarify what freight is — it's a shipment weighing in excess of 150 lbs., usually exceeding 4 feet in length, width, or height. It can sometimes weigh in the tons — anything 4 tons (8,000 lbs.) or more is designated "heavy" or "overweight" freight. 

Now let's talk about how we might transport it from Point A to Point B — depending on how much we have, it can be by either land, air, or sea. Over land, freight is carried by trucks, trains, or a combination thereof (intermodal). A shipper can either utilize the entirety of a truck's cargo area (full truckload, FTL, or simply "truckload"), or part of it (less than truckload, or LTL), often sharing the space with other suppliers. 

Expediting your freight eliminates as many possible stops or hang-ups carriers might experience to ensure it gets to its destination in the timeliest manner. How fast depends on how much of it there is, how complicated it is (e.g. is there any liability involved?), and the distance it must travel, but within the United States and Canada (National Logistics Network's service area), the window is typically 1-3 days. Time-critical or time-sensitive freight refers to shipments of the utmost urgency, that have an absolute deadline that they must arrive by through any means possible. 

How are expedited freight costs calculated?

Expedited or time-critical services are a premium paid on top of standard freight shipping rates, and final expenditures can vary widely per each unique situation. In LTL transportation (very common for time-sensitive shipments), an item's National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) code is a starting point. NMFC codes are assigned by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA), a non-profit fellowship of motor carriers who aim to establish fair pricing standards.

The NMFTA has designated a total of 18 different freight classes, ranging from 50 (cheapest) to 500 (costliest). NMFC codes are based on four criteria:

  1. Stowability: How well does your freight integrate within a truckload? Can it be stacked or stored easily with other goods, or does it need to be held separate (as with flammable, perishable, or hazardous items)?

  2. Liability: How much is this freight worth, and is there any danger or responsibility attached to its conveyance?  In other words, what is the risk factor of transporting it?

  3. Ease of handling: Goods that are fragile, hazardous, bulky, or awkward require more care through the supply chain, and thus are more expensive to transport.

  4. Density: How much product per volume? Calculated in pounds per cubic foot, or PFC.

Some categories of items are too dimensionally variable for a numerical NMFC code and are marked "NOI" (not otherwise indicated). Pricing for these goods is calculated by density — items that pack more weight into less space are more cost-effective to transport. 

How do logistics companies expedite freight shipments?

On-time logistics is a matter of leveraging connections and resources! A quality third-party logistics provider will coordinate closely with a diverse network of partners for the quickest, most optimized route by any means necessary — for example, if you need something shipped to Albuquerque this evening and there's a commercial flight near you leaving at noon, we'll check to see if there's space in that cargo hold! When it comes to expedited freight, it's truly an all-hands-on-deck, "if there's a will, there's a way" process. National Logistics Network gets it there for our customers, on time and intact. 

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