Truckload shipping is the movement of large amounts of homogeneous cargo, generally the amount necessary to fill an entire semi-trailer or intermodal container. A truckload carrier is a trucking company that generally contracts an entire trailer-load to a single customer. This is as opposed to a less-than truckload (LTL) company that generally mixes freight from several customers in each trailer. One advantage Full Truckload (FTL) carriers have over Less than Truckload carriers is that the freight is never handled en route, whereas an LTL shipment will typically be transported on several different trailers.
Full truckload carriers normally deliver a semi trailer to a shipper who will fill the trailer with freight for one destination. After the trailer is loaded, the driver returns to the shipper to collect the required paperwork (i.e. Bill of lading, Invoice, and Customs paperwork) and depart with the trailer containing freight. In most cases, the driver then proceeds directly to the consignee and delivers the freight him or herself. Occasionally, a driver will transfer the trailer to another driver, who will drive the freight the rest of the way. Full Truckload (FTL) transit times are normally constrained by the driver's availability according to Hours of Service regulations and distance. It is normally accepted that Full Truckload drivers will transport freight at an average rate of 47 miles per hour (including traffic jams or queues at intersections).
Because truckload carriers are asked to ship a wide variety of items, a truckload carrier will often specialize in moving a specific kind of freight. Some carriers will primarily transport food and perishable items, whereas others may specialize in moving poisonous and hazardous materials. Carriers will only transport specific freight because different equipment and insurance is needed for the different kinds. There are also federal laws stating which types of freight can be shipped together in the same trailer.
Freight is usually loaded onto pallets for unit loads. Sturdy shipping containers such as crates or corrugated fiberboard boxes are commonly used. Carriers have published tariffs that provide some guidance for packaging. Packaging engineers design and test packaging to meet the specific needs of the logistics system and the product being shipped.
Truckload shipments are sometimes broken down into individual containers and further shipped by LTL or express carriers. Packaging for TL often needs to withstand the more severe handling of individual shipments. A typical full truckload for a dry van trailer consists of 24 standard pallets of cargo that weighs up to 42,000 lbs. (or more).
When the American Interstate Highway System expanded in the 1950s, the trucking industry took over a large market share for the transportation of goods throughout the country. Before this time era, trains had been relied on to transport the bulk of the goods across the country. The Interstate Highway System allowed for merchandise to travel door to door much more easily. Since that time, truckload carriers have taken advantage of the interstate system to transport merchandise across the country. They typically will bring the merchandise from the distribution center in one area of the country to a distribution center in a different part of the country. The increase in truckload freight transportation has reduced the amount of time it takes to transport the goods where the freight was manufactured or produced to the different areas around the nation.
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- McKinlay, A. H., "Transport Packaging", IoPP, 2004
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