Most of the world’s supply of fuels and essential commodities are transported each day using bulk shipping. Anytime a freight train passes, one can get a sense of just how much bulk freight is moved around the country. Of the dozens of freight cars that pass, boxcars carry palletized goods like paper, lumber, and packaging; grain hoppers carry dry bulk goods like wheat, barley, rice, and sugar; centerbeam cars allow for the transportation of lumber and building supplies; open-top hoppers ship commodities like coal, copper, rock, and sand; and tank cars haul things like chemicals, petroleum, asphalt, and water. 


Bulk freight carriers haul all sorts of essential goods over roadways, too. Tanker trucks pump fuel into the underground tanks at truck stops and gas stations. While in traffic, we might notice a cement truck’s spinning drum mixing concrete on the way to a job site. And on the highway, dry bulk trailers haul thousands of pounds of hops to a major beer manufacturer. All of these examples point to the strategic importance that bulk freight carriers have in connecting everyday people with the goods we depend on. This article provides a guide for understanding bulk logistics and explores how global shippers can optimize and manage their supply chains.


What is Bulk Freight Shipping?

Bulk freight or bulk cargo is a term used to describe shipping large quantities of goods that are loaded loosely and directly into a shipping vessel. Goods classified as bulk freight can be shipped as gas, liquid, or dry using streamlines, railcars, or specialized trucks.These goods are measured by either weight or total volume. Bulk shipments typically involve moving large quantities of material that cannot be shipped on pallets using traditional transport equipment like containers, dry vans, or reefer. There are exceptions, of course, such as scrap metal, tires (which are often floor loaded), and some automotive parts. Many beverage companies depend on bulk freight shipping when sourcing the commodities needed to manufacture their products, such as sugars, hops, and barley.


Common Types of Bulk Freight

Many industries ship bulk freight on a regular basis. Some examples of products transported by bulk freight carriers include:


  • Grains: Wheat, rice, oats, flax, rye, barley
  • Agricultural: Fertilizers, pesticides, seeds, powders, flours, starches, peanuts, corn
  • Minerals: Copper, salt, sand, gravel, coal, limestone
  • Metals: Scrap metal, ores, iron, steel coils
  • Chemicals: Natural gas, liquid nitrogen, petroleum, diesel fuels, chlorine, vinyl chloride
  • Oils: Hazardous wastes, vegetable oils
  • Liquid: Milk, water, juice, and other beverages
  • Livestock: animals, animal feed


 The Different Factors that Affect Bulk Shipping Prices

Anyone who works in logistics knows that several key factors that go toward the price paid for transportation. When shipping bulk freight, price conditions usually depend on four major components, many of which are similar to shipping LTL. Here’s a brief overview. 

The Size & Weight of the Shipment

These two factors heavily influence shipping costs for bulk freight. Shippers must obtain an accurate reading of a load’s overall size and loaded weight to determine the cost of shipment. 

Dimensional Weight

When determining a shipment’s overall density, transportation companies must calculate how much space a shipment takes up within a truck. The basic formula is to multiply the length by the width, by the height of the load, then divide this by the cubic dimension available within a vehicle. This is very similar to shipping LTL, only with bulk shipping, transportation companies usually determine whether the dimensional weight or actual weight is higher. Usually, that is the price that shippers get, the higher of the two. 


Freight Class

Every shipper and transportation company uses the federally standardized shipping classification index. The freight class number is determined by a long list of commodities assigned a National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) code by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA). Freight class considers things like product density, the type of commodity being transported, whether the commodity is hazardous or not, and how fragile the product is when being loaded and unloaded.


Total Mileage

Transportation costs usually factor in the distance traveled from shipper to receiver depending on what and where you are hauling, and whether the commodity requires specialized transport.


Challenges Shippers Face with Bulk Freight Transportation

Shipping bulk freight is a complex process involving coordinating with multiple parties, including carriers, warehouses, drivers, and the facilities where the product is getting picked up or dropped off. Most shippers who depend on bulk transport don’t have the resources necessary to manage their own fleet of trucks and equipment to source the bulk goods they require to manufacture their goods. Instead, they usually outsource their transportation to third-party providers who specialize in bulk freight transportation solutions. Zengistics, for example, has made a name for itself as a single-source logistics provider that helps beverage and drinks companies obtain the bulk ingredients needed in crafting wines, hard spirits, water, and teas.


One of the principal benefits of partnering with a company that ships bulk freight is its ability to source capacity when it’s needed most. Capacity and equipment can become scarce during seasonal periods in shipping. And regardless of the type of commodity shipped using your bulk transport, 3PLs like Zengistics have the advantage of being able to tap into a national network of vetted carriers that offer specialized bulk transport, assuring that capacity will be available to safely transport their bulk shipments.


The general cost involved in hauling bulk freight is another factor that challenges shippers on a regular basis. That is why partnering with a provider that offers tailored transportation is important. Poor route optimization is one of the biggest hidden costs of transporting bulk freight. When shippers work with third-party providers, they should consider whether the company they choose provides a tech platform that helps shippers reduce waste and cut down their transportation costs. Through technological advances, shippers that move bulk freight can optimize their supply chain and gain end-to-end transparency to ensure their loads are delivered on time and in full.


Best Practices for Bulk Freight Shipping

When it comes to transporting bulk freight, there are multiple areas that shippers should consider to ensure that their supply chains are running as smoothly as possible. This section explores four key areas:


Choose the Right Transportation Partner

There are literally thousands of transportation companies out there that promise great service and dependability. However, shipping bulk freight requires more than a good sales pitch and a truck. Look for a partner that offers managed services and a holistic approach to logistics that creates a plan for creating scalable growth for your business. Zengistics, for example, has a proven track record for helping companies optimize their shipping lanes and lower overall costs. Partnering with tech-enabled service providers can help shippers learn about their current operations and find ways to reduce waste and operational costs.


Improved Visibility

Monitoring each load throughout the entire lifecycle of each shipment will ultimately reduce shipping delays, reduce detention costs, and improve the overall resiliency of your supply chain. Modern transportation providers like Zengistics offer shippers a customizable digital platform with complete transparency on every load. The collaborative portal provides:


  • Real-time visibility on all shipments.
  • Eliminating the need for check calls.
  • Load status updates sent via phone or email.


This portal enables shippers to streamline their supply chain and search for loads using BOL or purchase orders.


Organize Your Paperwork

Bulk freight shipping requires a ton of paperwork for each load, and it usually sits in bloated email servers, datasets on computers, or even printed out and filed in the office. Making sure that all these documents are organized effectively is important. Just ask the people who do all the invoicing at your company! Through the use of its collaborative technology platform, Zengistics helps shippers organize their paperwork, allowing them to access PODs, upload BOLs, and communicate with carrier partners. This process streamlines communication and helps manage your supply chain through a single platform.


Lower Your Operational Costs

By analyzing their current operations, bulk freight shippers can learn a lot about their internal business practices. Data analytics is empowering shippers to lower their operational costs. Through their consultative approach to logistics management, Zengistics works with shippers to help eliminate costs by optimizing shipping routes, eliminating empty miles, consolidating documents and information, and improving capacity sourcing.


The Results of Optimized Bulk Freight Shipping

Companies that partner with logistics providers that specialize in optimizing bulk freight shipping will find an array of benefits that will help businesses grow and save money. Gaining more transparency over your supply chain will inevitably improve your operations, helping to eliminate waste, reduce the labor spent on time-consuming manual processes, and enable you to expand beyond your current customer base and toward a larger market share. Optimizing your bulk freight shipping will:


  • Improve the strength of your supply chain.
  • Reduce total costs.
  • Refocus energies on customer service.
  • Gain visibility over your shipments.


How Technology and Managed Services Help Shippers in the Beverage Industry

Zengistics has developed areputation as one of the leading logistics providers in the beverage vertical. Specifically, they have designed a niche within the craft beer logistics market, helping breweries small and large accelerate their business development and consolidate their supply chains. Through Zengistics’s Managed Services, shippers gain access to best-in-class transportation management solutions that help companies achieve their desired outcomes. Combining the latest technology with its team of dedicated logistics experts, Zengistics ensures that every touch point in a load’s journey is carefully planned, monitored, and running optimally, ensuring that your shipments are delivered on time and as cost-effectively as possible.


Zengistics’ managed services have helped some beverage shippers save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Driven by their data analytics and technology, Zengistics has helped companies find cost savings through route optimization and load consolidation, helping shippers obtain a 98% or greater truck fill rate on each load.


See Why Bulk Freight Shippers Turn to Zengistics to Manage Their Supply Chain

Shipping bulk freight requires rational planning, careful coordination, and on-demand capacity to ensure loads are picked up and delivered on time. This guide has shown some of the ways that shippers benefit from analyzing their current operations, showing how it’s possible to eliminate waste and improve efficiencies within your supply chain. Zengistics focuses on the individual needs and operational requirements of its customers. And through their collaborative digital platform and a consultative team of logistics pros, Zengistics transforms howbeverage companies manage their transportation, offering the transparency and peace of mind you deserve. Learn how Zengistics can help manage your next bulk freight shipments! Connect with an expert at Zengistics today!