What’s an LCL?

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Freight companies combine cargo from multiple requesters to fill shipping containers and control costs. Less than container load (LCL) shipments are more expensive but necessary for sensitive or perishable items. LCL and less-than-load shipments are options for smaller or urgent cargo.

Freight companies operate by shipping cargo in individual packages or in fully stocked metal containers. The rear part of 18 wheels or semi-semi is a metal box called a container. The container can be shipped via truck, train or sea. A less than container load, or LCL, shipment occurs when a specific shipper consigns a truck or other cargo ship to ship the product alone in a container that is not completely full.

Since a standard shipping container can hold dozens of pallets of cargo, the freight company typically combines cargo from multiple requesters to fill the vessel. This helps you control the cost of shipping each piece of freight. The total cost at unloading, or the cost to move a load from one destination to another, is directly affected by fuel costs.

The more densely packed the container, the lower the cost of moving an individual piece of freight. This is affected by the cost of fuel to haul the load, the cost of labor to drive or haul, and wear and tear on the vehicle. When a company chooses to ship less than the container load freight, the total cost is divided only by the number of pieces shipped, which in turn increases the cost per piece.

While it is more expensive to ship using the smaller-than-container load process, there are times when it is necessary. If, for example, the material is sensitive to weather changes, such as electronic devices, or is perishable in the case of food items, it may need to be shipped immediately, regardless of whether the container is full. Critical customer requirements may also require a shipment that is less than the container load.

Very often, super critical shipments are sent via air transport, which is even more expensive than ground. If the product is physically large or heavy, a shipment that is less than the container load may be a less expensive option and still get the product to its destination on time. Ultimately, shipping costs for a smaller container are weighed against how long the product needs to arrive to determine what to do.

Smaller than freight shipments are also sometimes used. Similar to less-than-container shipments, a less-than-load shipment occurs when railcars are shipped without being completely full. This most often occurs when there is livestock, such as cattle, that need to be transported immediately but may not completely fill a wagon. In this situation, the cargo must reach its destination within a specified timeline, regardless of the cars’ charge level.

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