Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

Don’t Wait for Dwell Time to Delay Your Freight

Even containers don’t like to wait in line. Dwell time—the amount of time a container remains parked in a marine terminal waiting to be picked up after it’s been offloaded from a vessel—is a drag on supply chain efficiency, especially when it becomes excessive. Rising container volumes, fluctuations in demand, and the constant need for just in time inventory have increased the impact of dwell time over recent years.

It’s unlikely that the problem will disappear or even improve markedly any time soon, but there are ways to minimize the instances where a container outstays its welcome at a port.


Proactive moves

The issue is attracting attention on the U.S. West Coast. As reported recently by Supply Chain Management Review (SCMR), the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMA) is analyzing container dwell time at all 12 international container terminals in the San Pedro Bay area. In addition to the usual causes, the problem has gotten worse of late because the bankruptcy of Hanjin shipping line caused many boxes to be abandoned on West Coast port terminals as well as ports around the world.

Here are three ways that shippers and beneficial cargo owners can mitigate the risk of excessive dwell time in any port.

Establish excellent network connectivity. Real-time, or near real-time connectivity to key logistics partners in the extended supply chain helps to prevent delays that can inflate dwell time. For example, customs brokers should keep you informed on container arrival times, so you can make sure that everything is in place to smooth the way for rapid clearance of the box. Full visibility into the status of a container moving through a port helps you to speedily address snafus that impede its progress. Also, you can notify truck drivers of delays to minimize the time a truck is waiting at the terminal for a box. A transportation management system (TMS) can be used as a communications hub to maintain a high level of supply chain connectivity.

Navigate around the problem. When a port delay looks likely, use your TMS to reroute the shipment to nearby terminals or ports to avoid delays. Expediting freight from port to end customer can become costly, especially for low-margin product.

Review global trade management processes. When these processes are not performing well—for instance, when customs filings are inaccurate or the required paperwork is delayed—the likely outcome is increased dwell time as the container sits waiting to be cleared by customs authorities.

Better data ahead

Obtaining detailed statistics on dwell time at different ports can be challenging—but this situation could improve soon. SCMR reports that the PMA analysis examines the weighted average dwell time in both days and longshore shifts in the ports under review. The organization plans to publish this data monthly.

According to SCMR, the PMA’s first report shows that most containers are picked up within three days of arrival, but there are a number of containers that stay too long.

Such reports will provide another measure of port efficiency, since dwell time indicates how efficient a port is in moving cargo through its terminals and locating boxes in stacks when a vehicle is waiting to pick up containers. The data will also be a valuable input for TMS solutions.

For more tips on how you can circumvent supply chain disruptions, download our white paper, Add Resilience to Supply Chains.