Pipelines are generally used to transport oil, natural gas, and chemicals. Two-thirds of petroleum products are transported by pipeline, including heating oil, diesel, jet fuel, and kerosene. Pipelines are costly to build, but once they are constructed, they can transport products cheaply. For example, for about one dollar you can transport a barrel of petroleum products via pipeline from Houston to New York. The oil will move three to eight miles per hour and arrive in two to three weeks depending on the size of the pipe, its pressure, and the density of the liquid. 1 Like other products, products shipped via pipelines often have to be moved using two different transportation modes. Once your barrel of oil has made it to New York, to get it to service stations, you will need to move it by rail or truck. The material in pipelines can also be stolen like other products can. In Mexico, for example, drug gangs have tapped into pipelines in remote areas and stolen millions of dollars in oil. 2
Companies face different tradeoffs when choosing transportation methods. Which is most important? Speed? Cost? Frequency of delivery? The flexibility to respond to different market conditions? Again, it depends on your customers.
Goya Foods has many challenges due to the variety of customers it serves. The company sells more than 1,600 canned food products. Because the types of beans people prefer often depends on their cultures—whether they are of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican descent, and so forth—Goya sells thirty-eight varieties of beans alone. Almost daily, Goya’s truck drivers deliver products to tens of thousands of U.S. food stores, from supermarket chains in Texas to independent mom-and-pop bodegas in New York City. Delivering daily is more costly than dropping off jumbo shipments once a week and letting stores warehouse goods, says the company’s CEO Peter Unanue. However, it’s more of a just-in-time method that lets Goya offer stores a greater variety and ensure that products match each store’s demographics. “Pink beans might sell in New York City but not sell as well in Texas or California,” says Unanue. 3
Some firms store products until their prices increase. A distribution center is a warehouse or storage facility where the emphasis is on processing and moving goods on to other parts of the supply chain. Warehousing products regionally can help a company tailor its product selection to better match the needs of customers in different regions. Logistics refers to the physical flow of materials in the supply chain. Not all goods and services need to be physically transported. Some are directly given to customers or sent to them electronically. Products that need to be transported physically to get to customers are moved via, air, rail, truck, water, and pipelines. The transportation modes a firm uses should be based on what its customers want and are willing to pay for.
- How do warehouses and distribution centers differ?
- What is cross-docking and why might a company choose to cross-dock a product?
- What kinds of products can be delivered electronically? What kinds need to be physically transported?