What is Dwell Time in Logistics?


Dwell time is the amount of time that a shipping vehicle spends at a facility while cargo is unloaded. This vehicle could be a truck, boat, cargo plane, or anything that carries inventory from one place to another. At Unilog, we help our clients reduce their dwell time for more efficient shipping processes. 

Understanding what dwell time is, why it happens, and how to prevent it are key to developing an efficient logistics strategy. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the concept of dwell time across the supply chain. 

What is dwell time and when does it happen? 

Dwell time can happen in many different types of shipping procedures. Dwell time is also sometimes referred to as “detention time”. Research indicates that average dwell times have increased in recent years. 

In ground shipping, dwell time refers to the amount of time truck drivers spend at a shipping facility waiting to deliver or pick up goods. In ocean freight shipping, this term refers to the amount of time a shipping container spends at a port before the goods are unloaded and sent out. These are the two most common uses of this term, but dwell time can also happen with air or freight shipping. 

What causes long dwell times? 

Some amount of dwell is normal in any shipping process. However, long dwell times slow your entire supply chain down and have negative repercussions throughout your business. 

There are a variety of factors that cause long dwell times. These include: 

  • Vehicle delays: It’s normal for a truck or boat to be late due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances. However, when a vehicle is late, the warehouse may not have the correct staff on hand to process the order, resulting in excess dwell time. 
  • Complex loads: Loads containing many different types of pallets take longer to pack and unpack. Shipping facilities aren’t always prepared to handle these complexities, which can result in delays. 
  • Lengthy check-in procedures: Each warehouse has its own check-in procedures that need to be completed before shipments can be unpacked. This may include signing forms or scanning barcodes. Long or complex check-ins with excess paperwork slow down the supply chain and create dwell time. 
  • High volume periods: Certain days and times are busier than others. When there are too many shipments to process at once, it leads to delays and dwell time. 

Negative effects of long dwell times

Some amount of dwell time is unavoidable and should be built into your shipping plan. However, excess dwell time has a variety of negative consequences for your organization, your shipping partners, and your end consumers. 

The biggest reason to avoid long dwell times is because they can get very expensive. Shipping companies charge a variety of fees when their carriers are left waiting. These fees can quickly add up and eat into your profits. 

On top of these fees, there are also extra costs associated with rescheduling your delivery. You’ll need to pay for additional labor as well as extra fuel for a separate delivery, both of which can be costly.

In addition to the immediate cost, there’s also the cost of potential lost sales in the future. When products arrive late, your customers may be hesitant to order from you again. Depending on how late the order is and your own company policies, you may also end up refunding the cost of shipping or the cost of the product overall to the end customer. 

Long dwell times are not only frustrating for drivers, but they can also be dangerous. Truck drivers already spend long hours on the road. When those hours are unexpectedly extended by unplanned dwell time, it can increase the risk of driving errors and even crashes. 

Additionally, long dwell times often have a negative effect on the environment. Many truck drivers will let their vehicles idle while waiting to load or unload cargo, which wastes gas and increases emissions. If your driver needs to leave and come back for a redelivery, this uses up even more gas. As organizations become more aware of environmental issues, it’s important to cut back on dwell time to reduce emissions. 

How to reduce your dwell time

There are steps you can take to reduce your dwell time and minimize delays in your shipping process. The most effective way to do this is to communicate clearly and frequently with your transportation partners. Make sure you have all of the appropriate contact information for everyone you work with and be proactive about reaching out. It’s also important to track your dwell time when it happens to identify patterns and address potential problems. 

Before a shipment goes out, both parties should clarify what to expect upon delivery. For example, if a shipment requires forklifts or other machinery to process, you should clarify this beforehand to save time upon arrival. Communicate with warehouses about which days and times are busiest and try to avoid sending shipments on these days. 

Another way to reduce delays is by keeping your orders simple and easy to process. Try to keep similar items packed together, rather than putting different types of pallets in the same order. Not only does this reduce dwell time, but it also minimizes confusion for more efficient and effective shipping. If you do need to send a complex order, try to do so at a time when deliveries are slower so you won’t need to worry about wait times. 

Another way to reduce dwell times is to ensure you’re always prepared for the delivery check-in process. If each shipment needs to be labeled, make sure that’s done properly before the shipment is sent out, rather than relying on someone else to print it out upon delivery. Look for warehouses that offer virtual check-in processes to speed things up. 

Final Thoughts

Dwell time is not only frustrating for truck drivers, but it can also have a negative impact on your business in the long term. If you’re looking to cut back on dwell time in your shipping processes, Unilog’s expert team can help. We offer global fulfillment and supply chain solutions to help you offer consistent on-time deliveries. Contact us today to learn more about our advanced fulfillment technology. 

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