When cargo is loaded into or unloaded from shipping containers or trucks, receivers and shippers have varying preferences on how their goods are handled. They either load or unload the cargo using their own labor and equipment or have this outsourced to a third party, such as a trucking company. These two methods are often referred to as “Touch Freight and No-Touch Freight”

“No-Touch Freight” means the trucker or the trucking company is not responsible for loading or unloading the cargo. This means that the shipper and receiver load and unload cargo using their own resources and equipment.

Most shippers employ the no-touch freight method as it’s more efficient since they have trained personnel and equipment to load and unload cargo. There are also various other reasons why shippers and receivers prefer a no-touch freight approach when it comes to cargo handling.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the concept of no-touch freight and explain how it works in more detail. We’ll also share the advantages and disadvantages of this cargo handling method and tips for shippers, receivers, and carriers looking to adopt no-touch freight operations. 

What Does No-Touch Freight Mean?

No-touch freight refers to cargo that doesn’t require physical handling (loading or unloading) by truck drivers through a lumper service. In essence, truck drivers are not required to “touch the freight”, which is where this concept derives its name from.

In other words, when cargo arrives by truck including, reefers, dry vans, and flatbed trailers, the shipper or receiver will utilize their own labor and equipment to complete the loading and unloading process.

This is the opposite concept of touch freight, which requires the driver to load or unload the cargo.

No-Touch Freight Operational Process Overview

The no-touch freight process begins with the shipper preparing their cargo for transportation. Therefore, initial steps usually involve packaging, labeling, and securing the shipment. 

Once completed, their carrier (trucking company) arrives with an empty truck or shipping container. Once the trucker opens the door and hands over the required documentation, the shipper proceeds to load the container using the material handling equipment (MHE) in their warehouse. The trucker does not help in the loading process.  

No-touch freight is also relevant on the other end of the supply chain. Receivers, typically consignees, order goods that arrive at their facility. Once the goods are delivered by the trucking company, the receiver organizes equipment and resources to unload the cargo from the truck or container. Similarly, the trucker is not involved in the unloading process.

Advantages of No-Touch Freight

Implementing no-touch freight into a supply chain can have certain advantages, which we will allude to in the section below.

  • Increases Driver Productivity – With no-touch freight trucking operations, trucking companies, and their drivers enjoy more productivity since they don’t have to perform labor-intensive loading and unloading. These tasks are instead managed by equipment operators (forklifts and electric pallet jacks). As a result, drivers get more rest for their next trip and can quickly move on to other deliveries after dropping and hooking trailers from different sites such as the receiver’s facilities or drop yards.
  • Ability to Haul More Cargo – No-touch freight also allows truckers to haul a greater amount of cargo, since they don’t have to dedicate time to loading and unloading. In turn, they can invest the time saved to cover more trips. 
  • Load Versatility – No-touch freight allows truck drivers to haul various types of loads since they won’t be restricted by the competency or license needed to handle special cargo like chemicals and hazardous materials, high-value cargo, or goods that have special handling requirements. Instead, they can focus on transporting cargo from one location to another, without having to load or unload it.  
  • Reduces Liabilities – Another significant advantage of no-touch freight, particularly for truckers, is reduced liabilities. With this cargo handling method, drivers are not responsible for any damages that happen to the cargo during or after the loading and unloading process.

Disadvantages of No-Touch Freight

On the other hand, there are also cons when it comes to no-touch freight. We’ve taken the time to explain them in more detail below.

  • Loading and Unloading Waiting Times – Unless the trucking company offers drop trailer programs, drivers may be subject to longer wait times for loading and unloading, especially if there’s a shortage of labor and equipment. On the other hand, shippers and receivers may have to incur additional expenses in the form of detention fees
  • Cargo Damage Disputes – Since trucking companies do not oversee the cargo handling process with no-touch freight, disputes related to trailer or vehicle damage may quickly arise since it’s difficult to provide evidence of whether the damage occurred during transit or handling. 
  • Incorrect Cargo Handling – In some cases, receivers unload the wrong cargo by mistake, even with checks in place, especially if only a portion of the goods are assigned to them (for example when trucking less-than-truck loads). As no-touch freight may involve multiple parties handling cargo, it can be highly susceptible to human error.
  • Affected By Low Demand Periods – Carriers would inevitably face times when cargo movement volume is lower than average. During this period, drivers have idle time but might not be trained or equipped to load or unload cargo. Additionally, shippers and receivers may already have prior arrangements to handle their own cargo. This could affect a carrier’s overall income as it limits their opportunities to offer additional services. 

Tips When For No-Touch Freight Operations

Are you looking to incorporate no-touch freight into your operational processes? Below are highly effective tips for carriers, shippers, and receivers looking to adopt this cargo-handling method.

For Shippers & Receivers

Shippers and receivers can benefit from the following tips when practicing no-touch freight operations:

  • Communicate Detailed Cargo Handling Instructions – Shippers and receivers should clearly communicate loading/unloading instructions to their operations team (warehouse personnel or lumper services) to ensure no time is wasted when moving cargo in and out of the truck. They should also take care of essential documentation, secure the cargo, and put labels proactively. 
  • Double-Check Cargo During Handling – They should also ensure that their cargo is loaded or unloaded optimally to minimize the risk of delays or incurring additional accessorial costs. In other words, they should check all the documents, such as packing lists, customs clearance forms, and other necessary paperwork. Furthermore, shippers and receivers are recommended to monitor and pay extra attention to ensure that the cargo that is being loaded or unloaded matches the shipment details.
  • Leverage Applicable Technologies – To accelerate processing and handling, shippers and receivers should adopt relevant technologies and equipment, including warehouse management systems, cranes, barcode scanning, forklifts, etc. Integrating advanced solutions can also reduce turnaround time and minimize or avoid detention charges. 
  • Prepare Before Arrival of Carrier – The best tip for shippers and receivers is to be more proactive in their planning. By proactively preparing operational teams and equipment for cargo arrival, they can ensure a faster, safer, and seamless loading and unloading process. 

For Trucking Companies & Drivers

Trucking companies and truck drivers can also benefit from the following tips when practicing no-touch freight:

  • Offer Drop And Hook Services – The best way to take advantage of no-touch freight operations is to offer drop trailer or drop-and-hook services whenever possible and applicable. Doing so will increase your productivity and revenue since they won’t be required to physically be at the facility during loading and unloading. The time saved can be used to pick up or drop more trailers. 
  • Invest In Tracking Systems – Secondly, as a carrier, you should equip your infrastructure with advanced software, such as transport management systems (TMS), to optimize route and scheduling planning. No-touch freight typically involves several stops in a single trip when hauling less-than-truckloads or loose cargo. Therefore, having a reliable electronic logging device (ELD) can provide real-time information related to your truck’s location, performance, and other metrics. 
  • Establish Communication Channels – Establishing and maintaining clear communication with all parties is essential for ensuring timely pick-up and delivery. Hence, carriers should employ modern channels to coordinate timings, share routes, address any issues, and provide special instructions. It is also equally important to find out the key personnel to communicate with at each facility.
  • Inspect Cargo Whenever Possible – Even though you’re not required to inspect cargo, doing so will help you avoid issues affecting delivery time. For instance, leaking or falling cargo can result in accidents and incur legal issues. So, whenever possible, inspect briefly and inform the shipper or consignor immediately if you notice any issues. 

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Andrew Lin

Co-Founder & Writer
at freightcourse

About the Author

Andrew is a multi-business owner with over 12 years of experience in the fields of logistics, trucking, manufacturing, operations, training, and education.

Being the co-founder of freightcourse has given him the ability to pursue his desire to educate others on manufacturing and supply chain topics.