Photo: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, 2005
Factory output, particularly in the light manufacturing sector, is commonly stacked on pallets that can be handled with minimal capital investment (forklift, loading bays). Pallets are convenient for goods that are relatively heavy as they are designed to be handled by forklifts. These pallets are then loaded on trucks and delivered to customers. If long-distance trade and intermodal transportation are involved, pallets are commonly loaded into containers after being consolidated into load units. This process can occur right at the factory, at a distribution center, or a container freight station (CFS) such as the one depicted above, the APL Logistics Freight Distribution Center, located in Shenzhen, China. APL (American President Lines; the term is always used as an acronym since the company is no longer owned by American interests; it is owned by the Singapore maritime shipper Neptune Orient Lines which is the world’s 6th largest container shipping company).
This distribution center is at the intermediate stage of global commodity chains after manufacturing has taken place, but only early in the distribution process and well before retailing to the final consumer. A wide variety of locally produced goods are consolidated in the distribution center into container batches bound for the nearby port (Yantian). The warehouse is organized as a cross-docking distribution center where freight (on pallets or not) is delivered on one side, sorted, assembled, palletized, stuffed, and shipped on the other side into containers (commonly 40 footers). The goods stay in the warehouse for a few days at most and often for less than 24 hours.