The configuration of value chains is related to the market segments they are servicing and to what extent consolidation and economies of scale are achievable.
- One-to-one. Involves supply chains characterized by a few large suppliers and consumers, such as for energy and mining products. This allows for economies of scale, the usage of high capacity conveyances (rail and maritime shipping relying on massification), and dedicated infrastructure and terminals to support this massification of flows. The enduring challenge remains empty backhauls.
- One-to-many. Involves manufacturing and distribution supply chains where a large generator of freight is supplying a number of customers. In the manufacturing sector, this is particularly the case for the distribution of automobiles from an assembly plant. Economies of scale can be organized if loads are deconsolidated in proximity to the destination. For freight distribution involving a distribution center, it is possible to consolidate freight through a delivery route that can involve several stores. This is also the distribution strategy followed be last-mile deliveries, such as for e-commerce.
- Many-to-one. Relates to supply chains where a number of smaller suppliers are interacting with a large customer using a large number of parts or finished goods. Flows can be consolidated through a hierarchy of stages and terminals along the transport chain, but economies of scale are difficult to achieve. This often favors the setting of a manufacturing cluster since the suppliers and customers are in proximity with shorter empty backhauls. Hub-and-spoke manufacturing districts are typical examples where a large manufacturer supports an ecosystem of smaller suppliers. Such as structure is also found in the retail sector where large chains are using import centers collecting the deliveries of a large number of suppliers.
- Many-to-many. Involves heterogeneous supply chains where a multiplicity of small to medium size suppliers and customers are interacting. Economies of scale are difficult to realize, but containerization allows supply chain to work efficiently when the cargo of multiple suppliers (exporters) can be consolidated at a container terminal. Such supply chains have also shown the propensity to cluster, such as for Marshallian industrial clusters.