The National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) system has stood the test of time, serving the freight transport industry well for decades because of its thorough approach that takes density, handling, liability, and stowability into account when classifying items.
Every good system needs to evolve and grow with the times to remain effective, which is why the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) used its most recent membership meeting to convene a panel of shippers, carriers, and third-party logistics providers (3PLs) to consider how the system can and should evolve in positive ways.
The panel didn’t let us down, and we want to share with you here some of what they suggested.
All three groups favor moving toward classifications that put more emphasis on density. This simplifies the process for shippers and 3PLs, and makes more economic sense for carriers.
Moving in this direction would involve several initiatives, including:
Many carriers have already invested in dimensioners, and a long-haul carrier usually has a payoff period of only a few weeks for them because of the volume they haul. Shippers on the other hand are less inclined to make such investments because it will take them longer to see the payoff.
At the same time, we know that getting the density of each handling unit into a bill of lading is more complicated than some shippers and 3PLs realize, and for that reason we believe most would be more satisfied with the current system if we can make it easier for them to arrive at the proper classification every time.
In addition to the emphasis on density, the group saw several other opportunities to simplify the overall system. They include:
A user-friendly interface to ClassIT, the digital edition of the NMFC book. The group wants to see an interface that would make it easier to search capabilities and functionalities, and to make overall navigation of the system more intuitive.
Better collaboration between all stakeholders. The group emphasized that if all parties who use the NMFC throughout the various parts of the freight lifecycle – including shippers, 3PLs, carriers and NMFTA – would collaborate more closely and regularly, it would help keep the NMFC a more valuable tool for better freight management. In order to facilitate this, NMFTA is being proactive in reaching out to shipper publications to ensure that shippers are up to speed on matters such as disposition, supplements and docket dates.
The process of streamlining the NMFC is necessarily very comprehensive. We do this three times a year and each change brings about extensive information to report. Often that is far more information than shippers, 3PLs, and carriers have time to pore through.
A more streamlined system—providing personalized notifications to recipients when the changes directly affect their product types and operations—would make it easier for everyone to keep up on things.
The group also encouraged us to provide clear guidelines for shippers, 3PLs, and carriers on how, when, and where they should access supplements related to the NMFC and any changes we are making. The idea is to simplify access and clarify the supplements so people can stay abreast of developments without having to work so hard to figure out what’s going on.
Because it is so thorough and comprehensive, the NMFC is a complex system. Offering some stronger education on the system to all users—but especially to shippers—would go a long way.
The panel suggested two possible approaches to this. One is to develop comprehensive training programs that cover the basics of the system, as well as its changes and how to navigate the system effectively. The second is to place notifications in shipper-related publications so shippers can stay better informed through channels they already engage.
NMFTA is eager to explore the panel’s recommendations and determine where we can move forward. This is consistent with our already existing commitment to “reimagine classification” by streamlining and simplifying the process. Keeping shippers up to speed by working through their industry media and through other means helps keep everyone up to speed on what’s happening.
We have been doing all of this for the past several years. Finding out from this panel how to do it even better will help NMFTA do even more to keep the NMFC the best freight classification system in the industry.
We look forward to keeping everyone informed as we move ahead.