History and Evolution of Transportation

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Introduction to Transportation

The transportation of goods emerged when mankind started living in communities and goods had to be distributed over the various community’s members (food, fur, building materials like forest products, clay and stones). The development of cultures resulted in transportation of raw materials over longer distances (with the help of animals like mules, elephants and small vessels) and later trade lanes connected a number of cultures. Trade enabled the separation of production and consumption area’s and so transportation developed not only for the collection of raw materials but also for finished products, both for living (food, pottery) and ostentation (show). For thousands of years men, animals, vessels and carts where the only means of transportation.

Handling techniques (as a key-element for transport technology) were developed when mankind tried to move goods much heavier than himself. The inheritance of ancient cultures shows many ingenious approaches to handle the stone blocks for pyramids, the men hirs in England, France and Portugal and largest on emonuments in South Pacific isles. Religion was the major driver behind these impressive activities, only allowed through the support of transport technology. Already thousands of years, sea transportation is the dominant mode of transport and ports developed not only as places for the transshipment of goods, but also as centre where goods were stored, refined, processed and traded. Many cities developed from an early transshipment place in to a large industrialized living centre. It is amazing how many tools and techniques were developed in the last 1000 years, to support the handling of goods both for the transportation of consumer goods and for the transportation of building materials, raw materials etc.

The industrial revolution of the 19th century generates rail transportation, which further supported a separation of production and consumption centres. The speed of transportation (so far determined by sail boat, tow boat and mail-coach) increased five-fold. In the beginning of the 20th century the arrival of automobiles and trucks contributed to better services for the transportation of (smaller) goods and after the Second World War air cargo transportation emerged, mainly for the transport for time critical (high-value) products.

Nowadays transportation is an indispensable component of our society. Globalisation could develop through the support of low-cost, high-frequent transportation between almost every place in the world. Transportation really developed as a utility in our society. In an USA-study (“vision2050”) the attitude to transportation concluded: “Transportation is the foundation of our entire economy and quality of life”.

The following major modes for the transportation of cargo can be recognized.

Sea transportation

Large-scale vessels are provided mainly for the carriage of raw materials (ore, coal, crude oil etc.). Special designs are used for half or finished products (refinery products, cement, forest products, perishable goods etc.) and many half products and consumer goods are transported in to maritime containers on container vessels in size varying from 1000 tons DWT (100TEU) until 100.000 tons DWT (8000TEU). One TEU is the space-equivalent of one twenty foot container (20’x8’x8’6”#6.05x2,44x2,59m) and vessels are designed with a carrying capacity for an average of 9-12 metric tons per TEU.

The vessel sizes are determined by the trades, their volumes and economies and a number of “natural” barriers such as the water depth of ports and entrance channels, the maximum allowed sizes through Panama canal and Suez canal, the passing height of bridges (Bridge of the Americas in Panama, Verrezano bridge New York). For some commodities special vessel designs are applied such as reefer vessels for fruit (citrus, banana’s etc), roll-on / roll-off vessels for trucks and trailers, self-discharging vessels for ore and coal etc.

Coastal services have been in use for thousands of years and will continue to be important as increasing concerns about the environment and congestion on road an rail infrastructure will support are vival of coastal services with smaller specialized vessels (500-5000DWT). Transportation speeds for sea going cargo vessels vary from 12 knots (12 nauti cal miles / hour) to 25 knots (45 km / hr).

Barge transportation

For many centuries barges (with sail sort owed by menor animals) carried cargo over rivers, inland lakes and (man-made) canals, supporting the developments in trade and industrialization on side the land water ways. Nowadays motor barges carry up to 2000 ton of cargo and the towing of barges is almost entirely replaced by push-convoys (aver .4, max .6 barges in Europe, with sometimes more than 50 barges of ± 3000 tons cargo each in one convoy on the rivers Mississippi / Missouri.

Transportation speeds are only about 20 km / hr., but the large carrying capacity, the limited environmental impact and the service-approach of barge-operators makes barge transportation attractive, even for inland container transportation.

Rail transportation

As from the middle of the 19th century rail transportation was developed firstly for passengers later for cargo (e.g. supporting the mid-and far-west developments in the USA). The one and a half-century of developments have not been very dramatically. Axle load limitations (because of the sleeper-supported track and wheel loads) and restrictions for shunting yards resulted in max. train length’s of about 700m. in Europe and cargo train speeds of 120-140 km / hr. In the USA and Australia much longer trains are exploited (up to 1.6 miles = 3km. length) although with lower speeds.

In the mining industry private companies exploit special designed equipment, sometimes carrying more than 10.000 tons per train with speeds of 50 -75 km. / hr.

Road transportation

After the second world-war, road transportation developed in to the dominant mode of transportation for inland and domestic cargo movements. In many countries more than 70% of all cargo movements are realized with road trucks, carrying pay-loads up to about 30 metric tons with average speeds of ± 75 km / hr. on the trunk routes. They offered low cost per ton km, the flexibility and reliability, the favorable ratio: payload / gross vehicle mass and the dedications of truck to their customers have resulted in a very strong position for trucking. However infrastructural limitations (congestion), environmental demands, governmental directives and regulations are now putting restrictions to further growth. Cost developments (driver, fuel) and traffic congestion (the average delivery speed in big cities has decreased to10-15 km / hr) made people aware of the limitations in road transportation.

Air cargo transportation

This is the latest mode of transportation, mainly for time-critical and / or high-value cargo. Full freighters (airplanes for air cargo only) can carry up to 130 tons of pay load with speeds of about 900 km / hr. In tons per year air cargo transportation is still in significant but value-wise, air-cargo contributes largely to high-value-commodity trades and supports the development sine-commerce (see alsopar.5).

Combined passengers and cargo transportation

Until the Second World War the combined movement of cargo and passengers was widely spread. Sea going vessels with capacity for cargo and passengers; in the early days to boat sand mail-coaches and later trains for passengers and general cargo mainly (supplies) were widely used. Only in recent decades’ freight transportation is almost completely separated from passenger’s transportation, and in Europe passenger trains have priority over cargo trains.

Congestion in large cities, a growing awareness of environmental requirements, cost developments and limitations in infrastructure will probably support is vival of combined passenger and cargo transportation, although many problems need to be solved.


The largest pipeline systems are used for the transportation of water (only in the Netherlands already 1250 mill. Tons of water per year). Second best is the transportation of gasses, oil products and chemicals (approx. 200 mill. Ton per year). The applications for pipeline transportation are numerous, however public domain applications are limited due to the limited infrastructure. In (private) manufacturing plants pipeline transportation is a widely spread, reliable and cost-effective means of transportation for liquids, gasses and powders.

Integration in transport chains

In the past, transportation links were almost autonomous. Products were accepted in the shape they were offered. Cargo handling equipment was designed to handle loads larger than man-loads and to speed up handling processes. In the last decades there came more concern about the required functionality in transportation and handling processes. The first bi-modal (cart-train; truck-train; vessel-train) transportation links showed a certain co-ordination between the means of transportation, packing of cargo and handling techniques (and related equipment); on top of that information became increasingly important to control the growing flows of cargo.

Economies and a growing dependability on the supply of goods encouraged the development of proper relationships / connections between transportation and fore going and / or subsequent processing from raw materials into finished products. Today, transportation is an integrated activity in the overall production chain from manufacturers to consumers. Every product chain (showing the creation of products from winning up to consumption and finally removal /re-use) has many stages of transportation and handling. So today place and time of transport is fully integrated in the industrial product chain. The most developed integration has been realized in the internal transportation processes within the manufacturing of products.

Nowadays a large variety of handling techniques, automated transportation and information control systems, support an efficient production of goods, where in many cases the manufacturing of products only starts after a consumer initiated trigger. Some decades ago Physical Distribution covered all activities from material sources to the production line and from the production line to the consumer including the movement of raw material, freight transportation, warehousing, material handling protective packaging, inventory control, plant and warehouse site selection, order processing, market forecasting and consumer service. This physical distribution developed into today’s Supply Chain Management, covering the management and handling of all material and information required for the production and delivery of products.

Definition Transport Technology

Transport Technology covers the technology required for all activities in the field of transportation, storage, handling and information / communication for a controlled efficient movement of goods from origin to destination”.

The sub-faculty of Mechanical Engineering focuses on the functional requirements to transportation means (concepts, handling provisions) innovative transportation concepts and all technology for storage and handling of goods, in particular on the interchange area’s such as manufacturing plant inlet / outlets, inland consolidation / distribution centers, inter modal terminals, terminals for seaports and airports.

Developments in transport

Transport technology is in a continuous symbiosis is with the society. On the one hand transportation techniques and handling methods support new approaches in the society (globalization, automation, improved planning) and on the other hand developments in society (e-commerce, cost control, better working conditions, awareness of scarcity) encourage new concepts for transportation and handling.

Some major developments and their impact on transport technology are mentioned below.

Growth in transportation of goods

The growing population (6bill people in 2000 and may be 9bill. People in 2050) and the improvements in income per man (growing wealth) result in a continuing increase of the transportation goods. The awareness of scarcity of raw materials and the set-up of processing plants for half-products closet other winning area’s will cause a likely growth in the transportation of raw materials of 2-3% annually for the coming 10 – 20 years.

In contrast to this, is the transportation of half-products and consumer goods. The openings of new trade lanes to developing countries, the stimulation stone needs in consumer goods (fresh fruit during the whole year, exotic gifts from all over the world etc.) and the effects of globalization show an ongoing growth in the transportation of consumer goods, not only domestic, but international and intercontinental as well. The growth figures for the transportation of consumer goods are estimated as 5-8% annually, but in some area’s (think of China, India, South-America) the emerging economic developments could cause these growth figures to be even higher.

Shows the growth development for international containerized transportation as a part of overall general cargo transportation. It clearly indicates the yearly growth and the continuing transition from general cargo into containerized cargo. This has a large impact on transportation networks (shipping, rail, and road) and the required facilities imports and inland terminals and on the facilities at manufacturing plants and distribution centres.


The liberalization of world-wide trade, the fierce competition both national and international and an overall driver to get more for less money, has resulted in a spread of production activities all over the world. Leading companies decrease their numbers of manufacturing plants, benefitting from the economies of scale and low labour cost in certain parts of the world. Traditionally car manufacturers used to produce almost all their components in their own factories; nowadays many car makers purchase more than 50% of their components from abroad. This is only on example and there are many more. Consumer electronics, fashion, furniture, machinery etc. are produced in low labour cost area’s (in parts or totally) and from there shipped to assembling plants and / or distribution centres close to the consumer markets.

The whole process of globalization has been enabled through the availability of frequent, low-cost and reliable world-wide transportation. This in reverse results in cargo flows which are a multiplier of the flows related to the end consumer’s goods. The production of aluminum, the distribution (via auctions) of flowers and the production of clothing learns that sometimes 3-5 times the final amount of tones is shipped thousands of miles all over the world. The prices for raw materials are more and more determined by the overall transportation costs, this in contrast to consumer goods where the shipping in containers has resulted in low transportation cost per product, a real stimulant for further globalization.

Logistic networks

Globalization and the still increasing consumer demands have resulted in complex systems for the distribution and delivery of goods. At present almost every manufacturer maintains a variety of channels (chains) to guarantee that products arrive in time at the consumer and to guarantee a proper supply of raw materials, half-products, tools etc.

In logistic networks partners aim for the lowest overall processing, transportation and distribution cost for the entire chain of activities and partners allow each other information about delivery patterns, fluctuations, and minimum response times etc. This regularly results in higher costs for transportation and handling (smaller shipments, more frequent, demand driven deliveries), but over allower cost (fewer inventories cost, storage space, leftovers etc.).

The negative effects on transportation and handling (lower utilization, less potential for scale economies) can be avoided when logistic providers combine transportation, collection and distribution for a multitude of product chains. This phenomenon and the general tendency to outsource activities not belonging to the core-business has encouraged companies like UPS, TPG, Fedex to provide logistic services and to operate as logistic integrators. Logistic services (from only transportation towards stock-keeping, assembling, distribution, pick-and-place etc.) are defined in service-level-agreements and the logistic product is measured through performance indicators (amount of deliveries outside the agreed delivery time, damages during transportation etc.).

The worldwide control of such complex logistic networks requires a major effort in information control systems and a high-quality of IT-infrastructure. The success of logistic providers is often determined by their commitments to state-of-the-art IT-systems, planning and control tools. Logistic networks maintained by such logistic integrators are shown and the combination of many product demand and supply chains allows such integrators to apply scale economies in the respective collection, transportation and distribution networks realizing the overall door-to-door transport of goods.


The loading and discharging of goods was centuries long a process performed by men, carrying loads upto 100kg (in sacks, bundled, etc.). Only heavy loads (marble blocks, wooden trunks) required innovative tools, finally resulting in revolving or fixed cranes in the Middle Ages. Those cranes were driven by man-kind or animals (treadmill, hand-winches). The invention of steam engines and the following industrial revolution induced all kinds of mechanized tools. They allowed a faster handling of goods and caused are the extraordinary “struggle” related with the handling of goods at the production or consumption places and / or the interchange area’s (e.g. from chariot into a tow-boat or sailing boat).

Nowadays most of the handling activities in transportation and almost all handling in manufacturing plants are performed with the help of mechanical devices. Rolling equipment, belt and roller conveyers, pneumatic systems, power and free systems are only a few to be mentioned here. Mechanization provides a faster and more reliable handling and also results in much better working conditions for labour. Obviously it requires a structuring in handling and transportation processes as demanded by the handling / transportation functions in the overall production and distribution chain.

In many cases packaging of goods, standardized loads and shipment volumes are determined by the available (or designable) handling and transportation means. New directives and regulations for labour (but as well our own human engineering conscience) in Western Europe for bid a man-made continuous handling of loads heavier than 15 kgs. The handling of loads heavier than 25 kgs is basically not allowed (e.g. cements sacks have been changed from 50kgs content into max. 25kgs content). Mechanisation is a key-element in transport technology and that’s the reason why transport technology is widely integrated in the manufacturing and distribution industry.


After the mechanization of production and transportation, the first developments of automated (=unmanned) processing were introduced in production plants (textiles, food) and for assembling lines (cars, machinery). Low cost mass production started about 100 years ago and the production industry showed the first integration’s of automated production and automated handling such as the positioning of components and the internal transportation to the next processing machine (overhead conveyors, power-and-free ground transportation). More than 40 years ago large companies in the automotive, electronics, paper and steel industry started to increase their production efficiency, reliability and quality and started to decrease their personnel expenses with the help of automation in production and logistics. They built the first automated storage system (e.g. high-bay warehouses), installed the first automated (wire)-guided vehicle systems and started to handle material with computer controlled overhead cranes and telpher lines (steel coils, steel slabs, paper rolls, assembly components etc.).

A pre condition for the innovations in automated processing and transportation was the simultaneous change of methods and logistics in the production. As a result, computer aided processes of all kind shave been implemented and support automation. Such automation tools are: operations planning, material dis-positioning, order picking, warehouse control, wireless communications

A dedicated software industry developed, providing the industry with software packages for the control of the entire manufacturing plant, including the procurement of materials and the distribution of finished products. (e.g. software houses like SAP, Baan, Oracle, JD Edwards).

Automation in transportation and handling has supported the development of computer automated systems which are fully integrated in product supply chains. For example some container terminals have completely automated transportation and storage of containers allowing for fast responses on last minute changes, better flow control and long-term cost control.

New logistic approaches such as Supplier Managed Inventories or Vendor Managed Inventory show complex supply chains, where in suppliers (or vendors) are responsible for a minimum stock of products, including the planning and control of related transportation. Such complex operations are only feasible with the help of (partly) automated handling and transportation systems.

Automation in handling and transportation is still at the beginning of its developments. Processed design, new systems for handling and transport, new labor organizations and the integration of planning and control systems will encourage a further increase of automation in handling and transportation.

Awareness of scarcity

Fortunately, there is a growing awareness of the limits in sources such as energy and raw materials, nature and available areas for infrastructure and economic developments. Increasingly, the society demands a better quality of life and so: technology developments must fulfill the requirements for less pollution (exhaust gasses, noise), less energy consumption, recycling of materials, preservation of nature etc.

Transportation in particular puts heavy demands on natural resources, but at the same time supports the quality of life with respect to the supply of food, the distribution of goods and material prosperity. Transport Technology includes the awareness of scarcity, resulting in 2 major issues:

  • What possibilities do we have to avoid transportation?
  • When transportation is required, how can we minimize the negative influences on the quality of life?

The first issue focuses on raw material chains (e.g. enrichments of ores close to the mine), clustering of production activities at industrial sites to realize short transportation-links and even virtual networks to provide the shortest link between producer and consumer (avoiding collection and distribution).

In this case transport technology focuses on the best suitable mode(s) of transportation, the achievement of high utilization of transport vehicles (trucks, vessels, airplanes) the combination of logistics with reverse-logistics and the application of technologies with the lowest impact on the environment.

The reutilization for transportation can be improved when transportation utilize facilities and infrastructure 24-hours per day. Nowadays, speak demands and avoid able organizational constraints restrict transportation to less than 50% of the available time (production plants, road transportation, rail networks).

Future transportation concepts (think of city logistics) will emphasis on improved utilization and multi-functional facilities.

Many companies in the fields of manufacturing and transportation are aware of the limited resources at earth and have started are design of their processes, both internal and external. Transport technology must generate concepts to lower the impact on our scarce resources.


World-wide internet developments have enabled a new phenomenon in the consumption oriented society: E-business that allows commercial transactions with the help of electronic communications (bi-lateral ED I or Internet) and dedicated software packages. E-business is developing rapidly, especially in the area of business-to-business (B2B,) much slower is the take-off in the field of business-to consumer (B2C).

Many companies realize electronic transactions for sales (or procurement) of services and products including “tracking and tracing” of such transactions and the belonging invoicing, payment. Obviously the sale of products must be followed with the physical delivery of the products.

Transformation, standardization and information

For transportation the change of place (location) is characteristic and for many years products (goods) were transported in man-loads with limits in weight (upto 100kgs) and size / shape (0,6x0,6x0,6m). The goods can be sub-divided and classified as a function of increasing size.

The larger volumes and the availability of transportation and handling equipment helped in getting less dependent on the limitations of manually handled goods and nowadays many goods are transformed into transportable sizes / weights, in a standardized way and with sufficient information to control the transportation / handling activities.


The transformation of goods and products is a required adaptation for storage, handling and transportation. Goods are transformed into units of a uniform external shape and size to serve the links in the total supply chain and to allow the application of mechanized and automated transport processes.

The transformation of goods can have two directions. The first one is the transformation of goods into unit-loads with the help of standardized measurements of packages. The bundling of packages can be limited to pallet containers but may extend so towards complete maritime containers or swap bodies.

A second direction of transformation is towards bulk cargo (granulates, powders, liquids, gases), which can be moved very well by continuous conveyors. In this case the appearance of bulk goods can even be influenced by the selection of handling / storage / transportation equipment. Gases can be made liquid (easy to be stored) and pumped with the help of cryogenic installations; solids can be transformed into slurry (apulverized condition mixed with a liquid like water or solvents).

Finally, a further transformation in bulk handling can be required when raw materials are used in production processes which demand a high homogeneity (of chemical and physical properties) of the used materials (such as iron ores, coal and limestone).

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Crushing, screening, weighing and sampling can be integrated in the transportation stage; homogenizing (e.g. bed-blending, batch-blending) can be included in the storage stage.


Unfortunately, the optimization of overall transport systems (towards speed, costs, environmental impact) is often blocked as a result of the many parties involved, who are not willing to share profits and costs for an overall systems improvement.

Strong parties in a logistic chain try to optimize their own operation (process) at the cost of others (forward or backward) in the overall transport chain. Especially when it comes to the utilization of public sources there is a lot to be improved when applying as systems approach. It is recommended to assign multi-disciplinary teams for the application of a systems approach in transport systems. The combination of operations experience, civil engineering, logistics, equipment engineering, economics, environmental awareness etc. is essential in the development of transportation / handling systems best suited for the overall transportation chain.

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