May 17, 2020

Leading 3PL providers

Freddie Pierce
3 min
Con-Way truck

The 3PL logistics industry has undergone some dramatic changes in the last decade which saw some major mergers and acquisitions. The resulting companie...

The 3PL logistics industry has undergone some dramatic changes in the last decade which saw some major mergers and acquisitions. The resulting companies, with their strengthened global presence and industry expertise, have come to dominate the global 3PL market. Supply Chain Digital has taken the opportunity to profile five of the biggest 3PL networks in the world currently.

While North American and European logistics companies rule the roost today, this looks set to change in the next decade, as China and India vie for a foothold in the 3PL sector. With regard to the recession, European companies have been hardest hit, which has slowed growth.

According to the 2009 Third-Party Logistics Study, 71 percent of respondents said “unpredictable demand is the most difficult challenge to managing and operating a supply chain in an economic downturn”.

Efficiency is also key to any 3PL provider’s success, particularly in the current climate. Certainly, the companies listed operate highly efficient business models that have been replicated worldwide. In fact, this is one of the reasons for their influence in the global 3PL market.


Founded: 1994 as Deutsche Bahn AG

Services: DB Schenker provides a host of transport and logistics services by air, ocean and land. In addition, it has a goods transport rail network at its disposal, and can specialize in supply chain management as well as contract logistics.

CEO: Dr. Rüdiger Grube (Deutsche Bahn AG)

No. of employees: 91,000

No. of locations: 2,000 in 130 countries

Turnover: 15 billion euros


Founded: 2007 as a result of the merger between TNT Logistics and EGL Eagle Global Logistics

Services: From contract logistics, to end-to-end supply chain, to freight management and consulting,CEVA Logistics covers the spectrum of services. Its strength lies in the fact it was borne from a merger between two well established companies: TNT and EGL. The latter’s freight management pedigree and TNT’s expertise in the field of logistics combined to form one of the world’s largest 3PL providers.

CEO: John Pattullo

No. of employees: 46,000

No. of locations: 170 countries

Turnover: 5.5 billion euros


Founded: 1969

Services: DHL is a leader in the international express and logistics industry. The company operates four specialist divisions: Express, Global Forwarding/Freight, Supply Chain and Mail. Its presence in over 200 countries makes DHL arguably one of the biggest providers of logistics and supply chain services globally.

CEO: Frank Appel

No. of employees: 300,000

No. of locations: 200 countries

Turnover: 46.2 billion euros


Founded: 1990

Services: The California-based freight transportation and logistics company delivers its services through three operating companies: Con-Way Freight, Con-Way Truckload and Menlo Worldwide Logistics. The operating units specialize in less-than-truckload (LTL), full truckload and intermodal freight transportation; logistics, warehousing and supply chain management services; and trailer manufacturing.

CEO: Douglas W. Stotlar

No. of employees: 30,000

No. of locations: 440 locations in 18 countries

Turnover: $4.3 billion


Founded: 80 years ago

Services: Cat Logistics’ expertise lies in strategic supply chain design and analysis using network modelling tools. Its end-to-end solutions integrate supply chain design with efficiency. Meanwhile, its Service Parts Management (SPM) solution utilizes visibility in the supply chain to enhance collaboration.

President: Steve Larson      

No. of employees: 12,000

No. of locations: 130 locations in 23 countries

Turnover: $32.4 billion

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Jul 29, 2021

DHL and UPS: How is 3PL Evolving in 2021?

Elise Leise & Oliver James Fre...
6 min
Philippe Gilbert, President of UPS Supply Chain Solutions, and Phil Roe, CCO and Strategy Director at DHL, discuss the shifts in third-party logistics

To optimise their supply chains, many companies have turned to third-party logistics providers—3PLs—to outsource how they manage inventory, stock warehouses, fulfil customer orders, pack pallets, and handle returns. Especially in the midst of the pandemic, corporations have struggled to satisfy their customers, mitigate shipping delays, and react to rapid spikes in demand. In short: if logistics isn’t your core competency, rely on the experts.

To examine the current state of 3PL, we decided to have a quick roundtable with Philippe Gilbert, President of UPS Supply Chain Solutions, and Phil Roe, Chief Customer Officer and Strategy Director at DHL Supply Chain. Here’s what they have to say on the subject: 

What are the fundamental benefits of partnering with a third-party logistics provider? 

‘Proper supply chain visibility and planning is one of the key challenges facing modern supply chains’, says Phil. ‘Supply chains now cover multiple jurisdictions across significant distances. They’re also omnichannel, meaning that it’s now standard practice for there to be multiple routes to the customer’. Philippe adds that, ‘3PLs can deliver efficiencies and resources across the supply chain that are difficult for most businesses to replicate’. 

According to a study from UPS Global Logistics, five major challenges drive companies to outsource: 

  • Limited Space 
  • Increased Customer Expectations 
  • Faster Order Fulfilment 
  • Reduced Labour Costs 
  • Multiple Fulfilment Channels 

Now, the pandemic has accelerated 3PL adoption. In that same UPS survey, 29% of respondents indicated that they’d switch to outsourcing their logistics as a direct result of the past year. ‘One of the biggest issues impacting our current customers is the timing on inventory levels’, says Philippe. ‘Production delays out of APAC have pushed receipts and built back orders of products’. 

How are 3PLs helping businesses cope with broader disruptions, such as Brexit, transport logjams, and driver shortages? 

‘We can categorise supply chain disruptions into three broad areas’, explains Phil. ‘Demand-side, supply-side, and environmental. Some of these are easier to control than others, but all benefit from proper oversight and the ability to quickly adapt’. When the Brits finalised Brexit, for example, DHL scaled up areas that needed specialist support, such as customs processing. ‘We can leverage our network and redeploy on demand’, he explains. 

As for UPS, the company developed a post-Brexit SCS solution that enabled its clients to keep inventory closer to their UK customers. ‘We can maintain a broad portfolio of carriers and providers to quickly adapt to supply chain disruptions’, Philippe says. ‘This allows customers to avoid service delays, added costs, and administrative burdens associated with customs clearance’. 

Next, this conversation would be incomplete if we didn’t talk about how the boom in e-commerce has affected 3PL. 

Do you anticipate that e-commerce growth will continue? 

‘The growth of the past 18 months shows no sign of slowing down’, Phil says. ‘Consumer habits have altered, in some cases, permanently. Over the last eight months, DHL has seen a 150% increase in its fulfilment division—reflecting the soaring demand’. To keep up, the company has focused on data and automation, as well as deploying robotics solutions alongside its employees. ‘Whether that’s automated pallet systems or pick-and-pack robots’, Phil explains, ‘we’ve coupled technology and data to manage demand, meet customer expectations, and smooth out labour requirements’. 

Fundamentally, e-commerce is driving demand for additional labour and space. ‘This presents a unique opportunity for 3PL’, Philippe says. ‘New entrants in retail platforms, though currently small, will look to disrupt the giant retail players. They’ll be closer to their customers in the city. And they’ll try to unify and digitalise SME brick-and-mortar retailers’. 

How are shifting customer expectations - such as the next-day “Amazon Effect” - impacting 3PL? 

‘We see 3PLs expanding their networks to be closer to consumers and integrating fulfilment with last-mile delivery’, says Philippe. ‘They have to expand their reverse logistics, including investments in warehouse space’. He suggests that data analytics can enhance visibility and help 3PL companies address inefficiencies. ‘With the right technology’, he says, ‘businesses can access accurate, connected data and derive actionable insights’. 

Predictive and prescriptive analytics, when coupled with artificial intelligence and machine learning, can help companies understand when, why, and how supply chain disruptions occur. ‘This way’, Philippe adds, ‘they can prepare for them—or better yet, sidestep them completely’. 

In addition, customers now expect companies to follow through on their social commitments...

Can 3PLs help organisations deliver on their ESG objectives, such as reducing carbon emissions? 

Absolutely. Through UPS’s Eco-Responsible Packaging Programme, for instance, the company evaluates its clients’ packaging processes to determine the best way to protect their products and the planet. In addition, the corporation works with carriers on creative, lower-emissions solutions. ‘By 2025, we plan to source 40% of all ground fuel from sources other than conventional gasoline and diesel’, Philippe explains. ‘That’s nearly double what we used in 2016’. By then, 25% of UPS’s total electricity will come from renewable sources. 

As for DHL, the company offers a portfolio of GoGreen solutions, which offers its customers a range of ways to minimise their impact on the environment. ‘This includes everything from carbon reporting and analytics solutions to investments in internationally-recognised climate protection projects’, says Phil. ‘Sustainability provides us an opportunity to collaborate with our customers’. 

Yet, it’s often challenging to serve customers in highly regulated industries. How can companies overcome those hurdles?

‘Companies operating in highly regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals and life science face extra pressure on their supply chains’, Phil explains. ‘Dealing with rapidly growing changes then requires depth and breadth, which is something a global business such as DHL can offer’. To overcome regulatory challenges, DHL offers its clients dedicated sector specialists who understand niche industries but still have access to its global network. 

At the end of the day, Philippe comments, 3PLs must take responsibility for running compliant programmes and services. ‘Licensed or not’, he says, ‘they’ll need to work with their highly regulated customers to ensure that SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and audit processes are in place’. 

What do the next 12 months hold for 3PL providers?

‘Providers will focus on mastering omnichannel e-commerce’, says Philippe. ‘You’ll see faster last-mile delivery, more sustainable logistics and packaging, and better forecasting for risk management’. Overall, he notes, 3PL providers will invest in data analytics and new warehouse technologies to provide greater visibility into their supply chains. 

For example, UPS is rolling out a new suite of digital engagement tools. According to Philippe, the company introduced a new UPS Forwarding Hub, UPS Customs Brokerage, and CoyoteGo portals to help their supply chain solution clients. In addition, its e-Fulfilment and Ware2Go products help small- and medium-sized businesses outsource with ease. ‘We’ve focused on adopting technologies to improve our operations’, Philippe says. 

Finally, UPS’s Advanced Technology Group (ATG) has implemented robotics, drones, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, new software platforms, and sensor technologies to increase its 2021 revenues and cut bottom-line costs. Says Philippe: ‘With these tools, we can meet customer expectations for real-time tracking, end-to-end visibility, and personalised service’. 

And there you have it: the future of 3PL. 

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