When it comes to the supply chain, the familiar expression, "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link," clearly applies. If it was not already obvious, the pandemic drove the point home. While advanced technologies have been widely applied to make warehouse and transportation operations stronger, the weak link in this chain for many has been yard management.
Gartner Research Vice President, Transportation Technology, Bart De Muynck, noted that poor yard visibility and management are common problems. This is supported by a recent Logistics Management Technology Usage Study, which found that just 8% of companies use yard management systems.
This is unfortunate given the challenges trucking operations are already reeling under – driver shortages, deteriorating transportation infrastructure and related safety concerns, increasing regulations, and rising costs.
By leveraging today’s advanced yard management and intelligent truck control solutions, organizations can effectively tackle some of their most pressing pain points, while deriving important benefits.
A Snapshot of America’s Trucking Sector
Prior to the pandemic, America’s trucking industry had been on very solid ground. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the U.S. trucking industry posted $791.7 billion dollars in revenues in 2019; 80.4% of the nation’s entire freight revenues. In its Freight Transportation Forecast 2020 to 2031, the ATA reported that, that while total freight volumes in 2020 were likely to “collapse by 10.6% to 14.6 billion tons,” truck freight volumes are projected to experience a lower 8.8% decline.
Overall, the ATA is optimistic in projecting rebounding trucking volumes in 2021 by an estimated 4.9% with steady average annual increases of 3.2% through 2026. Two legislative developments are also encouraging. They include a new rule to reform the National Environmental Policy Act and the Moving Forward (H.R.2) bill, passed by the House this summer and now with the Senate, both earmark billions of dollars for highway and other infrastructure improvements. In the interim, however, poor road conditions, heavy traffic congestion and slowdowns due to inadequate bridge and toll operations remain major challenges.
In addition, increasing shortages of drivers continue to hinder trucking operations. Currently, the ATA estimates that 63,000 positions remain unfilled, left open by retiring older drivers and the failure of the younger generation to fill their slots. Heightened regulations such as electronic logging requirements to create safer driver working conditions, drug and alcohol testing, and minimum wage laws, along with rising fuel and toll costs, represent other ongoing challenges for which trucking operations have minimal control. What is within their control is their yard management.
Yard Management Pain Points
As with all businesses, customer expectations for deliveries must be met. Trucking operations with yards managed by manual spreadsheet-based processes are ineffective in addressing unexpected events and disruptions.
Gate chokeholds, poorly synchronized dock planning and vehicle movement, inaccurate truck and trailer pool information, transportation delays, poor turnarounds, the need for additional labor and trailer shuttle charges, increased potential for safety and compliance problems, and costs associated with demurrage and detention charges are all exacerbated by the lack of a digital yard management system and the full operational visibility and optimization it provides.
A yard management system (YMS) focuses on optimizing the yard infrastructure and its components. It is designed to help track the movement of trucks and trailers and deliver real-time information on the yard’s assets – trucks, trailers and employees – so that related processes (e.g., the directing of inbound and outbound trucks, shipments, etc.) can be optimally visualized and managed. Depending on the system, the YMS may work in concert with an organization’s existing warehouse management (WM), enterprise resources planning (ERP) and transportation management systems (TMS).
Using sophisticated intuitive interfaces, today’s leading-edge YMSs facilitate user interaction via a virtual yard map or through a table data format for the visualization of yard data and processes. Advanced optimization algorithms offer users the best digital decisions for various yard processes and communicate these optimized decisions in real time to yard management. With the application of a YMS, each yard process becomes more efficient and streamlined with previous pain points alleviated. For example, a YMS:
- Targets gate chokeholds by replacing manual processes with a digital gate-in/gate-out process that promotes adherence to optimized processes and improved trailer inspections.
- Eliminates inefficient incoming goods and the related bottlenecks generated through advanced planning and management of workshop processes which assess account orders, parts and available human resources via real-time activities tracking and workforce management.
- Improves asset management through enhanced yard visibility provided through a yard map interface. It enables dispatchers to quickly locate assets with one click of a button and gain a complete view of the yard’s on-site assets. The YMS can also be configured to optimize management of a yard’s various resources. Further, it supports real-time asset content awareness and reinforces optimization parameters so that time-critical assets can be easily prioritized and located in the yard.
- Delivers optimized dock door management, eliminating errors associated with managing multiple docks and infinite variables (e.g., last minute orders, unreliable suppliers, early/late deliveries, etc.). Dock information displays are placed in various areas such as dock doors, driver waiting areas and dashboards visible in dispatch operations, with workorders and tasks delivered and visible to staff’s mobile devices, with data going from the floor to the YMS, for optimized decision-making.
- Provides automated allocation and management of transport orders to the best yard resources for implementation. Manual or sensor feedback for the yard resource then confirms that the transport order is completed after which additional assignments to that resource could be made.
In total, managing all these yard processes, the YMS provides trucking operations with real-time transparency into their assets’ location and status. This heightened visibility delivers valuable benefits including: increased capacity, improved quality control, improved compliance with work safety regulations, and automated communications. Cost efficiencies associated with the elimination of unnecessary asset movement, reduction of idle dock labor, and improved yard resource efficiencies are achieved, along with reductions in detention and demurrage expenses.
The supply chain management consulting firm of Adelante SCM reported that transportation costs across diverse industries, from food and beverage to high tech, can be as high as 60-80% of distribution costs. Given this information, achieving cost efficiencies in trucking operations is critical. Further supporting the need for increasing efficiencies is data from The Geography of Transport Systems (Fourth Edition), authored by Jean-Paul Rodrigue, professor in the Department of Global Studies and Geography, Hofstra University, New York, that transportation costs as a percentage of total logistics costs rose from approximately 50% to almost 66% in 2017; a trend which has continued.
Intelligent Truck Supply Control System
To further support yard operational efficiencies, organizations are also turning to intelligent truck supply control systems that automatically respond to unexpected workflow disruptions. In operation, these software solutions review truck time slot schedules after each event in real time and make adjustments, when necessary, via a web portal where sites and carriers are coordinated.
Applying intelligent optimization algorithms, the solution addresses common problems including too early, too late or unannounced truck arrivals; truck arrivals at temporarily out of service loading areas; and trucks delivering goods for the wrong loading bay or delivering the wrong quantity of goods. A complimentary system to a time slot management system, the intelligent truck supply control system helps keep day-to-day operation on schedule and manages deviations by calculating a revised truck handling schedule within seconds. Just as with a YMS, the system improves logistical transparency and, in turn, promotes time and cost savings.
Among the intelligent truck supply control system functions are logging in truck arrivals and departures at the main gate, and rescheduling when deviations (e.g., unannounced or delay trucks, urgent delivers, etc.) occur. Additionally, the system manages trailer yards including the internal movements of trailers and chassis and communicates with drivers in real time via display boards or mobile devices thereby enabling trucks to be controlled at the loading points, buffers and parking areas.
Through this functionality, intelligent truck supply control systems reduce waiting and throughput times and related demurrage costs, speed up gate processing, facilitate faster rescheduling of trucks when required, and reduces yard congestion that can ultimately lead to an increase of 40% greater efficiency in inbound operations.
Maximize Yard Tech ROI with Training
As with any technology investment, to derive the maximum return on investment, it is essential that users be thoroughly trained on YMS and intelligent truck supply control systems. Making the transition from manual processes to digital processes requires a shift in operations and employees need to understand how the technology works and its value proposition, which required proper change management. By providing the proper training and user-friendly information, organizations can be confident that their trucking operations and yard will gain the greatest benefit from their yard management technology investments.
About the Author: Justin Newell is the chief operating officer (COO) for INFORM Software Corporation, headquartered in Atlanta.