If you’re a large-scale enterprise and are finding it challenging to manage your supply chain, I really wouldn’t be surprised.
Digital transformation is ushering in a new world of transportation and logistics (T&L), and there is an industry-wide push to embrace predictive analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicles in delivery. While I agree that they will all play a vital role in adding new efficiency to your business long term, it is important to stay grounded in the present and consider the technologies that can be implemented to facilitate measurable improvements in the much nearer future. For example, I see automation gaining momentum and interest among T&L leaders because it is increasingly proving to drive new value and operational excellence, especially within yard management systems (YMS).
In many ways, innovative technology has the capacity to unlock new efficiencies in our lives, but also overwhelm us when we are faced with making the right investment decisions. I particularly feel a need to emphasise yard operations as we at Zebra have increasingly seen cutting-edge technologies such as Real-Time Location Solutions (RTLS) and RFID being implemented to complement warehouse and transport management systems and automate larger and more complex operations. Active RTLS technology isn’t by any means new to the industry, but the automation it creates is gaining renewed focus and investment as organizations of all sizes who seek better ways to track the location of vital equipment and even eliminate the need for manual yard checks. There are also multiple benefits to be achieved; implementing RFID tags on trucks to facilitate inbound and outbound scheduling, door-to-door moves and automatic parking assignments is just one example.
Whether you’re a user of location technology or not, an effective YMS improves your planning, management and execution capacity in the yard, facilitating an increased flow velocity of goods through the supply chain. Let’s take a closer look at three fundamental areas where new innovations can be unlocked in your yard and make a difference to your YMS investments:
1. Gate Management: The First of Many Challenges
The initial interaction between the goods, the carrier and the warehouse, distribution centre or manufacturing plant occurs when a truck arrives at your yard. As such, turnaround times matter. Delays at this stage of distribution can cause a much larger domino effect throughout the supply chain, so many companies aim to speed up the inbound processing of trucks at the gate to avoid disruption. The best practice to accomplish this, especially in common drop and pick scenarios, would be to highlight specific yard positions to drivers for live loading using RTLS and RFID guidance. When done correctly, and when guided by the right technology, such intelligent parking assignments can also reduce travel distances between trailers and dock doors. This simultaneously decreases switcher fuel consumption and increases the speed of switcher productivity.
Now, the challenges for outbound schedules from a yard are different from inbound ones. Verifying that the proper trailer is transported by the authorised carrier is the most important activity. In a common drop and pick scenario, the driver will check in and verify the pick-up details after a gate ticket is generated and before verifying the outbound load against it. But this information should also be verified by the YMS as well to reduce the time that operators spend in a facility and overall transport costs. Unfortunately, we still see paperwork heavily used to conduct these critical transactions. The good news is that there is huge potential to digitalise this process using a combination of RFID, RTLS and mobility technologies. And there are several examples of organizations across the globe that have already implemented fully paperless T&L workflows in the yard with great success. Transportadora de Gas del Sur (TGS) is one.
This Argentine energy company implemented a rugged tablet-based mobility system that, in combination with its YMS, has led to better-informed transportation scheduling and routing decisions based on actual supply and demand of both gas tanks and delivery trucks. The technologies helped TGS eliminate the physical logjams that had historically challenged its natural gas production facilities. In fact, the company achieved a 50 percent increase in the availability of its gas transporters due to the streamlined management of inbound and outbound delivery truck inspections during early deployments of the solution.
Today, logistics technicians can more quickly conduct the required series of physical security checks and back-office validations when a delivery truck arrives. They can then immediately retrieve the digital work order for each truck, which details the gas tank pick-up and loading instructions, as well as the final inventory and safety checklist that must be completed before releasing the truck for delivery. With a direct connection to TGS’ data management systems, technicians have also gained the ability to collect GPS and GIS data on all assets, thoroughly document shipping and receiving actions, and then verify the accuracy of data inputs before signing off on the work order and printing a copy for the truck drivers.
This has led to a more precisely-coordinated traffic flow in and out of its production facilities. Trucks are now timed to arrive only once their assigned gas tanks are ready for pick up. In turn, gas tanks no longer sit around waiting to be delivered, and TGS no longer has to worry about multiple trucks arriving at once and sitting empty in long lines for extensive periods of time. These efficiencies will only be amplified once the rugged mobility solution is fully deployed across all production, shipping and receiving workflows. You can read more about TGS’ solution and success here, but as we know, no two gates are equal. It is vital to understand your gate capabilities and operational needs when considering a YMS. In most cases, a robust YMS will support mobile devices, accept pre-arrival and pre-departure data about trailers and drivers, direct inbound drivers to the right locations in the yard, block unauthorised trailers from checking out and support an inspection process.
2. Yard Operations: End-to-End Management
Understanding the functions for planning, managing and executing yard activities determine the value that a YMS solution brings to your operation. This, combined with basic yard software, can provide an inventory of trailers in the yard through manual yard checks using clipboards and spreadsheets. The more advanced RTLS and RFID-equipped YMS solutions, however, provide greater visibility and streamlined operations in yards without pen and paper, increasing yard throughput over the same real estate at lower costs.
Every yard has its own unique operations and backend systems, so it is crucial that a YMS can adapt to your individual needs and demonstrate enough configuration flexibility. For example, confirm that the YMS will enable you to easily modify report views, create forms for checking in trailers, set equipment pool thresholds and establish business rules that direct trailers to parking locations. It is highly important that YMS solutions include an industry standard API, and you should ensure that gaps can be filled between the Transport Management Systems (TMS) and Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) to minimize the risk of business system silos and, therefore, data silos.
Yard inventory reports containing information such as carrier, equipment type, load status, dwell time, customer, origin and destination can help you to maintain a balanced yard. Automatic alerts maintain pool levels and request action on long-dwell equipment. Carrier report cards and dashboards based on timely, accurate data result in productive conversations with carriers, particularly around the expectations and results required for successful supply chain execution. Be sure to confirm the availability and user-friendly functionality of these features when evaluating YMS options.
3. Dock Door Management: Think about Your Workforce
The cost of employing a larger dock door workforce can be minimised with an effective YMS solution. This is because the visibility provided – and logistics coordinated – by an RTLS and RFID-equipped YMS will empower you to synchronise your yard activities based on the demands of your warehouse operations. In turn, labour on the docks can be fully utilised and trailers can be switched out in a timely fashion. Business rules can also be configured within a more advanced YMS to plan trailer dock exchanges for a full shift of work (or even more) and instruct switchers on the order by which to pull and replace trailers from dock doors.
Just remember: The YMS must be able to recognise when deviations take place and adjust to these situations through proper execution decisions. A YMS should also enable manual intervention for exceptions that cannot be automated and establish templates of rules applicable to a set of dock doors for specific time periods. Such a functionality can add value to facilities which frequently change dock door setups. For example, templates can be used to accommodate doors that alternate between receiving and shipping functions, or when door functions change between peak and non-peak periods.
With all of this in mind, I want to emphasise the importance of value creation and a fast return on your investment (ROI). As you weigh the pros and cons of the technologies being pitched as the “best” way to improve yard management, it is critical to consider the tangible and intangible impacts that each technology could have on your yard – and your overall supply chain – both today and five years from today.
Installing a well-refined YMS with emerging RTLS and RFID technology and supporting mobile computing tools is the key to achieving a healthy ROI. But it is important to remember that well-optimised processes will also continue to generate value for several years to come.
As discussed, a YMS should be designed to optimise all three stages above based on your business objectives – and it should be scalable. For medium to large size yards with a high velocity of trucks, this means the YMS must provide powerful configuration options, planning tools, execution tools, alerts, reporting, and the right system interfaces. Smaller yards still require similar RFID, RTLS and mobility capabilities, but may find that a more simplistic YMS design is sufficient
Our most recent Yard Management Solution Guide will help you identify the YMS technologies you need to achieve a fully-automated yard management workflow within your unique transportation and logistics model and maximize the return on your investment long term.