Dock and Load

Dock and Load

As the start and end point for material movement within a facility, docks offer many opportunities for speeding product flow that can have a positive impact throughout the supply chain.

Too often, the dock represents the black hole of the logistics universe. Or, to bring it down to earth and closer to home, it can be as messy and disorganized as a kid's closet. However managers picture the place where their company shakes hands with the rest of the supply chain, the shipping and receiving docks offer opportunities to improve the material and information flows that pass through them.

Unfortunately many companies miss that opportunity because the dock is a convenient place to stow and forget stuff that comes in unexpectedly or is set to go out eventually. Such clutter starts small, but leads to disorganization, delayed shipments and a hazardous work environment. This problem is amplified when there's minimal dock space supporting both receiving and shipping operations.

Working Against Time
Time is precious for food processors. Any time lost at the dock can affect product freshness and consumer safety. That's why, in moving to a larger facility in Elgin, Ill., it was important for John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc. (www.fishernuts.com), to make sure product and information would flow smoothly through the new docks. The company is one of the fastest growing nut processors and packagers in the United States.

"We want everything to be orchestrated from the point of accepting the raw peanuts and nuts all the way to the back door with the finished product going out to the customer," says Tom Meyer, facilities manager for the company.

The dock area plays an important role in helping this new 1.7 million sq.-ft. facility keep information as fresh as the nuts it handles. When we talked to him, Meyer and his staff were in the process of selecting a warehouse management system (WMS) that will help them track product from the time it comes into the receiving docks until it goes out the shipping docks. That's critical not only for guaranteeing freshness in this facility, but for freshness in the customers' facilities as well.

"We do a lot of warehousing for individual customers so if we do not send them the freshest product possible, especially if it sits in their warehouses for a while, there's a possibility for lower quality product by the time it gets out of the customer's warehouse," Meyer says. "If the customer doesn't rotate product in his warehouse the way we do, by the time it gets to the stores it won't be as fresh."

Most nuts arrive via shipping container from overseas. The company maintains forecasts tracking when containers are due. These containers are staged in a receiving area outside the building's receiving docks. Once delivered to a dock door the nuts are inspected for freshness and FDA specifications. They are then given bar codes, scanned into the system, and given a location in the cooler. Next, the nuts are either roasted for stock or for a customer's requirements.

Dock Security and Safety
Sanfilippo & Son will be moved out of its Elk Grove, Ill., distribution center by the end of this year. Managers expect to consolidate manufacturing operations from Elk Grove and Arlington Heights, Ill. into Elgin by 2010. The docks in the new facility were designed to handle the additional capacity. Meyer learned some valuable lessons about loading and receiving docks from those other facilities. One of the most important: No more interior docks.

"Exterior docks mean much less of a chance for building damage, because we had a terrible time with trucks hitting our building in Elk Grove due to the compactness of the doors," Meyer says. "With all outside docks, it will also help us with heating and cooling the building."

August through January is the company's peak period for receiving freshly harvested raw nuts. During those months it may receive 300 to 400 trucks a day. Changing from the old dock management mindset to a new one was a learning process for dock employees.

"We had the old standard pit plates before and our people were used to opening the door, throwing down a dock plate and going," Meyer says. "We didn't have the lock mechanisms for the trailers before, either. We just used the standard chocks."

In the new facility Sanfilippo & Son installed Serco (Carrollton, Texas, www.sercocompany.com) Master Control Panels to coordinate the operation of 76 shipping and receiving dock locations. Each is equipped with:

  • Vertical levelers—by storing erect these levelers open up dock space for better traffic flow.
  • Safety-Loc SLP vehicle restraints— installed in a pit under the leveler.
  • Dock seals—with compressible foam on steel frame to absorb truck force and protect the building; the seals wrap around the truck trailer to prevent moisture from entering the dock area.

Employees can operate all the equipment for each dock position from a central control panel. A manually operated door is interlocked with the other dock equipment, thanks to a photo sensor specified by Sanfilippo's dock equipment dealer, the Paul Reilly Company (Glendale Heights, Ill., www.paulreillycompany.com).

Once a truck is parked at the dock, the operator uses the control panel to actuate the restraint, but not the dock leveler until the restraint is fully engaged. When the truck is ready to leave, the restraint cannot release the truck unless the leveler is in the stored position and the dock door is closed.

Nuts are a low margin business. Every department at Sanfilippo does its part to move products through the system at minimum cost. Thanks to the systems controlling traffic through the docks, efficiency and safety go hand in hand. Only authorized people can access the dock. Cameras ensure internal and external security. The dock plates won't operate unless a truck is in place. Trucks are assigned a door by the guardhouse. The guardhouse then notifies the shipping department that a specific truck is coming to a dock.

"There's a check and balance situation that drives accountability for each load, and that includes the lift truck driver servicing each truck," Meyer concludes.

Accelerate Truck Turnaround
Dock systems linked to warehouse management systems (WMS) and yard management systems (YMS) should be a no-brainer, according to John Hill, principal of ESYNC (Toledo, www.esync.com), a logistics and systems integration firm. "But some clients still ask, ‘You can do that?'"

Facility managers need to open their minds when it comes to the dock. "It ought to be the place where there's the least amount of unnecessary storage if people are going to execute the receiving and shipping process effectively," Hill adds. "It makes a lot more work for those charged with picking up your shipments when they have to navigate around clumps of material that don't belong there. It could delay shipments and create safety problems."

Drew Kronick will testify to that. He's executive v.p. of Velocity Express (Westport, Conn., www.velocityexpress.com), providers of customized, on-demand delivery services. Kronick advises clients on how to make best use of his services, and much of that advice has to do with dock management.

"Customers have put tight constraints on me in the JIT environment," he says. "I have 60 minutes in my facility to strip, scan and load packages onto another vehicle and be on the road. In my customer's environment, those packages and pallets have to be organized in a way that we can do things quickly with them."

The organization and planning that need to happen on the shipper side is the most important thing that happens on the docks for expedited service providers. It can also be the most difficult part of the shipper's job in doing business with them.

"We impose big discipline on our customers, but the reward is you don't have to give me a trailer at 7:00 at night," Kronick says. "I'll take it at 5:00 in the morning. So you can have a whole extra shift to pick that freight."

Here are a few other pieces of advice for the loading and receiving docks that won't require too much effort:

  • Consider allocating more people to the dock on a part-time basis. This will result in less cost if freight can be organized for quick loading. It also requires fewer drivers on the expedited service provider's side if those drivers can get loaded and rolling without delay.
  • Look at the total dollars spent on labor allocation at the dock as well as the infrastructure, and find the low-hanging fruit. Tactical things like dock levelers, truck restraints and shelters may be easier to implement than more strategic things like staging and scheduling.
  • Consider introducing an expedited service provider to customers. "The more we can understand about what their expectation is and what's been sold to them, the easier it is for us," Kronick says.

A Window to the Yard
A YMS can act as an extension of a WMS in pushing information management beyond the dock door. Such systems are typically focused on high-volume operations where a company may not be able to process incoming items immediately. Staging them in trailers parked in the yard can take pressure off the dock for a while. Then, when the facility is ready for the materials, the YMS dispatches a yard jockey to the designated location, picks up the load and pulls it up to the designated dock.

A real-time locator system can make this process run smoothly. It does at Jobstl Warehousing & Fashion GmbH (Graz, Austria, www.joebstl-warehousing.com), a European third-party logistics company that distributes fashion merchandise for the Charles Vogele Group (Zurich, www.voegele-mode.com). Vogele operates more than 750 clothing stores in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Jobstl uses an active RFID real-time locating system from WhereNet (Santa Clara, Calif., www.wherenet.com) to assist its dynamic shipping and receiving operation. The system automates yard management processes and provides complete closed-loop supply chain visibility so logistics personnel and retail store managers know the precise whereabouts and status of every shipment of women's dresses, men's suits and other fashion items en route to Vogele's stores. What does this have to do with the dock?

"Our constant increase in turnover volumes and our limited number of docks made it necessary to optimize processes at the docks and on the property itself," explains Marius Reber, head of warehousing for Jobstl. "Today, we are able operate the loading docks at optimum capacity. We've increased our turnover of goods manifold without having to invest in additional employees or dock expansions."

Jobstl employees use handheld devices at the docks to scan each item loaded into the trailers. This data generates a freight list, which is then married with the container's tag data and transferred to Jobstl's transport dispatch. Afterwards, each container and its contents can be clearly identified through the WhereNet system.

"The system gives us the ability to make the entire logistics process transparent," says Reber. "It can track the flow of goods to branch offices, can measure the service level and maintains a constant overview of operations on the property. We use the data to analyze and optimize our logistical processes at the dock and in the yard while having information relevant to billing at our fingertips in a real-time setting. Our employees were also relieved from a multiplicity of manual tasks."

The system shows Jobstl managers, in real-time, the loading status of containers. Because yard drivers always know where each container is and what's in it, there are no choke points in the yard. Another plus: Jobstl requires 20% fewer containers than before. That means they no longer need to lease extra containers during peak periods.

Finally, Jobstl has enjoyed a significant reduction in dock door and yard turn times, resulting in increased throughput. Customers and employees can now focus on managing by exception and on adding value rather than chasing down information at the dock or in the yard.

Managing dock operations is more than managing doors. It's all about carrier scheduling, order management and maintaining good human resources. Paying attention to these basics will contribute mightily to supply chain efficiency.

The John B. Sanfelippo Company renovated a former electronics facility to create more warehouse and processing space for its rapidly growing nut business.

The Serco Master Control Panel used at John B. Sanfelippo coordinates the functions of all dock equipment at each dock.

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