Efficient yard operations provide benefits throughout the entire supply chain, while effective yard management plays a critical role in the successful flow of goods in and out of distribution centers, manufacturing plants and warehouse facilities.
Today, there are many companies whose yards are plagued by inbound and outbound trailer bottlenecks and manual processes, coupled with a general lack of visibility within the location. This article will examine how my company, Penske Logistics, a third-party provider of supply chain management and logistics services (hereafter referred to as “the 3PL”), set out to organize the yard for a large truck manufacturer.
Initially, the 3PL wanted to solve two major pain points for its customer. First was the challenge for shuttle drivers to locate and track material in the yard in support of its customer’s manufacturing process. Second, the 3PL wanted to reduce the amount of carrier detention charges the customer was paying. Another goal was to secure productivity and visibility gains in other areas.
The 3PL set out to implement a fully managed yard management solution for this facility, which included a manned gate house providing an entrance and exit lane; two switcher units; one manufacturing facility with approximately three distinct receiving areas responsible for receiving different types of inventory; one main yard with capacity for approximately 200 trailers; and an additional satellite yard.
Seeking an ROI solution can be challenging, as the 3PL sought to provide visibility for the customer’s trailers and their contents. This would make it easier for lift trucks and drivers to locate their trailers and organize their content more efficiently. Historically, a full-blown yard management system (YMS) would provide this level of visibility and typically include active RFID capability with Wi-Fi availability throughout the yard. However, active RFID with Wi-Fi can be cost intensive and ROI prohibitive. With the use of cellular modems, passive RFID and GPS devices, the cost of entry can be significantly lowered, finally delivering an ROI that is much faster with a solution that’s increasingly portable and quicker to implement.
Nonetheless, there is a slight tradeoff that needs to be accounted for in regards to the timeliness of the information. A Wi-Fi and active RFID system can truly be real time, whereas a cellular/GPS-based system is more of a near-real-time solution.
From the point a trailer enters the yard, its actual location may not be rendered immediately until a drive-by inventory can be performed. This latency will vary by operation but generally consists of a 20-minute lag time.
After formulating the business requirements and assessing the available solutions, the 3PL determined the need for a solution that would address the following requirements:
- Does the solution meet our overall business objectives, and can it grow with us?
- Does the solution provider understand the overall logistics challenges, and can the solution improve customer satisfaction?
- Does the solution provide flexibility to work with the 3PL’s operations?
Ultimately, Fluensee Inc. was chosen to implement a comprehensive yard management solution consisting of Fluensee Yard software, Motorola passive RFID tags and readers, Xplore tablet PCs and GPS location devices with a cellular modem. The YMS uses these automatic identification technologies to capture trailer information and automate the process of identifying and locating equipment within the yard. It also provides an ondemand, real-time inventory of all yard assets.
The solution was implemented at a customer facility in Texas over a two-month period. In the 3PL’s yard, RFID tags can be permanently or temporarily affixed to trailers. This tracks the trailers not only when they enter and exit the yard, but also their location and status within the yard.
In the yard, the lift truck is equipped with RFID readers. These are onboard computers with a cellular modem and a GPS device that allows dispatchers to assign move tasks and track driver performance. In addition, it also provides drivers with the ability to perform automatic, drive-by yard checks, manage move tasks and assign trailer locations based on GPS coordinates. By using this multi-technology solution, the 3PL was able to attain the required yard functionality in a costeffective fashion.
As a result, the 3PL is able to assign trailers to dock doors, assign yard employees new tasks based on changing conditions and provide event management and alerting capabilities. These all drive customer efficiencies and cost savings. Most importantly, tangible results were realized almost immediately through yard management implementation. Cost savings were quickly demonstrated to the customer. As a result, the company has:
- Reduced detention charges;
- Improved the time it takes to get material to the door;
- Eliminated most of the switchers' overtime by reducing hunting and pecking time for trailers and materials;
- Mitigated costs for expedited materials needed in the manufacturing process through real-time visibility of trailer inventory.
The benefit of having improved visibility of the yard can provide an organization with information needed for better planning and management. The cost of a YMS solution is no longer a barrier. Multi-technology solutions have made it affordable without surrendering value.
Chuck Papa is vice president of Penske Logistics, a third-party provider of supply chain management and logistics services.