Yard Handling: Yesterday Meets Today

Handling in the yard is the Wild West being tamed. The hottest area is new software for the yard.

Yard Handling: Yesterday Meets Today

Handling in the yard is the Wild West that’s being tamed. Equipment that used to roam free is being tracked and monitored. Training for material handling is no longer an exclusive indoor activity. And the hottest area of a development in software is yard management.

by Bernie Knill, contributing editor

The race is on for the best solution to managing trailers in the yard. Just as a warehouse management system processes customer orders through the distribution center, a yard management system (YMS) tracks product as it comes into the yard in a trailer. For many, this is the next step in supply chain management.

Integrating yard handling and warehousing

Software that controls trailer movement and warehouse handling is a recent corporate strategy that has proved itself in the workplace. Warehouse management systems (WMS) and yard management systems (YMS) are combining to expand control of orderpicking and shipping.

Owens Corning is a market leader in a variety of building material products and glass composite reinforcements. You’ve probably used the company’s insulation, shingles or siding.

The company had some very practical business reasons to shop for an integrated warehouse management system/yard management system:

• The company’s aging legacy systems needed replacement.

• A common system was required for all Owens Corning business units, which had been using different solutions.

• The company needed to make better use of warehouse space, trailers, yard space and lift trucks.

• There were opportunities for productivity improvement through documented common practices.

Consider the scope of the challenge facing Owens Corning. The company was shipping 750 truckloads daily, with 5,000 line items; any shipment might be a single line item or up to 50 line items, with 5,500 SKUs in the product mix. In Owens Corning’s storage facilities, more than three million square feet of storage space was under control of a warehouse management system.

A number of factors pointed to the need for quick action. First, standardization was imperative to make all warehousing and yard handling consistent. Second, the customized warehousing system used by the company was being made obsolete by the supplier.

Barry Burnham, project leader for warehousing information systems, headed a cross-functional effort to install a ViaWare warehouse management system (WMS) and yard management system (YMS) from Provia Software. Burnham described how order processing, fulfillment and shipping were integrated in a successful strategy.

Processing the order

A customer order in the company’s SAP system not only spells out the product and the quantities to be shipped, but also specifies a particular style of truck (flatbed or van, etc.) as well as a carrier. Some distribution centers have a pool of trailers to choose from; others rely on trailers that have delivered loads.

“As the due-out time comes up for the order, a trailer will be required, and through the SAP system, it’s time for the load to be started,” Burnham says. He explains the integration of the YMS and the WMS. “It’s integrated to the point at which we’re doing some of the transactions in the WMS and they’re being carried over to reflect in the YMS,” he says.

The outbound order is assigned to a trailer, say, from the pool. In the YMS there is a control center operator who issues a command to bring the trailer to the dock; the same command appears on a terminal in the cab of a yard jockey vehicle. The trailer is moved to the dock door and the location confirmed. In the WMS this event triggers release of a picking order for that trailer, to get material out of the warehouse to fill the customer’s order.

At the same time, in the YMS, trailers are being tracked on a graphical overview screen. Icons on the screen denote the kind of trailer and changes to its status by means of color changes.

The operator of the control center is responsible for managing the flow of trailers to the dock doors. The graphical overview screen shows the activity of the trailers: how many empties available, how many loaded awaiting a yard jockey, how many trailers at the dock doors, etc.

Shipping the order

Once the trailer has been spotted at a particular door, the YMS triggers an event in the WMS that releases the picking wave for that order. A lift truck operator receives instructions to start loading the trailer. As the first products are put through the dock door, the WMS does a validation inspection to make sure that the trailer number and the dock door number match.

While the WMS directs the orderpicking, the icons on the YMS terminal show the progress of the trailer being loaded.

Once the trailer has been loaded, the lift truck operator closes the door and applies a seal. This action triggers an event for both the WMS and YMS. The WMS reports that the vehicle has been loaded. It also changes the status of the trailer icon on the YMS screen to indicate that the trailer has been loaded. This is also a visual cue for the control center operator to allow the trailer to be moved from the dock door out to the yard. The WMS indicates that the inventory previously in the warehouse has been moved into the yard and triggers the printing of bills of lading and packing lists.

Once a carrier picks up the trailer, it is checked out of the WMS and YMS. The inventory on the trailer is relieved in the WMS and also released from the SAP system, triggering invoicing. The information is also transmitted back to the carrier to begin any tracing and delivery time procedures.

With a tight schedule for implementation, Burnham relied on the warehouse workforce who had gone through systems implementation at their own facilities. These experienced workers assisted installations at other facilities.

Burnham reported the results in a case history (see above), which included:

• Real-time visibility of warehouse and yard operations.

• Increased utilization of equipment and personnel.

• Improved space utilization and warehouse density.

By the end of 2000 Owens Corning and Provia had installed the WMS/YMS in seven insulation warehouses; in 200l installation of the system was done in 10 warehouses for composites and roofing material. Currently, the installation focus has moved toward five overseas distribution centers and two new business units in North America.

Training for yard handling

Moving trailers around isn’t the only challenge to yard handling: The big stuff like castings, pipe and lumber doesn’t fit nicely into a computer program. It plays havoc with your safety and ergonomics programs as well.

A lot of yard handling looks the same as it did 30 years ago. The equipment has changed, however. Even the traditional straddle carriers used at Timken have been upgraded with better engines, transmissions and controls. Features you expect to see on new equipment, such as automatic reporting of mileage and brake usage, have been installed as part of refurbishing.

Material handling in the yard has gotten regulatory attention in the past few years, with the promulgation of Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training (PITOT) standard. This standard mandates training of operators of yard cranes and sideloaders as well as lift trucks. As the standard says, “All operator training and evaluation shall be conducted by persons who have the knowledge, training and experience to train operators and evaluate their competence.”

Cost is a factor that wasn’t important in yesterday’s yard handling. Now that a YMS is able to schedule the movement of trailers in the yard, inspection of the trailer is more important to avoid turnaround time — bringing a faulty trailer to the dock and having to return it.

Jim Shephard, president of Shephard’s Industrial Training, advises that the lift truck driver who loads the trailer should inspect the inside and the operator of the yard jockey should inspect the outside. “It’s a team effort, but it works,” Shephard says. “It just takes a little time to get everybody online.”

The effort is worth it, Shephard says. “We have made some tremendous turnaround times on loading. The motion and time in the yard is often overlooked. With a little bit of investment, [companies] could be making a lot more money and having a safer environment as well,” Shephard says.

Training is an indoor activity, you think. Shoot, that yard is so big, it can’t have the same hazards I have in my crowded warehouse.

Not the same, but different. Yard handling practitioners need as much training as their indoor compatriots — just different.

Jim Shephard, president of Shephard’s Industrial Training Systems Inc., stresses the differences. “When you go outside, the workers might be different. You could have maintenance personnel, or maybe pipefitters, welders, electricians or construction help mixed in with material handlers. There’s usually a greater mix of production, handling and construction. So you have to deal with cranes and rigging as well as highway trailers and pickup trucks,” Shephard says.

You might be moving more product in the plant or warehouse than in the yard, but you’ll be moving it in different conditions. Weather could be a factor, for instance. The terrain will be rougher, the stability of the equipment will be affected. “Capacities will be affected because you may be picking up unknown weights — a lot of people don’t know how to calculate cubic feet and what, say, steel weighs per cubic foot,” Shephard says.

Look around a big yard, and you’ll realize that speed could be a factor.

Some vehicles have governors, others don’t. You might have crossings and right-of-ways, but traffic is harder to supervise in the wide-open spaces. “Usually the equipment running outside is faster, the stopping distance will be greater; your reaction time will be as fast but you’ll be traveling farther,” Shephard says.

And the vehicles that run outside are usually bigger, making pedestrians hard to see. “Many companies are putting these high-visibility vests on people so that they can be seen. And they’re making pedestrian traffic patterns and making people stick to them, Shephard says.

“We’re doing a plant pedestrian program on 900 acres,” he says. “They’ve put in crosswalks, and we’re pointing out that pedestrian doors are just that — pedestrian doors. Those big roll-up doors are for equipment, not pedestrians, even though it’s the shortest route. That shortest route causes them to have near-misses, if not accidents.”

Other hazards

For example, a yard crane operator who runs with the boom up risks hitting a high-voltage wire. Electricians are trained to operate in the plant, but equipment operators outside don’t necessarily think of the hazards. “We’ve gone into places where they didn’t know what the 10-foot rule is,” Shephard says, and explains that you cannot bring mobile equipment closer than 10 feet to a power source of 50,000 volts or less. As the voltage increases, so does the distance that must be maintained. “We deal with what we call close proximity, and figure out how close they have to be, and how to set up the equipment,” he says.

Log and pipe handling presents off-loading hazards in the yard. “Logs or pipes banded together can be killers when the chains are taken off,” Shephard says.

Front-end loader operators have to be trained for yard cleanup as well as construction, especially since yard maintenance might not be a full-time job. Same goes for powered sweeper operators. “Sweepers are complex and frequently overlooked in training. Not only is the equipment expensive but maintenance on sweepers is expensive, too.” Shephard says.

Train for trailer handling

With the new emphasis on yard management systems (YMS), over-the-road trailers require quick and accurate handling. Shephard believes that shuttle truck operators, commonly called “yard jockeys,” have to be trained. A shuttle truck is a small vehicle that can hook up to a trailer and move it for positioning. Sometimes a company will deal with a local service organization to keep it supplied with trailers. Shephard explains that there are two options: take the service and let that organization supply the shuttle truck driver or let the company supply its own operator. “We’ll train either service operator or company employee,” Shephard says.

“Because yard jockeys have the ability to hydraulically raise and lower the trailer hitch plate from inside the cab, drivers can hook onto a trailer and move it quickly. That makes them, and their operators, more adept at the tricky job of backing trailers into the dock with less potential for damage,” says Chuck Ashelin, engineering manager, Frommelt Products Corporation. Ashelin goes on to warn that “this very feature, however, can wreak havoc on loading docks. Most of this damage happens to the loading dock seal. Yard jockeys can crush backers, tear side and head pads and rip armor pleats completely off.”

To minimize and control damage from yard jockeys, Ashelin advocates a number of solutions that include: “If possible, use a dock shelter instead of a seal where yard jockeys are used. Because a shelter seals around the outside perimeter of the trailer instead of the back, and no compression takes place, the fulcrum effect of the yard jockey has little impact on shelter integrity.”

Trailer inspection is a joint effort, says Shephard: “We teach the lift truck operator to look at the inside of the trailer — floor holes, for example — and the yard jockey to look at the outside — broken ribs, corrosion, split seams, things like that.” The lift truck operator doesn’t have to get off his vehicle, park it, go outside and look at the trailer to see whether the chocks are there — all that is done by the yard jockey.

There are financial rewards, Shephard says. “We have made some tremendous improvements in turnaround times in loading. How much time does your lift truck driver spend in not loading product? The motion and time for the yard are overlooked many times. With a little bit of investment, the company could make a lot more money and have a safer environment.” MHM

Case History
Timken: Yard Handling on a Grand Scale

Timken is a venerable producer of alloy steels and engineered bearings, and has the timeline to prove it — from 1898 and still going strong. Timken supplies bearings, components and services to industries as diverse as automotive, aerospace, industrial, rail and emerging markets. Even with its reputation as an established manufacturer, Timken is anything but staid: One of its new products is a bearing that contributes to acceleration in the turbo engine of Chrysler’s P/T Cruiser.

Although The Timken Company has plants around the globe, this article will focus on yard handling in its three-plant complex in Canton, Ohio. Here a fleet of gigantic straddle carriers traverses the 27 miles of private road between the plants, hauling loads of steel on skid-like platforms called bolsters. Ken Bly, unit manager, material movement, explained the process. “What they’re doing is hauling in-process product between our operations. The product might consist of either solid bars, which are for external customer, or billets, which we’re sending to mills to be turned into tubing, or it might be tubing that is handled between different operations,” says Bly.

The material movement department provides service to the plants by hauling their product in a timely fashion without costing them any production. “We’re always looking at other ways of hauling,” Bly says. He said that using tandem trailers to transport loads of steel a long distance was a more economical solution than straddle carriers because of heavier loads and wear on the carrier tires.

Along with the loads of steel being stored in the yard in Canton, you’ll see acres of scrap that will be used to feed the steel-making process.

Building the product

In the plant, a worker referred to as a “stocker” uses a terminal to enter data into the product location system when the load is first built on a bolster. The product location system resides in Timken’s mainframe computer, which is located in Canton headquarters. People in the plants use the product location system in the mainframe to order moves of product by means of the straddle carriers. Each area in the plants or yard is identified by a code for product delivery. All transactions are identified by number only.

Bob Newman, supervisor, material movement, explains that the product location system enables the people on the shop floor, the schedulers throughout the plant, to access information on whatever product is going through the plant.

“If the people at a certain code [location] want to move a straddle load, they can go into the product location and build a load to be moved,” Newman says. He cites an example: “If an operator at a cutoff machine, who has just processed a bale of steel and cut it to length, wants to record the production, he can go into a separate part of the product location system.”

The product location system is basically an inventory system for everything that is going through the plant, but different people use it for different things.

Processing the information

When information requesting a straddle move goes into the mainframe, that information is downloaded automatically to the TCOM system, which transfers it to the Tesys computer. All the TCOM system does is relay the information from the mainframe of the plant to the Tesys system, which is an optimizing computer program. Tesys contains all the move orders; it optimizes the moves [what is called “building a detail”].

The dispatcher in the control room manipulates the Tesys output and works with Tesys to assign loads to the carrier operators. When a dispatcher in the control room decides which details should be moved, and which carriers should be assigned, he hits the send button on the Tesys computer. A communications network (CDPD) transmits the information to a touch-screen terminal on the straddle carrier.

“The operator then knows what detail he’s supposed to work,” Newman says. “We have really limited our voice communications by using this cellular technology.”

There is also a communications network by which the dispatcher can go into the mainframe to build a load, just like the workers out on the floor. That computer accesses a network throughout the plant for about seven different systems. The network computer is also used for payroll, time and attendance, and for keeping personnel records.

When the operator of the straddle truck receives a move instruction, he scrolls it on his touch-screen; when he completes the move order, he touches that line. He also calls the dispatcher on the radio to notify him that the assignment has been completed.

The Tesys software takes the information and sends it back through TCOM into the mainframe product location to update the records.

To track the vehicles in the vast expanses of the storage yard, Timken relies on GPS (ground positioning system). GPS shows the locations of all the straddle carriers on a screen in the control room.

Timken has the best of both worlds in yard handling: traditional material handling with reliable equipment and modern software to control inventory and guide delivery of orders.

Monsters on the Move

Anybody who was in the Cleveland Chapter of the American Material Handling Society 40 years ago will remember Timken’s straddle carriers because one of the people in charge of the fleet was an active chapter member.

In case you don’t know, a straddle carrier is made up of a frame, four tires and an arrangement to lift and carry bolsters [skids] of heavy material. The operator is perched in a cab on top of the straddle carrier.

Timken still operates about 21 of these units, but only the frames — which are a discontinued Hyster product — are original. Things like cab, steering, hydraulics and electronics are new. Timken engineers helped design the components. The remodeled carriers have Detroit Diesel engines, which are able to track a number of things automatically, like how often the operator uses the brakes or the fuel efficiency of the unit.

Only about 16 carriers are active at one time; the rest are being used as spares or being remodeled. Most of the units have a 60,000-pound capacity. A handful of smaller units with 40,000-pound capacity are being used as dedicated material handling machines in limited-space areas. The carriers travel at 23 mph loaded, which is a governed speed.

Sideloading is ideal for handling long loads in yards with improved surfaces, especially loads that move in and out of racks in manufacturing plants and warehouse shelters.

“Sideloading is popular in locations where space is at a premium,” says Timothy Flood, managing director of Fantuzzi USA. Flood points out that the maximum benefit of the sideloading equipment comes from utilizing it for space consumption. For example, a 20-foot piece of lumber needs that much aisle space if carried by a lift truck; if the lumber is being carried by a sideloader, the aisle width is restricted to about eight feet.

Long loads are easily lifted by the sideloader’s forks and rest on its decks during travel. The sideloader operator is able to control the whole lift and travel from the cab; there is no need for an additional spotter.

An in-plant and yard handling application of sideloading is at Manitowoc Cranes. The sideloader is a unit with a 55,000-pound capacity that has been customized to hydraulically extend its platform width by an additional 36 inches when necessary. The sideloader carries crane track assemblies and other long loads from temporary storage in the yard to flatbed trucks for shipping.

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