Auto-ID: NYK Logistics Automates Yard Management

Feb. 1, 2006
Active RFID improves throughput for Target’s logistics partner.

The hub of NYK Logistics' activity for Target takes place in Long Beach, Calif. at a 70-acre yard and transload facility featuring 1,200 parking slots and 250 dock doors. NYK is responsible for managing more than 50,000 inbound ocean freight containers from the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach and 30,000 outbound trailers every year. It coordinates shipments to 22 different distribution centers across the United States. NYK Logistics processes more than 1,000 gate transactions daily during peak season, checking in and out containers and trailers from steamship lines and domestic carriers.

The company had relied on a homegrown yard management system. Personnel, armed with clipboards, pads of paper and walkietalkies, manually entered data and scanned bar codes on containers to try to keep up with the yard's current inventory.

"No matter how many people we threw at the problem—we even used an old pick-up truck to expedite the data collection process—we were always a day late and a dollar short," says Charles Kerr, equipment control manager of NYK's Long Beach operations. "And in our case, those days and dollars quickly escalate into thousands of dollars when you consider higher inventory, more labor and lengthy yard turns."

With volume steadily increasing and tapping out its facility capacity, NYK Logistics decided to use technology and automate its yard. "In hindsight, we wished that we had made the move sooner," Kerr says.

NYK Logistics goals included: increased revenue from new business as a result of better yard throughput; improved service performance through more timely processing of containers; and reduced costs as a result of better gate productivity, improved tractor efficiency and the elimination of manual yard checks.

The company installed WhereNet's (Santa Clara, Calif.) wireless active radio-frequency identification (RFID) real-time locating system (RTLS) and WhereSoft Yard 4.0 yard management software. Deployed in less than 75 days, the WhereNet wireless system provides NYK with accurate location information for every container, trailer, and tractor within NYK's yard. (See "Peek-a-Boo: Real Time Locating Systems," on page 56.) The system has allowed NYK to automate more than 90% of its yard operations, which has increased dock door utilization, reduced yard congestion, and increased yard throughput. NYK realized a complete return on investment in less than one year.

"Traditional passive RFID technology just doesn't cut it for our operations. It's not good enough to know that a trailer or container has entered our yard; we must know its exact whereabouts and status at all times," Kerr says. "For example, during our peak pre-holiday season, it's not uncommon that we are required to expedite a container that just arrived at the port, deconsolidate it, and transload its contents onto several different outbound trailers headed for different parts of the country. With WhereNet, we can execute this type of double transaction in less than 20 minutes. We could have never dreamed of doing that with the old system."

Upon arrival at the gate, every container or trailer gets "tagged" with a small, active radio transmitter. From this point forward, NYK Logistics personnel have constant connectivity to their yard assets wherever they are. Yard workers use handheld devices and ruggedized tablet PC devices mounted in the tractors to transmit data through the WhereNet infrastructure.

WhereSoft Yard 4.0 lets NYK Logistics operate a more efficient deconsolidation, transload and crossdock business. It includes a yard rule manager that controls the movement of trailers and containers to dock doors, assigns parking spots within the yard, and verifies that trailers and containers being checked out are allowed to leave the yard. NYK uses the rules to ensure that the lowest cost carriers are selected first for particular routes and to minimize detention by processing older containers first. The only human intervention in this process takes place when the tractor driver receives the request through his wireless tablet PC device, maps the location of the requested trailer with his touch screen, and pulls the trailer to the designated door.

Gate check-ins and checkouts are performed using mobile handheld devices and software. During the check-in process, a user enters information about the unit and driver, and then attaches an active wireless RF-transmitter tag to the container or trailer that is about to enter the facility. The system automatically attempts to find a matching automatic shipping notice (ASN) and prints a ticket for the driver with instructions on where to park the unit and which unit (if any) to pick up. The ticket serves as a gate pass for the driver. Driver information is obtained by swiping the driver's license on a magnetic card reader integrated with the mobile printer. This data is transmitted via the wireless local area network and captured in the WhereNet database so that NYK Logistics has accurate, automated records of everyone who enters its facility.

"With WhereNet, we essentially know the DNA of every container. What's in it, when it arrived at the port, its location on our site, and where the contents ultimately need to be shipped," Kerr says.

NYK gate worker applying an active wireless RF transmitter to the top of an inbound sea freight container loaded with goods from Asia.

All yard moves are conveyed to drivers through wireless devices, like tablet PCs.

Locating access points have antennas that "listen" for transmissions that are actively broadcasting from the active RFID devices attached to containers and trailers in the yard.

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