With almost 10 years of yard management experience, I have seen my share of tricky problems in the yard. While challenges vary site by site, of course, there are generally four areas that see the greatest amount of strain in the yard:
- Inventory management and difficulty locating equipment in the yard
- Sky-high operational costs, including dwell and detention fees
- Expensive overtime labor
- Dependance on manual operations
At its core, a yard management system (YMS) is intended to help you keep track of trucks and trailers in the yard. But modern supply chains demand more from a YMS, including such necessities as gate, appointment, dock and spotter optimization.
FourKites recently surveyed hundreds of shippers and 3PLs regarding their yard management practices. The survey indicated that 41% of respondents consider manual operations to be their biggest challenge in the yard, followed by difficulty locating inventory and assets in the yard at 19%. High operational costs made up 14% of respondents’ biggest concerns, and overtime labor came in at 13%.
For too long, yard management software has remained siloed from other, more commonly implemented systems, such as transportation management systems and warehouse management systems. As a result, these top-four yard issues have continued to present challenges despite use of antiquated yard management systems.
Let’s look at the ways these challenges might be affecting your supply chain.
Inventory Management & Locating Equipment in the Yard
Inventory management is the leading challenge in the yard today, and it presents the most critical consequences. The inability to locate and manage inventory and equipment in the yard costs organizations thousands of dollars every year, largely in overtime labor, but also in opportunity cost. The amount of time yard jockeys spend searching for equipment and inventory could be used more effectively elsewhere, and it is the job of a yard management solution to enable workflow prioritization. When the customer team has no visibility into inventory in the yard, you run the risk of providing suboptimal service, and potentially damaging valuable customer relationships. If your YMS is not providing this critical layer of visibility, it’s time to reconsider your choice of YMS.
Today’s yard management systems may come with auto-inventory reconciliation, meaning the location of assets/trailers in the yard is automatically updated as the yard truck goes about its operations, reading RFID tags and associating the tag with the current GPS location. If a trailer is not in the position in which it was last seen, the system automatically updates the location, eliminating the need for manual yard checks.
Additional inventory measures include inventory auto-validation to ensure inventory accuracy and identify risks to inventory levels. Looking to improve the performance of your trailer inventory lifecycle? Site-by-site metrics give you the data you need to move inventory through your facility more quickly and accurately.
According to a 2018 study FourKites administered with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), 78% of carriers lost the opportunity of at least one load per month due to detention times, with almost half losing more than one load per month. Shippers know firsthand how quickly dwell turns into detention, and how costly that becomes. The study also found that “the successful reduction in dwell times throughout the transportation sector at large has the potential to create an additional 2-4% of transportation capacity.”
A similar study by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (now known as the Consumer Brands Association) found that “inefficient processes at a facility contribute to increased dwell. Capturing granular data and having robust reporting in place to identify key bottlenecks is critical.” As such, it’s important to find a yard management software that captures the appointment data necessary to pinpoint problem areas in the yard, so that facility managers can plan labor and select carriers with the support of detailed reporting.
Additionally, the study reported that “improper load balancing, which leads to increased dwell times, can be remediated using a strict and better appointment scheduling system, which also takes into consideration the product type/complexity of the load.” Ideally, your YMS is optimized for product- and pallet-based scheduling, factoring in an organization’s unique requirements. Leveraging customizable reason codes, your appointment management application can track changes and updates to appointments and feed that data into integrated metrics and reporting tools.
Expensive Overtime Labor
Accurate labor planning is a difficult milestone to achieve. Oftentimes, labor schedules are created manually with no deference to data in support of labor-planning decisions. This comes at a high cost in overtime spend, but it can additionally result in the loss of highly qualified employees. To improve the efficacy of an organization’s labor planning, it’s helpful to adopt a YMS that prioritizes the optimization – and even automation – of certain workflows in the yard.
Self-service functionality is one effective measure of labor savings. For example, a more modern YMS will have a carrier self-service portal that enables carriers to schedule and change their own appointments, based on what they are seeing on the road in real-time. If they know they are running late, they can use the portal to update their appointment time from a list of available appointment slots provided by the YMS. This vastly reduces the time administrative staff spends calling carriers to set up and change appointments, and enables them to spend their time on higher-value tasks (and simultaneously cuts down on the need for overtime).
Further opportunity for self-service comes in the form of spotter tasking. In lieu of radio communications dictating moves on the yard, a modern YMS will empower the spotter with dynamic task lists and live yard maps, detailing exactly where and when moves need to be made on the yard. By taking the guesswork out of spotter movements, it’s possible to save hundreds of hours of overtime labor per year and drastically reduce trailer cycle times. Similarly, dock scheduling can be managed by a YMS to provide dynamic updates in the event of appointment delays. Without knowledge of these delays, dock teams waste hundreds of idle hours per year.
When looking to streamline operations, digitization and standardization are key. Traditional yard management is riddled with manual, inefficient workflows, like telephone-based appointment management and gate guard data entries using Excel and occasionally even paper logs. When looking for a yard management solution, consider the ways it can improve the reliability and accuracy of your data, as well as how that data can empower you to cut costs associated with manual operations, like dwell and labor.
For example, employing a YMS’s gate management functionality can eliminate the potential for human error and lead to increasingly efficient trailer check-ins. It’s vital to prioritize this functionality within a YMS, as wait times at the gate can be disastrous to effective supply chain planning. An automated gate, using RFID technology, is a reliable way to receive trucks faster and maintain an accurate log of gate activities. Additionally, it eliminates labor costs attached to a gate guard. If automation is a bit beyond your organization’s scope, a digitized gate with a self-service check-in portal will take a bit more time than an automated gate, but will still cut labor costs while removing the possibility of human error and maintaining driver health and safety.
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In my first few weeks implementing FourKites Dynamic Yard at facilities around the country, I have witnessed firsthand the excitement facilities teams have experienced in knowing that there is an actionable way to cut costs, streamline workflows and manage inventory – all from a singular platform. While we know it’s difficult to choose the right YMS for your needs, we’re willing and delighted to walk you through your options and help you understand the technological landscape of yard management.
Interested in learning Gartner’s perspective on common problems in the yard? Watch our recent webinar with Gartner VP Analyst Bart de Muynck to learn more!