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What is Dwell Time in Trucking and Shipping?

Dwell time is generally referred to as the time truck drivers spend at facilities waiting to drop off or pick up loads – and it’s one of the more vexing challenges for stakeholders across the supply chain. Dwell impacts stakeholders at all levels of the supply chain, causing imbalanced load volumes, carrier arrival delays, inefficient on-site operations and much more. It’s also a critical concern in achieving differentiation as a shipper of choice.

As Chris Cunnane of ARC Advisory group put it during one of our recent webinars, “Carriers stand to make more money by keeping their trucks on the road, rather than sitting in warehouse yards or loading docks. While carriers can charge detention fees, they’d rather keep their trucks in motion. Detention fees can be difficult to collect and lead to delays in payment.”

What is Container Dwell Time?

Contrary to truckload dwell time, container-based dwell typically occurs at a port or railyard, as large metal shipping containers filled with bulk goods are transferred from a ship or train to a new mode of transportation for the next leg in their journey.

Because goods being unloaded at a port have seldom reached their final destination, delays at ports and railyards can quickly compound into causing further delays for the truck waiting to pick them up for the final leg of their journey.

Dwell Time’s Impact on Supply Chain Efficiency

Dwell time is closely linked to detention costs for shippers. It can cause congestion at ports, facilities and border crossings. Finally, it has major repercussions for the amount of capacity available for the industry as a whole. If companies are to successfully minimize the effects of dwell time on their supply chains, it’s required they first understand dwell time logistics in all its most common forms.

In the over-the-road trucking industry, dwell times usually occur at pickup or delivery facilities, as trucks are forced to sit waiting for an empty loading dock to load or unload their goods. It has major environmental ramifications, as drivers often find themselves idling for long periods of time at the pickup or delivery facility.

FourKites research has shown that loads with a greater level of complexity, such as mixed-pallet shipments containing orders for multiple customers within a single truck, can significantly increase dwell times as dock and warehouse crews struggle to unload these shipments in the same time frame it takes to unload trailers filled with a single type of good.

How to Calculate Dwell Time

Measuring shipping dwell time is a critical first step to reducing its impact throughout your operation. To do so properly, however, requires a holistic, multi-layered approach. Since the factors that commonly influence dwell times exist at all levels of the supply chain, the ability to identify exact chokepoints within your own operation are key to achieving meaningful improvement in reducing dwell.

There are several key metrics that can contribute to the dwell time performance of a load. Because some amount of dwell is normal in any supply chain, it’s important to set target compliance thresholds which can help identify loads and facilities that fall outside of your target dwell.

FourKites handles dwell time calculation through our custom-designed Dwell Scorecard, a part of our Facility Manager reporting module which provides the ability for individual sites and facilities to analyze historical Warehouse Management System (WMS) data and identify operational bottlenecks.

Key dwell time metrics in logistics (Used by our Dwell Scorecard)

  • Number of loads/appointments
  • Percentage of non-compliant loads
  • Percentage of delayed carrier arrivals
  • Average delay of delayed arrival loads

How Can You Reduce Dwell Time?

FourKites’ research has shown that dwell can be quickly and significantly lowered, once you know where the key problems are occurring. In past collaborations with our shipper, carrier and 3PL partners, we’ve repeatedly found the following consistent, common issues that increase dwell time.

Common causes of high dwell times in trucking and shipping:

  • Load Complexity: More complex orders, such as mixed-pallet loads, can contribute to greater delays at pickup and delivery facilities. By grouping purchase orders so that similar goods are delivered at the same time, or by scheduling higher-complexity loads to arrive during off-hours when delays are less likely to occur, FourKites customers have been able to successfully reduce detention throughout their supply chains.
  • Arrival Times: FourKites research has shown a direct correlation between high load volume and high dwell times, suggesting that load-balancing initiatives across both time of day and day of the week can be key to reducing dwell.
  • Check-In Procedure: Complex or convoluted check-in procedures at facilities can quickly result in a long line of trucks and a bottleneck for both pickups and deliveries. Therefore, simplifying and consolidating check-in procedures, for example by implementing paperless check-in technologies, is an easy way to lower detention costs throughout the organization.

Once you have identified the root causes affecting high dwell times within your supply chain, the potential value is high.

Here are a few quick success stories on dwell time reduction from within the FourKites network:

  • Using FourKites in conjunction with several existing logistics partnerships, Land O’Lakes reduced median dwell time by 21% per load in just three months.
  • One of the largest meat producers in the US slashed their monthly detention costs by 22% within their first year of using FourKites. This translated to a positive return on investment from detention savings alone within the first six months.
  • Specialty paper manufacturer Pixelle Specialty Solutions reduced dwell times by 20% within the first eight months of adopting visibility technology.

Clearly there are significant opportunities for streamlining operations, improving sustainability, and strengthening carrier relationships by targeting reduced dwell time throughout the supply chain. More than just helping a single organization, effective reductions in dwell times send positive effects cascading throughout the rest of the industry. Improvements in dwell times ultimately result in fewer missed appointments, happier drivers and more available capacity throughout the industry as a whole.

Especially in times of crisis, it’s hard to find a better return on investment than that.

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