Yard management – the overlooked solution to congestion challenges

by Matthew Wittemeier
Matthew Wittemeier is a director marketing and sales at INFORM’s terminal and distribution centre logistics division.

Let’s face it, the global supply chain has not been operating at peak performance for many years. The pandemic just made things worse, highlighted its weaknesses and led to persistent shortages and bottlenecks across all links in the supply chain, from labour and material shortages to air, ports, trucks, rail, warehouses and yard constrictions.

While trailer yards are just one of the elements in global supply chains, they do play a critical role. When they’re backed up and congested, they slow down everything from in- and outbound transportation to order fulfillment.

To mitigate supply chain challenges, optimize resources and improve productivity and customer satisfaction, distribution centres have turned to yard management systems (YMS). Delivering digital decision-making support, they offer many benefits.

State of yard management

Yard management improvements have been largely neglected. Organizations instead focused on their warehouse and transportation management processes. As a result, yards have stayed inefficient, burdened by manual processes that have yard jockeys following verbal orders conveyed over a radio, and scrambling around searching for trailers or inventory located somewhere in the yard.

This is an all-too-common occurrence even though many companies recognize the potential benefits a YMS can provide. Consequently, they suffer from a host of problems, ranging from difficulty locating equipment and inventory, to high costs from dwell and detention fees, to overtime labour costs, and error-prone manual operations.

Monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) becomes extremely difficult, yet it is critical that yard operators be able to benchmark key metrics, including gate, carrier, yard jockey, and equipment metrics.

Transparency and more

To provide the greatest value, a YMS should be designed and configured to support standardized processes and data needs. This allows KPIs to be evaluated to further improve operations.

As a starting point, it should deliver full transparency of on-site trailers and yard resources. By logging every incoming and outgoing asset and their movements while in the yard, the YMS eliminates time wasted by yard jockeys trying to locate a trailer or other equipment. This also improves yard safety by reducing the number of individuals conducting chaotic searches.

A YMS should have standard, digitized gate processes which help expedite truck check-in and out. Both fully automated and manual processing should be supported, as well as communication within the software when a situation is not consistent with the plan (e.g., the arrival of an unplanned truck). The YMS lets dispatchers manage exceptions within their larger plans and communicate directly to gate staff without requiring a phone call or email.

Added value and future proofing

Additional features go beyond these to deliver the extra added value, which reduces ROI time from years to months.

Regardless of the number of yard trucks, yard vehicle optimization can reduce vehicle travel and deliver fuel savings, decrease maintenance and increase asset lifespan. For large yards with many trucks, a high-performance yard optimizer can cut the number of needed by a third while still delivering the same service quality. This can also contribute to sustainability initiatives.

Dock door optimization automates routine dock door decisions, freeing up dispatchers to concentrate on services that contain costs and generate value. Leveraging complete knowledge of dock door parameters and status ensures that the YMS adheres to both fixed and variable constraints. Real-time information regarding trailers at the dock is fed to facility staff and, using handheld devices, they are able to supply critical information regarding unloading/loading processes to the YMS.

An on-time performance feature also delivers value. With this, a YMS system can receive scheduled trailer arrival and discharge times from a transportation management system (TMS). Using the schedule, vehicle processing can be optimized by the YMS to maximize the on-time departure of outbound trailers. When a trailer arrives late, but needs to leave first, it can be prioritized for unloading/loading ahead of trailers that can depart later.

The handling of in-bound trailers can also be optimized using priority load performance management. Here, containers with time-critical content arriving on in-bound trailers may be designated for immediate unloading, leaving standard-load trailers to be stored until a dock becomes available. Outbound trailers with priority loads can also be prioritized for discharge from the facility.

Additional features that may be worth the investment are AI and machine learning enabled systems that can run autonomously and make routine digital decisions.