September 2003 | Commentary | IT Matters

Finding Efficiencies in the Yard Just Outside

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Today's dynamic business environment provides supply chain professionals with increasingly complex pressures from a variety of business fronts. Customers request reductions in cycle times, time-to-market, and operating costs in addition to increased order accuracy and service.

Yet in the face of these challenges, many companies focus only on maximizing efficiency within the four walls of their warehouse or distribution center. In doing this, they often overlook inefficiencies in the yard just outside.

Five Steps to Excellence

The yard has become a focal point for companies striving to improve their overall order-fulfillment infrastructure and the speed with which they can meet customer demand. Accomplishing this requires an effective yard management solution, which will help achieve operational excellence in the following five ways.

1. Achieving 100-percent visibility of trailers and their contents. An effective yard management solution provides a centralized system of tracking goods and trailers from the moment they arrive in your yard until the moment they leave.

Complete visibility into trailers provides a security benefit by giving you an accurate picture of exactly what trailers and drivers are on the premises at all times, including product visibility in containers right down to the SKU level.

This visibility is possible with the accuracy derived from directed, optimized work activity using wireless RF communication devices. By ensuring that all personnel have complete, real-time visibility of trailer locations and contents at all times, this system lets you seize cross-docking opportunities—which, in turn, increases fill rates and on-time shipments.

In addition, a yard management solution allows you to ensure the security of your facility by associating a specific trailer with an advance shipping notice (ASN) or purchase order at the gate.

2. Managing shipping events proactively. Complementing your yard management system with an event management application gives managers real-time notifications—via e-mail, phone or pager—of events that will impact scheduled operations. Managers then have the ability to proactively resolve problems such as late shipments and pickups, and eliminate the costs associated with expedited shipments.

3. Maximizing yard space utilization. Leveraging RF-based communications allows you to achieve real-time visibility of space utilization in your yard. This visibility allows you to direct a trailer to be unloaded at a space closest to the dock door, reducing the distance and time involved with trailer retrieval.

4. Facilitating carrier appointment scheduling. The ability to schedule carrier appointments gives your dispatch operations a planning tool by providing a view of all inbound and outbound appointments. For inbound shipments, the use of ASNs and real-time location status prepares receiving personnel for the arrival of freight, which speeds the unloading process. This results in cost savings as you avoid demurrage charges from carriers whose appointments were delayed due to other carriers arriving late.

5. Ensuring vendor and carrier compliance. Creating a complete and accurate record of your vendor and carrier activity ensures your ability to identify which vendors and carriers are following your established set of best practices—and which are not. A clear account of activities, dates, and times is useful in contract negotiations, especially when there is room for improvement. This capability also allows you to improve on-time carrier rates by providing incentives and imposing penalties.

Conceptual Challenges, Real Solutions

In the past, management beyond the four walls has been more of a concept than a reality. Today, yard management has become a critical component for companies focused on optimizing their supply chains.

For companies managing large numbers of trailers entering, exiting, or being stored in their yards, an effective yard management solution can provide an invaluable service to your business.

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