May 2004 | Commentary | IT Matters

Streamlining Truck Visits at the DC

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While the full impact of the Hours of Service (HOS) ruling is yet to be determined, it is obvious that truck drivers need to manage their time more carefully to minimize any loss to productivity.

Under the new regulations, a driver's idle time counts toward the maximum allowed 14 hours on duty. Shippers can mitigate the financial impact of HOS by implementing best practices in distribution center management systems, which improve driver turn times and provide leverage for better freight rates.

For many DCs, truck visits are inefficient. A trucker arrives at the facility, parks, completes the appropriate documentation at the office, gets a dock assignment, restarts the truck, then pulls the trailer up to the appropriate bay.

Breaking down each component of a trucker's visit at the distribution center highlights improvements that can be made in each segment, or entire steps that can be eliminated to shave off precious time. The central concept behind efficient DC operations is implementing the right processes and technology to provide visibility to all inbound and outbound shipments, as well as visibility to what is currently in the distribution center.

The Ingate Process

Appointments greatly streamline ingate time by moving much of the receiving process off site prior to the trucker arriving at the facility. The DC can complete and prevalidate documentation so it is ready for the trucker, minimizing idle queuing time.

Shorter ingate times create a ripple effect across all truckers. Especially during peak waves where there may be trucks queued at the gate, the benefit of saving a couple of minutes during each ingate is magnified as compounded savings expedite the process down the line. The fleet owner who has a truck at the end of the queue during a peak wave has much to gain when the ingate chokepoint is eliminated.

For fleet owners who tag their trailers, trucks can bypass the ingate process altogether. A reader board or ticket printer can automatically give the trucker instructions on where to go, thus dramatically speeding up processing time.

Dock Assignments

Appointments, when used in conjunction with an intelligent capacity planning system, can expedite the truck visit by automatically assigning the trucker to the right dock upon arrival. Instead of parking, the trucker can pull into the appropriate dock door directly from the gate.

Visibility into incoming loads and case counts allows the DC to estimate unload/load times and adjust appointment durations to handle difficult loads appropriately. An intelligent system assigns the correct door by balancing load type requirements, receiving modules and priorities against capacity, labor, equipment availability and resource constraints. This method helps optimize the number of slip, pallet, or floor loads slotted.

Accurate planning minimizes the possibility of drivers waiting idly for specialized equipment, incurring delays at the facility, and backing up the entire schedule.

Even with the best planning, execution is a whole different animal. Things don't always go as planned, so being able to adapt effectively is critical to minimizing trucker delays.

Intelligent distribution center management systems can provide dynamic optimization scheduling when a problem shipment occurs or when a trucker arrives late. With visibility into the entire facility, and knowledge about the scope of work to be done throughout the day, the DC can shift resources as needed to minimize impact to other truckers and still accommodate late truckers.

Outbound Efficiencies

Depending on the nature of the operation, drop and hook systems may be preferable because a trucker can conduct two transactions during a single visit, thus maximizing productivity. A smart yard allocation system efficiently manages the staging of trailers. Then, visibility into trailer status expedites the drop and hook by negating search time in the yard and enabling the DC to have the trailer ready at the appropriate time.

An added benefit is that the distribution center can enforce outbound dispatch time limits once a trucker has been assigned a trailer to pick up. Managers are aware of the precise location of the trailer and can relay this information at time of dispatch. By capturing dispatch and outgate time stamps, the DC management system provides a reporting and compliance tool for pre-trip times.

If RF tags are in place, the system can automatically cross-check that the outgoing trailer/tractor pair is consistent with the dispatched assignment. This is protection against one of the worst kinds of exceptions—a driver picks up the wrong trailer only to realize the error on the road, or worse, at the store.

Having the right DC management system greatly improves distribution center and trucker productivity and can help streamline the delivery process. These systems are going to hold increasing importance in the context of the new HOS ruling.

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