By weeding out detention costs, trimming inefficiencies, and seeding visibility and productivity, yard management systems (YMS) can fertilize your supply chain.
Every weekday at 6 a.m., several drivers for S&D Coffee & Tea, one of the largest custom coffee roasters in America, used to spend more than one hour physically checking the location of about 150 trailers across S&D’s five warehouses and manufacturing locations. Then, they’d enter the information into a spreadsheet.
The challenge? "By 6:30, the information had changed because the trailers had moved," says J.T. Hinson, logistics manager with the Concord, North Carolina-based firm.
No more. "With a yard management system (YMS) from PINC, that job went away," Hinson says. Now, every time a trailer or tractor moves, the YMS gathers data related to the move. The solution also captures information on the type of coffee bean stored in each trailer. This is key, as the roasting process varies with bean type and customer demand.
With this information and the establishment of a queuing area, the time required to move the appropriate trailer to the roasting area dropped from about 45 minutes to 15 minutes. "It was a big win," Hinson says.
The yard outside many warehouses and manufacturing plants has long been overlooked. "Companies historically haven’t thought of the yard as a significant pain point," says Rafael Granato, vice president of marketing with PINC, a provider of yard management solutions.
However, yards can be sources of either efficiency or delays. Say a trailer takes three days to move from one facility to another. During those 72 hours, the average trailer will spend about 80% of the time idling in a yard, Granato says, citing PINC data, industry analysts, and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The idle time usually results from delays and inaccuracies in information about the trailers’ status.
A YMS "supports the efficient flow of work, equipment, and material through the normally enclosed area outside of a warehouse, distribution center, or manufacturing facility," says Gartner’s Market Guide for Yard Management study. It also provides an overview of yard operations and supports the control and movement of trucks, trailers, and containers in the yard, Gartner says.
For some supply chain organizations, the YMS capabilities housed within their warehouse management systems may be all they need. This tends to be the case when they require only limited capabilities around, say, gate check-in and check-out, and yard locations, says Bart De Muynck, vice president of research with Gartner. These modules can also perform well when the YMS and WMS need to be tightly integrated.
If more robust capabilities are needed, however, built-in solutions may come up short. In addition, many YMS solutions today are cloud-based, which reduces the upfront investment and cuts the cost difference between the two options.
When to Consider a YMS
Several drivers often prompt organizations to look at YMS solutions, says Michael Maris, director of transportation and logistics with Zebra Technologies. Companies that have multiple yards servicing many plants or warehouses may turn to a YMS to help with tracking and control.
When poor management and scheduling lead to bottlenecks at the dock and within the yard, causing detention and demurrage charges and even lost sales, companies also consider a YMS. The growth of e-commerce and the related demands for an automated, real-time ability to assist a warehouse management system is also prompting interest in yard management solutions.
The capabilities a YMS can offer have become more critical during the pandemic, which magnified existing supply chain challenges common to many yards, such as blind spots and little technology to manage operations, Granato says.
The pandemic also left many truck drivers leery of exiting their vehicles to complete paperwork each time they enter a yard, says De Muynck. That’s accelerating interest in the ability of a YMS to automate yard processes.
When evaluating YMS solutions, "identify the key problems you’re trying to solve," Granato advises. For instance, is it meeting carriers’ and customers’ requests for on-time, accurate deliveries? A need to do more with less? The answers should drive the selection.
For example, a YMS solution’s ability to automatically execute business rules and processes can boost operational efficiency and cut costs, Granato says. This can include optimizing driver turnaround time, automatically finding and assigning trailers and associated loads, and reducing truck idling time.
Enhanced visibility over the physical yard also drives value. "Any system worth its salt will track what’s happening in the yard in real time," says Colin Mansfield, director of sales and marketing with Yard Management Solutions. This typically includes monitoring the trailer pool and providing data, such as the time required to complete different yard functions, or the speed with which trailers move in and out.
A case in point: One company was paying $560,000 annually in detention fees, because trailers were sitting too long, Mansfield says. When the company implemented a YMS that issues alerts once trailers idle past a certain amount of time, it cut this sum in half within several months.
As S&D considered various YMS solutions, Hinson and his colleagues focused on several features. One was adaptability. While S&D incorporated new processes that improve its operations, it was also looking for software that fit the company’s business needs, rather than getting shoehorned into a process that didn’t help the company.
Another feature was RTLS, or real-time location system tracking. With RTLS, small magnetic passive RFID tags are affixed to each trailer and then automatically scanned by an RTLS tracker located on the switcher.The location and other information associated with the trailer are consistently updated in real time.
Hinson and his team also needed reporting capabilities that can be tailored to the needs of each department, including finance, commodities, and manufacturing. For instance, they were able to build pick lists based on coffee bean types, as well as by finished product or raw materials—all without engaging IT developers.
"The reports give visibility and detail to the assets and what’s on them," Hinson says.
While a YMS can operate as a stand-alone application, integration with a warehouse and/or transportation management system often strengthens efficiency, De Muynck says. When they’re linked, information on equipment availability and location, for instance, can flow automatically between the systems.
Advancing technology promises even more value from future generations of YMS solutions. Some of them are incorporating machine learning and artificial intelligence.
"Data analytics from the WMS is fed to the YMS indicating the sequence the inventory, trailers, and containers in the yard are needed in order to meet out-of-stocks or fast-moving items with low inventory," says Maris.
Even as new solutions emerge, today’s YMS solutions continue to provide value. For instance, when S&D Coffee added another facility and yard, the YMS allowed Hinson’s team to manage it without adding a yard spotter or tractors and drivers.
"S&D Coffee is better able to optimize equipment and drivers," Hinson says, "while still meeting customer demand."