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cleaning up the yard

All that great supply chain software - ERP, WMS, TMS - manages information and speeds the flow of goods, but radio-and-clipboard technology in the yard has the same effect as tossing a boat anchor out...

All that great supply chain software – ERP, WMS, TMS – manages information and speeds the flow of goods, but radio-and-clipboard technology in the yard has the same effect as tossing a boat anchor out the truck window. “Velocity goes to zero in the yard,” says Gregory Braun, vice-president, business development with C3 Solutions in Montreal, the developer of a software package called Yard Smart. It improves yard operations by automating thousands of tasks a day and giving users access to trailer location, cargo details, scheduling information and more.

Despite the anachronistic way in which too many yards are run, and the associated penalties, Braun nonetheless observes that, “yard management does not fit within corporate strategy. IT and company strategy is normally focussed on SAP, WMS .”

But not always. Before Challenger Motor Freight moved into its new 54-acre facility in Cambridge, Ont., in August, 2005, recalls Eveline Gaede, director of information technology with Challenger, “Our CEO told us that he did not want one driver looking for a trailer.”

Challenger purchased Yard Smart to manage the 700-plus parking spots; the facility also includes a 50,000 sq. ft. administration building, 54,000 sq. ft. maintenance facility and a smaller building for indoor fueling and inspections.

Yard Smart tells drivers and shunt truck operators where to park and pick up trailers and flags trailers for scheduled maintenance or repairs. It also takes the agony out of yard checks, says Gaede. “It would take a whole day at the other yards to write down all the trailer numbers and compare the list to the list on the computer. Now the yard check takes just a half hour.”

Canadian Tire Retail started using Yard Smart in July, 2005 at its two distribution centres and one warehouse in Brampton, with a total of about 5,000 parking spaces and 450 dock doors. There can be up to 2,000 trailer movements a day and the company wanted to improve dock/door usage, reduce yard congestion and make more efficient execution of trailer moves within and between yards, according to Neil McKenna, the company’s director, transportation operations.

Yard Smart does many things, but, says Braun, “The essence of what we do is send optimized move requests to the shunt trucks.” To know where trailers are and where they should go, the client and C3 first create a yard diagram in Yard Smart, using, for example, Google Earth satellite photos or Auto-CAD site drawings, and Yard Smart wizards. The diagram shows every building, numbered dock doors and numbered trailer parking spaces, and the program is told where all the permissible routes through the yard are. Yard Smart “sees” each trailer slot, which appears as a rectangle in the diagram, and sees any trailers occupying the slots.

Load contracts, shipping and arrival schedules and other identifying information about trailers that will pass through the yard are entered in the program. Rules about which trailers to pick are made; e.g., trailers with cargo that has to be cross-docked for early morning local deliveries are moved first, then trailers for later deliveries, trailers with imminent demurrage charges go before others, and so on.

“If you have a choice of two empty trailers, one that has been there a day and one that has been there a month, we pick the one that has been there the longest,” says Gaede. Some of the rules that Canadian Tire Retail programmed into Yard Smart, says McKenna, “determine picks based on trailer size, based on cube requirements, temperature-controlled equipment during summer and freezable season, storage versus roadworthy units and to select specific carriers.”

Yard Smart organizes and optimizes business in the yard and at the dock, but at the same time, Braun emphasizes, “The way the system works, we try to automate as much as possible the mundane moves.” Still, authorized users can get in the loop too; e.g., all a user has to do to send a trailer away from a warehouse dock door or repair shop is drag the trailer icon off its slot and drop it. Yard Smart automatically sends a message to the next-available shunt truck driver with instructions for the best parking spot to take the trailer.

Once Yard Smart has its marching orders, it sends trailer move requests to wireless devices in the shunt trucks. At 1520h, say, a shunt truck driver receives an instruction to move trailer NATL937 to dock door 73. Once having done that, he checks off the completed task and Yard Smart updates the graphical view of the yard and its schedule and informs other programs to which it may be integrated, such as the WMS or TMS.

Having Yard Smart handle tasks has interesting side effects; e.g., once shunt drivers realize that Yard Smart is impartially doling out the trailer pick orders on an “as available” basis, Braun observes, “He learns to trust the system and that he isn’t getting the s#&t jobs. Driver turnover goes way down … being a shunt driver is not always the most pleasant job: useless chatter, dispatcher doesn’t like me … this goes away and the shunt driver can do his job.”

McKenna cites reduced radio traffic, and fewer dispatching responsibilities because of automated dispatching over the RF network. Roughly 20 shunt drivers are simultaneously on the go at the Brampton yards and, says McKenna, “This has been a great improvement for our drivers as they are now more productive and more independent with automated dispatching.”

Too, Braun notes, “If the shunt driver sees a problem with a trailer, such as a broken light or broken door, he can click on a “find trailer” icon, key in the trailer number written on the side of the trailer and select from a drop down menu the “out of order code” and send it to maintenance.” Some events; e.g., flat tire, signal that a trailer can’t be moved and Yard Smart takes it out of service.

Gaede sketches how Yard Smart works in Challenger’s Cambridge yard where, on a typical day the company will gate in 272 units and gate out 220 units: “When a truck comes in, the guard keys in the tractor number. The system is integrated with our TMS. Messages come up, such as maintenance, or drop trailer in yard. An open work order based on a driver report from on the road, [and of which drivers have notified the company via satellite through their TMS], may be ready at the guard shack. Rules in the system optimize where trailers should be dropped; for example, special commodities and high value go to a secure area; garbage trailers go to the back. This really streamlines our equipment and drivers. We wanted to make it so we could get drivers in and out as quickly as possible. Gate passes are printed for the drivers so they know where to park their trailers.

“When a shop needs a trailer, maintenance does the move. All you have to do is drag the trailer to the shop and an e-ticket is created that goes out to the shunt driver’s handheld. After maintenance is done, the shop drags and drops the icon out of the shop and the shunt driver gets an e-ticket.”

On the way out of the yard the driver goes to the dispatcher, who tells him exactly where to go to pick up the trailer. The guard punches up the tractor number to confirm the right tractor and trailer, which is linked to the TMS system, Gaede explains.

“The big thing is getting the drivers in and out quickly and the visibility of the units. We have our own Montreal office set up as a yard. We might even set up a customer site as a yard, so that when a piece of equipment shows up there, we will be able to see it.”

Challenger’s Yard Smart is integrated with its TMS, and once Yard Smart is fully integrated with the FMS, maintenance will no longer have to make any entries in the TMS, thus automating the flow from the FMS to the TMS. Future plans include rolling out Yard Smart to Challenger’s warehousing facility in Kitchener and to yards in Montreal and British Columbia.

Among the many efficiency gains Canadian Tire Retail is enjoying, McKenna reports a significant increase in dock door usage by using Yard Smart’
s scheduling functionality. He also notes, “The depth of the Yard Smart database along with advanced criteria search and scheduling functionality allows us to in-gate, find, schedule and retrieve product on trailers more efficiently. We are still in the process of integrating with our WMS. This will be most beneficial as we implement automated replenishment of product with Yard Smart.”

Later this year C3 plans to roll out a lighter, Web-hosted version of Yard Smart that will require no help from fleets’ overworked IT departments to set up. Braun says, “We want to deliver a yard management product to the operations people responsible for yard management, and who have an operations budget, without them having to go to IT.”

Carroll McCormick is an award- winning writer who has been covering transportation industry issues and technologies for more than a decade. He is based in Quebec.

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