Save Money in Your Own Backyard

by Katy de Vries

TORONTO, Ont. – There are so many components of the supply chain, from the manufacturing stage to the consumer, that one of the integral parts often gets overlooked – yard management.

Yard management includes everything from maximizing available space, to finding the most efficient means of moving trailers or containers, to establishing timely yard maintenance schedules.

It’s important to look at the entire supply chain in order to fully understand the process and where the opportunities for savings lie, says Trevor Fridfinnson, Bison Transport’s director of operations,

“I don’t think there is any question that if the shipper/receiver understands the importance of doing shunts effectively and employs people who will do it properly, it is a huge potential savings for the industry,” Fridfinnson says.

Wait times are much talked about in this business and a good yard management service can make efficient use of equipment and get somebody in and out quickly as opposed to making them wait to pick up or drop off a load, he says.

Bison Transport, like many other carriers, provides on-site dedicated shunting and yard management services for companies that have such a need.

David Dunfy, Brampton terminal manager for Robert Transport, says an efficient yard management system can make for a more productive operation.

“Companies can pick up efficiency in this area of the entire operation, it is most certainly a way they can save money,” says Dunfy.

Just-in-time delivery has had a dramatic affect on yard management, says Ron Goebel, president of Inventory Solutions Canada, a third party logistical support company, that offers warehousing and shunting services.

“The key goal for us is to provide warehousing for the product and store it off site and get the product to the customer for JIT delivery, so the shunting service becomes very important and is a valuable need,” says Goebel.

Most companies work with shunt or yard trucks because of the increased maneuverability they provide, which in and of itself is a time-saver. Shunt trucks have a hydraulic fifth wheel, which means an operator doesn’t have to get out and crank the dolly legs, which you would normally have to do with a regular tractor.

Kansas-based Ottawa Truck has manufactured yard trucks since 1943 when it began as a farm equipment company, and in 1958 it introduced the Yard Hustler, and has since become a world-wide supplier of shunt trucks.

Randy Dennis, director of sales and marketing for Ottawa Truck, agrees that savings are inevitable if yard management is streamlined and efficient.

“There are a lot of different ways to get to the savings, there are even IT companies that sell yard management systems, and depending on the complexity of the yard the equipment becomes more and more important,” says Dennis.

Dennis agrees with Goebel in that it is becoming more and more prevalent for the industry to consider yard management and logistics systems because of JIT delivery and the fact that all companies are looking at cash management, reducing assets and trying to improve inventory turn. As a direct result, the shunt truck manufacturing business and the yard management operations are continuing to grow as well.

But along with the increased efficiency of a shunt truck comes its own series of safety issues.

Fridfinnson says the operator must be absolutely sure when it is safe to pull a trailer from a door.

“Moving trailers around a yard and backing up are all important considerations, but when people start to get involved, the potential risk is greater. If an operator pulls a trailer that isn’t ready to be pulled, meaning there is someone on a forklift inside, the potential for a serious issue is there, so systems have to be put into place at the facility and everyone has to be trained on these procedures,” Fridfinnson says.

Because a shunt truck has a shorter turning radius, it turns much more quickly than a regular tractor would. That means the risk of accidents is greater, says Dunfy. Also, operating a shunt truck requires a lot of backing up moves, and backing up is considered one of the most difficult skills when driving a truck, so there are safety issues surrounding that aspect as well.

It requires special training to operate a shunt truck, and sometimes those who want to work their way up in the trucking industry will begin shunting trailers and through that, learn how to drive.

“Many people will begin this way,” says Fridfinnson, “but we found that in a sense it is a little backwards. A shunt job is very difficult and intensive, it requires a lot of hard work and you have to be really comfortable with the equipment. Since backing up is typically regarded as one of the more complex skills to learn as a driver, and since a shunt truck driver will do about 50 to 60 moves a day, a driver who is learning could tear apart a few trailers before he’s through.”

More and more, the industry is viewing yard management as an important link in the supply chain, which Dennis says, means the manufacturing business is also thriving.

“In the last year most of the company’s engineering resources have been primarily dedicated to working on the new engine regulation compliance, by redesigning the powertrain and the cooling systems,” says Dennis.

“But there are two significant product enhancements that are unique to this industry that we should be rolling out within a year that are going to be very significant in increasing productivity of the drivers.”

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