While warehouse management (WMS) and transportation management (TMS) systems have soared to next-generation technology sophistication, managing truck schedules and the loading and unloading of cargo is still managed on clipboards and walkie-talkies. How do electronics companies change this process?
“The challenge is that there are many different vendors and many different scheduling requirements,” said Greg Braun, senior vice president sales and marketing for C3 Solutions, which provides dock scheduling and yard management solutions. In electronics, the supply chain constitutes a $600 billion industry. It has a variety of end-markets and participants that range from providers of silicon raw material to OEM customers. At some point, all of this activity goes through the yard. “These [yard] transactions should be done electronically, yet they get done via email or through a highly manual process,” said Braun, who advocates for an automated yard management system driven by optimized “rules engines” for carriers and their customers.
The point is well taken. Every day, demands for short cycle times, improved time to market and reduced operating costs exert themselves on the supply chain. It's great to optimize warehouses and distribution centers — but if the yard outside the DC or warehouse remains “as is,” it becomes the “lowest common denominator” of performance and a choke hold on order fulfillment and supply chain velocity.
The inefficiencies in yards are multi-faceted. They range from “misses” in scheduling and tracking carrier appointments, even to forgetting about a trailer that is already in the yard, full of product. Limited visibility of the yard also presents security threats at the same time that it increases risks of wasted labor hours and unsatisfied customers.
“Using a yard management system (YMS) can help ensure workers don't waste time hunting for trailers, or parking trailers in the wrong location,” said Nathan Harris, president of YardView, a YMS provider in a recent article. “It shows the entire view of a yard, and helps companies manage operations more effectively… A YMS can play a large role in improving the overall flow of goods. A YMS helps you see the total picture. What trailer has been sitting for three weeks? Which one is loaded and needs to be handled right away? It gives you thorough visibility of what is going on in the yard. You can see if units are damaged, and address problems faster. The YMS greatly improves communication between departments and processors in the yards.”
Just as significantly, automated yard management enables yard workers to understand better how their actions impact other areas of the supply chain. It also gives managers throughout the supply chain a more uninterrupted view of supply chain flow — because supply chain visibility in electronics manufacturing, at suppliers, at distribution centers, and at retail outlets no longer falls off the edge of the earth when it gets to a warehouse or DC yard.
How can companies create more visibility in the yard?
One popular technology consists of mobile RFID devices that enable yard workers to track products and trailers automatically down to the container and even to the SKU level. This automation is capable of directly integrating into warehouse and transportation management systems to create an uninterrupted picture of supply chain flow. It also positions companies to move to newer inventory concepts such as “mobile inventory” that centrally tracks all products in a mobile truck fleet of “distribution that directly transports goods to customers — without ever parking them in a distribution center or a warehouse.
Automated systems can also replace highly labor-intensive and error-prone processes like booking appointments with arriving trucks, and then letting trucks sit in the yard when visibility is lost or coordination with the warehouse is out of sync.
A third touch point is ensuring that any Yard Management System can fully integrate with warehouse and transportation management systems, and even corporate enterprise resources planning (ERP) systems. This is the degree of integration it is going to take to move toward end-to-end visibility of the supply chain.
Today, there are far too few companies that have integrated yard activity tracking into their overall supply chains. This creates “black holes” in end-to-end visibility, which in a few short years of global economic growth pains, has gone from being just a catchy phrase to a well-established industry mantra.
Doing business isn't getting any easier, and companies that leave their yards out of supply chain tracking only inflict more competitive disadvantage on themselves. Now is the time to move forward by eliminating supply chain visibility black holes in the yard — because end-to-end visibility only becomes possible when companies make it happen by connecting all of the dots.