Executive Briefings

Loading Dock Visibility Gives Retailers View of Inventory at All Times

A real-time view into inbound shipments helps retailers avoid stock-outs and other nightmares at a critical juncture - the point of sale.

The loading dock is becoming an increasingly important choke point in the supply chain. It's where the validity of information about inbound shipments, and to a lesser degree outbound ones, is tested and ultimately judged.

Collecting information about outbound shipments is much easier because raw data generally are stored internally, either in the retailer's warehouse management or enterprise resource planning system. Picking the item out of inventory, or doing a shelf check, ideally should confirm the accuracy of reports generated by the underlying software-based planning or inventory management system.

Vendors' success in further integrating transportation management systems with sister warehouse management systems is providing loading dock managers with the accurate information that they need to make more efficient use of their facilities and the workers who staff them. More importantly, having accurate, timely information about the status of inbound shipments gives retailers the opportunity to speed or accelerate replenishment of high-demand products and minimize or avoid stock-outs or-a retailer's worst nightmare--running out of fast-moving products.

Addressing that potential problem is the Integrated Logistics for Retail, a new, enhanced software package that also includes Manhattan Associates' core WMS. Integrated Logistics provides an electronic appointment book that retailers use to schedule receipt of an inbound shipment. Retailers choose a delivery slot--notification is automatically sent to the carrier via e-mail or posted on a corporate extranet or portal - selecting the one that provides the best opportunity to quickly get the product to store shelves.

In turn, the carrier usually will send a reservation confirmation as well as an advanced shipping notice, when the shipment is en route.

A major factor that the software considers when selecting the preferred delivery time is ready availability of dock space, a finite resource.

Yantra Corp. includes a real-time synchronization/event management module in Yantra 7x, the latest version of its core WMS. This module, which provides retailers with visibility of the order as its makes its way across the supply chain and onto the loading dock, is event/exception-driven.

Moreover, Yantra recently enabled its software to accept real-time feeds from a radio frequency identification system. Essentially, the software matches RFID messages against the schedule and prompts the retailer if an inbound shipment fails to meet an important milestone, said Robert Sweeney, Yantra's vice president for product management.

There are a series of milestones within a couple of hundred yards of the loading dock, including arrival at the gate or trailer storage yard beyond the consignee's warehouse and acceptance of the inbound shipment at the loading dock.

RFID automates the receipt of goods at the loading dock or storage yard, says Art Mesher, executive vice president of Descartes Systems. In fact, the RFID-enabled Logistics Network Operating System can automatically attach a priority - red, green or yellow - to that shipment.

"It's real-time command and control of the supply chain," he says.

Descartes software, which has appointment and scheduling features like that in the Yantra and Manhattan Associates products, hosts much of its customer data on its network. Such an arrangement facilitates communication between consignee and carriers, most of which are members, Mesher says.

Descartes software also can do a quality control check/audit of supply-chain partners and vendors. It can apply statistical process control and analysis tools to help determine why certain recurring problems arise and ideally rectify the problem.

Retailers also recently began applying sophisticated analytics software to loading dock operations. A new package from the Teradata division of NCR Corp. of Dayton, Ohio provides updated information that warehouse and loading dock managers use to rebalance inventory levels, in response to current demand.

"What good is a forecast if you can't get the required goods in the store," said Gerald Hill, president of Sage Tree Inc., the Teradata unit that wrote the supply chain software.
Calculating optimal payback, in terms of improved inventory availability and required order fulfillment, determines how frequently shipments are scheduled.

Dock Priorities
Essentially, the logistics module of Teradata's Supply Chain Intelligence software package readjusts loading dock priorities and schedules. It does so after comparing current sales data with demand forecasts and finding potential disparities. The software then pushes the updated information and new priorities throughout the company's supply network and ultimately to the receiving loading dock.

Updated information received at the loading dock often is quite specific. For example, the location of high-demand inventory can be tracked to the truckload or pallet level, assuming such detailed, underlying raw data are available.

"[For RFID], each company's physical environment is different, which will require product packaging, technical infrastructure and process change."
- Christine Overby of Forrester Group

Another popular WMS/TMS feature, adjunct to the dock-scheduling tool, is a dock-storage yard management module. This is the load management module of Manhattan Associates' newly introduced Integrated Logistics for Retail package.

Yantra 7's yard management system is designed to optimize the staging of inbound shipments awaiting a loading available dock space.

Such modules help minimize the time that full trailers housing lower-priority goods must wait to be unloaded. These trailers generally are unhitched from the tractor and parked in an enclosed lot adjacent to the warehouse or distribution center pending availability of an unassigned loading dock.

Retailers try to limit use of these trailers as storage sheds to avoid payment of excessive demurrage charges - the daily rental fee a consignee, or recipient of the goods, pays the trailer owner for holding that equipment beyond normal transit time, or not releasing it in a timely manner.

Essentially, then, yard management software helps retailers make best use of the inventory that's inevitably stored in these truck trailers. It tracks these in-transit shipments down to the product level. And, when married with a WMS/ERP system, the software suggests the optimum way to stage or position trailers and schedule unloading in order to more quickly fulfill pending orders or restock inventory to meet minimum replenishment levels.

Basically the software helps position trailers to minimize cost jockeying. It suggests placing trailers with the highest-priority merchandise either close to the loading dock or where it's readily identifiable and accessible.

Third-parties such as K&T Switching Service Inc. of Sheffield, Ohio, offer turnkey yard management, meaning they provide the personnel tractors and software to organize movements. In fact, K&T issues drivers handheld pagers when they enter the storage yard in an effort to speed the proper positioning of the trailers. The pagers are used primarily to give truckers sitting idle explicit instructions where to unhitch trailers.

Also helping to more easily locate the appropriate trailer, as well as the desired shipments, are new RFID tags and the tracking software that accompanies them. The technology initially will have the biggest impact in trailer storage yards and subsequently warehouses because it's designed to offer quick payback.

Such payback is logical because RFID, unlike competing sensor technologies, doesn't require line-of-sight scanning. That enhancement makes RFID particularly valuable when tracking hard-to-find trailers and pallet load shipments in out-of-the-way or hard-to-reach crannies in large trailer storage yards or multi-story warehouses.

In fact, RFID readers have a range of 1500 feet, said Michael Dempsey, industry strategy leader for RedPrairie, a WMS vendor based in Waukesha, Wis., a Milwaukee suburb. The latest version of RedPrairie's WMS is configured to accept RFID-generated data.

Fingers in the Pie
Virtually every major software vendor this year has introduced a RFID-enabled product. SAP AG, the German software developer in January announced that its supply-chain management package could accept RFID feeds and will be widely available by mid-year.
However, there still is much work to do, according to Christine Overby a Forrester Group analyst. "Early pilots show that each company's physical environment is different, which will require product packaging, technical infrastructure and process change," she said in a December 2003 report.

"Companies can leverage data captured through RFID tags in their business processes by integrating ERP and SCM functionalities with RFID-enabled applications. Examples include packing and unpacking, shipping and receiving and tracking and tracing across the supply chain," SAP said in a release.

Moreover, RFID data can be rolled into SAP-backed portals, including mySAP, the company announced.

The technology will gain broader acceptance once the cost of the typical RFID reader falls considerably from the current $4,000 price tag per loading dock door, said RedPrairie's Dempsey. Likewise, further declines in the price of essentially disposable RFID tags, now costing about $1 each, should help spur acceptance among shippers. Remember a discrete tag is required for each pallet.

Some dock management systems can tap into high-end TMS load planning software modules that determine exactly where the shipments are housed within a trailer. This further speeds order fulfillment, reducing the time and expense to sort through a truckload of material when looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Such efficient use of manpower points up another important feature of the dock management software: its ability to consider the availability of personnel at the distribution center/warehouse dock door to unload the highest-priority trailer, while ignoring routine shipments. Essentially the dock management module taps the labor-scheduling component of the larger WMS.

Also helping to speed the flow of high-demand goods are cross-docking modules, standard in most warehouse management systems. These modules essentially match outgoing orders against scheduled inbound deliveries to determine if there is any commonality.
The goal: rush high demand items to stores, by minimizing putaway and retrieval, to avoid stock-outs, or lost sales.

Should the software find some crossover - especially for critical high-demand, high-value or difficult to store items - it directs inbound loading dock personnel to pull the requisite number to fulfill the pending shipment and place them in a temporary holding pod near the outbound dock. That's where they're ideally mated with the balance of items or the rest that's pulled from inventory to meet the entire order.

Cross-docking pays big dividends because it also cuts the dwell time of this inventory. That translates into lower inventory carrying costs, less spoilage, damage, theft or obsolescence. It also dramatically cuts merchandise handling costs within the warehouse's four walls.

However, cross-docking tests the capabilities of the WMS and warehouse staff because it doesn't allow much room for error. To wit: Air express carriers such as Federal Express Corp. perfected cross-docking to expedite handling of time-sensitive shipments that had only a small window of opportunity to make an outbound flight.

For retailers, miscalculate the intricate staging of goods moving in opposite directions and the order leaves incomplete, guaranteed to win customer enmity. Moreover, the supplier often must assume the added cost of providing an unscheduled delivery of those badly needed goods.

To avoid such tight squeezes, some retailers prefer to use the services of third-party logistics firms such as Atomic Box Logistics of Aurora, Ohio. This firm will manage the logistics-based software component of the distribution chain for the retailers at the company's facility or at ones that it operates on both the east and west coasts.

"Our customer model has been built around our ability to leverage our core competencies of warehousing, fulfillment, pick-pack and ship, cross-dock, consolidation and transportation management," Atomic says on its web site.

The loading dock is becoming an increasingly important choke point in the supply chain. It's where the validity of information about inbound shipments, and to a lesser degree outbound ones, is tested and ultimately judged.

Collecting information about outbound shipments is much easier because raw data generally are stored internally, either in the retailer's warehouse management or enterprise resource planning system. Picking the item out of inventory, or doing a shelf check, ideally should confirm the accuracy of reports generated by the underlying software-based planning or inventory management system.

Vendors' success in further integrating transportation management systems with sister warehouse management systems is providing loading dock managers with the accurate information that they need to make more efficient use of their facilities and the workers who staff them. More importantly, having accurate, timely information about the status of inbound shipments gives retailers the opportunity to speed or accelerate replenishment of high-demand products and minimize or avoid stock-outs or-a retailer's worst nightmare--running out of fast-moving products.

Addressing that potential problem is the Integrated Logistics for Retail, a new, enhanced software package that also includes Manhattan Associates' core WMS. Integrated Logistics provides an electronic appointment book that retailers use to schedule receipt of an inbound shipment. Retailers choose a delivery slot--notification is automatically sent to the carrier via e-mail or posted on a corporate extranet or portal - selecting the one that provides the best opportunity to quickly get the product to store shelves.

In turn, the carrier usually will send a reservation confirmation as well as an advanced shipping notice, when the shipment is en route.

A major factor that the software considers when selecting the preferred delivery time is ready availability of dock space, a finite resource.

Yantra Corp. includes a real-time synchronization/event management module in Yantra 7x, the latest version of its core WMS. This module, which provides retailers with visibility of the order as its makes its way across the supply chain and onto the loading dock, is event/exception-driven.

Moreover, Yantra recently enabled its software to accept real-time feeds from a radio frequency identification system. Essentially, the software matches RFID messages against the schedule and prompts the retailer if an inbound shipment fails to meet an important milestone, said Robert Sweeney, Yantra's vice president for product management.

There are a series of milestones within a couple of hundred yards of the loading dock, including arrival at the gate or trailer storage yard beyond the consignee's warehouse and acceptance of the inbound shipment at the loading dock.

RFID automates the receipt of goods at the loading dock or storage yard, says Art Mesher, executive vice president of Descartes Systems. In fact, the RFID-enabled Logistics Network Operating System can automatically attach a priority - red, green or yellow - to that shipment.

"It's real-time command and control of the supply chain," he says.

Descartes software, which has appointment and scheduling features like that in the Yantra and Manhattan Associates products, hosts much of its customer data on its network. Such an arrangement facilitates communication between consignee and carriers, most of which are members, Mesher says.

Descartes software also can do a quality control check/audit of supply-chain partners and vendors. It can apply statistical process control and analysis tools to help determine why certain recurring problems arise and ideally rectify the problem.

Retailers also recently began applying sophisticated analytics software to loading dock operations. A new package from the Teradata division of NCR Corp. of Dayton, Ohio provides updated information that warehouse and loading dock managers use to rebalance inventory levels, in response to current demand.

"What good is a forecast if you can't get the required goods in the store," said Gerald Hill, president of Sage Tree Inc., the Teradata unit that wrote the supply chain software.
Calculating optimal payback, in terms of improved inventory availability and required order fulfillment, determines how frequently shipments are scheduled.

Dock Priorities
Essentially, the logistics module of Teradata's Supply Chain Intelligence software package readjusts loading dock priorities and schedules. It does so after comparing current sales data with demand forecasts and finding potential disparities. The software then pushes the updated information and new priorities throughout the company's supply network and ultimately to the receiving loading dock.

Updated information received at the loading dock often is quite specific. For example, the location of high-demand inventory can be tracked to the truckload or pallet level, assuming such detailed, underlying raw data are available.

"[For RFID], each company's physical environment is different, which will require product packaging, technical infrastructure and process change."
- Christine Overby of Forrester Group

Another popular WMS/TMS feature, adjunct to the dock-scheduling tool, is a dock-storage yard management module. This is the load management module of Manhattan Associates' newly introduced Integrated Logistics for Retail package.

Yantra 7's yard management system is designed to optimize the staging of inbound shipments awaiting a loading available dock space.

Such modules help minimize the time that full trailers housing lower-priority goods must wait to be unloaded. These trailers generally are unhitched from the tractor and parked in an enclosed lot adjacent to the warehouse or distribution center pending availability of an unassigned loading dock.

Retailers try to limit use of these trailers as storage sheds to avoid payment of excessive demurrage charges - the daily rental fee a consignee, or recipient of the goods, pays the trailer owner for holding that equipment beyond normal transit time, or not releasing it in a timely manner.

Essentially, then, yard management software helps retailers make best use of the inventory that's inevitably stored in these truck trailers. It tracks these in-transit shipments down to the product level. And, when married with a WMS/ERP system, the software suggests the optimum way to stage or position trailers and schedule unloading in order to more quickly fulfill pending orders or restock inventory to meet minimum replenishment levels.

Basically the software helps position trailers to minimize cost jockeying. It suggests placing trailers with the highest-priority merchandise either close to the loading dock or where it's readily identifiable and accessible.

Third-parties such as K&T Switching Service Inc. of Sheffield, Ohio, offer turnkey yard management, meaning they provide the personnel tractors and software to organize movements. In fact, K&T issues drivers handheld pagers when they enter the storage yard in an effort to speed the proper positioning of the trailers. The pagers are used primarily to give truckers sitting idle explicit instructions where to unhitch trailers.

Also helping to more easily locate the appropriate trailer, as well as the desired shipments, are new RFID tags and the tracking software that accompanies them. The technology initially will have the biggest impact in trailer storage yards and subsequently warehouses because it's designed to offer quick payback.

Such payback is logical because RFID, unlike competing sensor technologies, doesn't require line-of-sight scanning. That enhancement makes RFID particularly valuable when tracking hard-to-find trailers and pallet load shipments in out-of-the-way or hard-to-reach crannies in large trailer storage yards or multi-story warehouses.

In fact, RFID readers have a range of 1500 feet, said Michael Dempsey, industry strategy leader for RedPrairie, a WMS vendor based in Waukesha, Wis., a Milwaukee suburb. The latest version of RedPrairie's WMS is configured to accept RFID-generated data.

Fingers in the Pie
Virtually every major software vendor this year has introduced a RFID-enabled product. SAP AG, the German software developer in January announced that its supply-chain management package could accept RFID feeds and will be widely available by mid-year.
However, there still is much work to do, according to Christine Overby a Forrester Group analyst. "Early pilots show that each company's physical environment is different, which will require product packaging, technical infrastructure and process change," she said in a December 2003 report.

"Companies can leverage data captured through RFID tags in their business processes by integrating ERP and SCM functionalities with RFID-enabled applications. Examples include packing and unpacking, shipping and receiving and tracking and tracing across the supply chain," SAP said in a release.

Moreover, RFID data can be rolled into SAP-backed portals, including mySAP, the company announced.

The technology will gain broader acceptance once the cost of the typical RFID reader falls considerably from the current $4,000 price tag per loading dock door, said RedPrairie's Dempsey. Likewise, further declines in the price of essentially disposable RFID tags, now costing about $1 each, should help spur acceptance among shippers. Remember a discrete tag is required for each pallet.

Some dock management systems can tap into high-end TMS load planning software modules that determine exactly where the shipments are housed within a trailer. This further speeds order fulfillment, reducing the time and expense to sort through a truckload of material when looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Such efficient use of manpower points up another important feature of the dock management software: its ability to consider the availability of personnel at the distribution center/warehouse dock door to unload the highest-priority trailer, while ignoring routine shipments. Essentially the dock management module taps the labor-scheduling component of the larger WMS.

Also helping to speed the flow of high-demand goods are cross-docking modules, standard in most warehouse management systems. These modules essentially match outgoing orders against scheduled inbound deliveries to determine if there is any commonality.
The goal: rush high demand items to stores, by minimizing putaway and retrieval, to avoid stock-outs, or lost sales.

Should the software find some crossover - especially for critical high-demand, high-value or difficult to store items - it directs inbound loading dock personnel to pull the requisite number to fulfill the pending shipment and place them in a temporary holding pod near the outbound dock. That's where they're ideally mated with the balance of items or the rest that's pulled from inventory to meet the entire order.

Cross-docking pays big dividends because it also cuts the dwell time of this inventory. That translates into lower inventory carrying costs, less spoilage, damage, theft or obsolescence. It also dramatically cuts merchandise handling costs within the warehouse's four walls.

However, cross-docking tests the capabilities of the WMS and warehouse staff because it doesn't allow much room for error. To wit: Air express carriers such as Federal Express Corp. perfected cross-docking to expedite handling of time-sensitive shipments that had only a small window of opportunity to make an outbound flight.

For retailers, miscalculate the intricate staging of goods moving in opposite directions and the order leaves incomplete, guaranteed to win customer enmity. Moreover, the supplier often must assume the added cost of providing an unscheduled delivery of those badly needed goods.

To avoid such tight squeezes, some retailers prefer to use the services of third-party logistics firms such as Atomic Box Logistics of Aurora, Ohio. This firm will manage the logistics-based software component of the distribution chain for the retailers at the company's facility or at ones that it operates on both the east and west coasts.

"Our customer model has been built around our ability to leverage our core competencies of warehousing, fulfillment, pick-pack and ship, cross-dock, consolidation and transportation management," Atomic says on its web site.