With all the focus on warehouse management systems, facilities might be neglecting the importance of managing the yard as well, says Colin Mansfield, vice president of Yard Management Solutions.
Have distribution facility operators taken their eye off the ball when it comes to yard management? “Absolutely,” says Mansfield, noting that many consider the yard to be “a bit of a black hole.” Management of that area is largely done through spreadsheets, radios and manual processes. The yard, he adds, “is rarely the focus of a warehouse or transportation management solution.”
The yard is defined as “anything between the dock doors of the facility and the gate.” In essence, Mansfield says, it’s a big parking lot, where trailers and containers are dropped in an often-haphazard manner, and not managed by modern-day information systems.
As a result, dwell times in the yard can be excessive, with drivers waiting for hours to pick up a load. Inside the warehouse is a host of automated systems, including robots, “but out in the yard, these same facilities are putting sticky notes on trailers.”
In actuality, Mansfield says, applying some degree of automation to yard operations isn’t that hard. “All you need is a very simple system,” supported by touchscreen devices and computers. “It doesn’t take hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch a yard management system.”
Still, when acquiring a YMS, it’s important to evaluate prospective vendors carefully. To begin with, Mansfield says, ask for references. And don’t go for systems that are essentially just “bolt-ons” to warehouse management systems, which tend to treat yard management as an “afterthought.”
“Modern shipping operations deserve modern software,” Mansfield says. “Ask those with good experience in using the system, then go on site and interview them.” In addition, prioritize applications that integrate seamlessly with existing systems.
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