Yard Management Systems (YMS): Bridging the gap between warehousing and transportation

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The activity that takes place within the four walls of the warehouse or distribution center is usually well orchestrated, documented and, in most cases, supported by technology. With warehouse management systems (WMS), companies are increasingly automating this aspect of their supply chains. Transportation management systems (TMS) take over once shipments reach “the other side of the door,” so to speak, and head to their destinations.

And somewhere between the WMS and the TMS is the yard and the dock, both of which have often been referred to as the “black holes” of the supply chain. Indeed, in many installations, these vital areas are not necessarily managed with the technology, or the solutions used do not “communicate” with other platforms.

This leaves gaps in the supply chain that companies are increasingly trying to avoid in today’s fast-paced, resource-constrained environment.

Using software that provides visibility into trailers and shipments; automates the truck arrival, check-in and check-out process; monitors the movement of the trailer in the yard; and tracks activity on the dock, businesses can bridge the gap between their existing solutions. They can also speed up their transport operations, improve operator safety and reduce demurrage and detention costs.

Who uses what

Yard management systems (YMS) help companies achieve these goals and more, but according to Peerless Research Group’s 2022 Materials Handling Technology Study, their use has declined in recent years. .

While more than half (56%) of companies surveyed use WMS and inventory management systems and 26% use TMS, only 7% have deployed YMS in their operations. Looking a little deeper, the percentage of businesses using YMS has fallen from 17% in 2020 to 8% in 2021.

Despite what the numbers may say, Bill Brooks, vice president of Capgemini’s North American transportation portfolio, says he’s seeing increased interest in YMS from shippers who want better visibility into their yard business. and dock.

Whether due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic or labor shortages (or both), he sees more businesses using self-service kiosks for trucks in and out of the courtyard. They also connect their YMS systems to their existing WMS, TMS, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions with the goal of achieving unified dashboards that everyone can count on and work from.

“Greater interest in YMS started about a year or two ago and hasn’t waned yet,” Brooks says. “We continue to see a lot of attention in this space, primarily due to the positive gains that can be captured by reducing inefficiencies and improving on the yard.”

In response to this demand, he says WMS vendors are expanding their reach and adding YMS to their lineups while top fleet management vendors are adding new features and capabilities.

“Software vendors are taking innovations from other areas of supply chain management and applying them in the field,” says Brooks. These innovations include sensors, tracking mechanisms, data analytics, and edge computing, the latter of which speeds up the information retrieval process by bringing data computation and storage closer to the data source. Armed with this information, shippers can adapt on the fly faster, resolve issues faster, and make better decisions about their yard and dock business.

Top YMS providers are also using more application programming interfaces (APIs) to connect their specialized yard management applications with the TMS, WMS, ERP and other solutions that shippers already have in place. The Cloud also supports this movement and helps to “democratize” YMS and make it more accessible to a wider range of users.

Finally, Brooks says he’s seeing more and more aerial drones being used in the yard, both for safety and security as well as better tracking and visibility. “I think we’re going to see more of that, and especially when it comes to construction monitoring that uses drones and artificial intelligence (AI) – and that will help take human error out of the equation.”

Main drivers of growth

Simon Tunstall, research director, warehousing and fulfillment technologies at Gartner, also sees increased demand for YMS right now. Some of the growth is due to rising fuel costs, ongoing labor constraints and the need for faster turnaround of visiting drivers. This is because extended downtime not only results in higher ancillary costs for carriers, but it also affects drivers’ hours of service (HOS) compliance.

These and other realities are driving more companies to explore YMS and all it has to offer. In fact, Tunstall says he’s seen a significant spike in YMS-related inquiries during the peak COVID months — and that interest hasn’t waned yet. “Interest in YMS has continued, but not quite at the same pace as we saw during the peak in the middle of the pandemic,” says Tunstall. “Still, it certainly hasn’t gone down at all.”

Apps that pick up visiting drivers and offer kiosks for them to use as they enter and exit the yard are particularly hot right now. Tunstall names consultancy MacGregor Partners and software provider Vector as two organizations that are more focused on kiosks at the moment. By combining kiosk and gate automation and offering mobile devices that visiting drivers can use, these companies and others are helping companies streamline and automate their job sites.

These solutions differ from more traditional YMS applications, which tend to focus on dock planning and the movement of containers and trailers around the yard. In addition to supporting visiting drivers, some of the newer solutions digitize documents and provide electronic bills of lading (eBL) that help businesses gain efficiencies in their yard.

Tunstall says that one of the main selling points of YMS is the good return on investment (ROI) it offers in exchange for a relatively low time and financial investment. “A YMS can provide a good return on investment for a shipper who is losing trailers, incurring detention costs, and wants to turn around faster with visiting drivers,” he says. It can also help improve the overall flow of products in and out of the warehouse or manufacturing operation, which in turn can further improve the value of the software for a specific shipper.

And, many YMS vendors offer fairly fast implementation times compared to other types of supply chain management applications, Tunstall says, and a lower overall cost to run the software itself. . Combined, these benefits make YMS attractive to many types of shippers, including very large, busy sites that currently rely on manual, disparate solutions to manage their yard operations.

Know what you are looking for

In some cases, current YMS users are evaluating their existing systems and wondering how they can get even more out of it. This push to optimize existing YMS – and presumably, most other types of SCM software right now – helps companies do more with what they have and avoids the expense of new software applications.

“I’ve definitely seen a surge of interest from companies that already have YMS and wonder if they’re leveraging it or if there are any upgrade opportunities,” says Howard Turner, director of chain systems. of supply at St. Onge Company.

Shippers also connect existing software applications to gain better visibility, both in the jobsite and across the supply chain. For example, the company that uses a fleet tracking application to determine where trailers are on the road and if they are going to be delayed can connect this software to a fleet management system.

This way, the YMS has the information it needs to accurately track arrival times and make predictions based on delays that occur on the route. Once the trailer arrives and enters the inside of the gate, the YMS continues to track it and notify users when it is time to stop at the dock, drive away from the dock, etc.

Turner sees this “digitalization” of the jobsite as an important tool companies can use to offset labor issues, supply chain constraints, and other issues that affect delivery times. With a YMS in place, businesses can also eliminate issues such as a driver waiting too long at the gate to be let in by a security guard or having to drive around and look for a spot in the yard. This, in turn, helps reduce downtime – and associated transportation costs – while keeping drivers on the road and moving more efficiently.

“Greater interest in YMS started about a year or two ago and
has not yet diminished… We continue to see a lot of attention in this
space, mainly due to the positive gains that can be captured
reducing inefficiencies and improving the worksite.

—Bill Brooks, Capgemini

For businesses that want to start taking advantage of these and other benefits of YMS, Brooks says a good place to start is knowing what you’re looking for. Identify your main yard and dock challenges and identify areas that are ripe for improvement. Look at both stand-alone and best-of-breed solutions and those offered as part of an existing WMS, TMS or ERP, then decide which is best suited to your specific needs.

“Keep your eyes peeled because there’s a lot of innovation going on right now in terms of drones, artificial intelligence, analytics, and edge computing – things that might not even be on your doorstep yet. radar,” says Brooks. “In some cases, these innovations can be added at relatively little or no cost, and can bring you windfalls in return.”

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