Who's Minding The Yard?

Warehouse yards can be messy at best and chaotic at worst. Technology can help companies better take control over their yards.


The warehouse yard-the unruly stepchild of warehouses and DCs-is beginning to get the attention it deserves. Although yard management is not exactly a hot topic yet in the boardroom, warehouse and yard managers keenly understand they must banish chaos from their yards so warehouse efficiencies are not undermined. "If upper management knew how yards are managed, they might shake their heads in disbelief," states Jim Harris, president of Cypress Inland Corp. in Houston.

Yard management does not constitute a dominant portion of overall expenses, so it doesn't get much attention from senior executives, adds Aleks Gollu, CEO of PINC Solutions in Berkeley, CA. "The fact is, poor yard management could have a huge negative impact on your warehouse operation."

Beyond the four walls of the warehouse awaits a vast amount of information for improving yard performance. YMS programs collect this information offering visibility, which experts agree is key to yard efficiencies.

The Missing Link

Many companies have nothing more than multiple clipboards or whiteboards and separate, disjointed points for managing yard inventory, says Harris. "Even large operations with hundreds of trailers in their yards often operate manually and disjointedly."

In fact, a March 2007 report issued by Ian Hobkirk, senior analyst for supply chain at Aberdeen Group, found that of the companies surveyed regarding managing inbound and outbound trailers in the yard, a whopping 58 percent still use a manual system with clipboards and spreadsheets. Twenty-four percent use a yard management system (YMS) not integrated with the WMS; and 12 percent use an integrated system that includes a YMS module of the WMS.

Yards can be messy at best and chaotic at worst. "You definitely need to know where all your assets are at all times," notes Tim Oglesby, operations and customer service manager for a Kraft Foods mixing center handling refrigerated and dry products in Atlanta. "If you get a critical product coming in, you want to be able to expedite it. Yard management systems let you know where your products are so you can expedite them exactly when they need to be expedited."

Most people perceive the yard as separate from the warehouse, notes Mark Nix, vice president of sales for major accounts for Atlanta-based Manhattan Associates. "Prospects tell us one of the biggest problems they want to solve is getting their chaotic yards in order. They are not able to track inventory they need, so trailers and products often get lost in the shuffle."

Without yard management, you have to contend with dangerous missing links, notes Tom Kozenski, vice president of product marketing for Red Prairie in Waukesha, WI. "Yard management systems support a number of governmental regulations involving accountability and compliance along your food supply chain. You need to connect everyone along the chain as inventory comes in and goes out. Without systems like this, tracking manually is a huge endeavor."

Track Records

Somewhere, hidden in that stack of clipboard notes harboring the status of a manually managed yard, is all the information a yard manager needs to know in real-time so he can operate his yard as efficiently as his counterpart warehouse manager efficiently operates his side of the fifth wall.

It's easy to see how something like a hot load can be overlooked in all that confusion, usually with dramatic financial consequences. Clearly, yard visibility is the top priority in establishing order.

YMS programs offer food warehouse and DC managers a wealth of critical information, including temperature and fuel monitoring, out-of-stock monitoring, security and seal monitoring, detention and demurrage alerts, yard personnel metrics, yard checks, trailer tracking and yard accident histories.

Warehouse management of the yard:Gone is the idea of viewing yard operations separate from those in the warehouse. Yard management systems are really like WMS of the yard, because of the orderly sequencing of yard events, notes Nix at Manhattan Associates. YMS has similar capabilities to WMS, doing cycle counting, yard audits, priority management and event management for critical changes.

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