Yard Management Solutions Impose Control on an Inherently Chaotic Process

As Chris Jones from Descartes said in a Logistics Viewpoints column, the Forrest Gump quote — “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get” — applies to the challenge of managing a yard, particularly inbound dock operations.

A yard management system (YMS) controls the yard attached to a warehouse or distribution center (DC). YMS functionality includes dock door scheduling, check in and check out, location of trailers in the yards, trailer asset management, and efficiently moving trucks and trailers to and from dock doors. A YMS can save companies money through reduced detention fees, improved yard labor efficiencies, and better warehouse utilization.

There are four distinct groups of YMS vendors. First off, there are standalone vendors. Some are more focused on deep software functionality, such as Zebra Technologies and C3 Solutions, and others are more focused on providing real time location asset visibility, such as PINC Solutions and Exotrac.

I was briefed recently by both Zebra and Exotrac. What impressed me about Zebra’s solution was the intuitive, easy-to-use configuration engine that Zebra uses to accomplish complex yard optimization. Exotrac, in turn, provides a low-priced system that is well suited for 3PLs, with a real time location system based on GPS.

Several warehouse management system (WMS) vendors also provide YMS solutions, including RedPrairie, Manhattan Associates, HighJump Software, SAP, and Oracle.

An ARC client mentioned that they had seen a detailed demonstration of RedPrairie’s YMS capabilities and were impressed. Basically, RedPrairie has taken the task management, inventory management, and waving capabilities that are core to its WMS and extended them out to cover yard activities. This has allowed RedPrairie to have the kind of robust yard functionality historically associated with a Zebra or C3 solution.

Transportation management system (TMS) vendors also offer a subset of YMS functionality; most offer web based dock scheduling. A robust dock door scheduling system does not hard schedule a truck for a particular dock door. Rather, the YMS should fill the open time slots in such a way that the dock doors are fully scheduled, but also allows for more flexibility later if trucks arrive early or late.

Most TMS suppliers offer web based dock scheduling. However, Descartes and JDA Software both offer more holistic solutions to the dock door scheduling problem. Descartes calls its solution “Logistics Flow Control.” Descartes argues that retailers that use a web-based dock scheduling portal will often have synchronization problems. Here is how Chris Jones described it in his guest commentary:

The LTL carrier typically cannot schedule an appointment until it has knowledge of the shipment, which typically means goods in hand and evaluation all of the deliveries it needs to make. At that point, because of DC capacity constraints, the retailer/distributor’s schedule may not offer a delivery window that makes the contracted date. Or the LTL carrier is not aware of the impact of “slight” changes to the delivery date, and changes it to allow more deliveries to be consolidated before scheduling an appointment. In the end, the goods fail to show up on time and depending upon the contractual agreement, fines are levied on the bewildered supplier.

JDA, in turn, has recently released a more granular, constraint-based dock door scheduling solution than I have seen from other YMS suppliers. With existing transportation management systems, if the dock manager changes the dock schedule, the optimization in a TMS begins to unravel. By attempting to preserve the freight savings associated with a transportation plan, JDA’s solution can potentially save companies more money than a traditional YMS would achieve.

Finally, the last category of yard solution involves managed services. C.H. Robinson, for example, offers dock scheduling managed services from the shipper’s perspective. The problem shippers face, particularly consumer goods companies, is that the retailers they work with all have different appointment scheduling systems, which makes scheduling tedious and inefficient. Several of C.H. Robinson’s clients have decided they don’t want their transportation planners engaged in appointment scheduling for two reasons. First of all, transportation planners can get busy putting out fires. When this occurs, planners often do not get around to appointment scheduling until late in the day, at which point the slots they want might be gone. Secondly, transportation planners make a good salary, so it is less expensive to outsource this task.

In conclusion, there is a lot going on in the yard solutions space, far more than I suspected when I began researching this article.

(Note: C.H. Robinson, Descartes Systems, HighJump Software, JDA Software, Manhattan Associates, Oracle, RedPrairie, and SAP are ARC clients and/or Logistics Viewpoints sponsors).


  1. Our yard management requirements seem to not be met by any software on the market.

    Besides the usual in-bound appointment scheduling issue we need to load stock from docks on outbound trips. The docks are physically separate for different temperature regimes and so we need to shunt trailers between docks to fill them in a defined sequence. As it is a fresh grocery operation the loading is highly time-critical and the shunting must be responsive to when stock is ready to load and prioritise shunting tasks depending on the scheduled depot departure time of the completed load. We have had to develop software that notifies shunters of the next job to do having calculated what is necessary given all the tasks necessary before departure AND the actual availability of the stock to load.

  2. Hi Steve, nice research as this showcases the daily “chaotic process” yard management faces, with little or no appreciation further up the ladder.

    What puzzles me is that warehouse architects don’t appreciate the difficulties and subsequent delays caused by poor yard design. Further complicating matters, is the variety of loading options and vehicle sizes and configurations. End-loading requires vehicles to reverse into very confined loading dock spaces at right angles to the warehouse requiring large yard space, which is always at a premium. On top of this, few warehouses a built to cater for expansion over time. Any system’s worth is in its ability to measure actual traffic capacity against maximum design capacity, in real-time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *