I consider yard management software functionality to reside at the intersection of transportation management systems (TMS) and warehouse management systems (WMS). This makes it an important link in the supply chain. I also believe it’s an area where the application of technology can provide substantial efficiency improvements. At the HighJump conference last month, Scott Halvorson of Ashley Furniture discussed his firm’s project for improving efficiency at a large yard in California. I found the company’s application of technology to be both interesting and innovative.
Ashley Furniture operates a warehouse in California with an area of 1.5 million square feet. The yard surrounding this facility is also large, and travel distances around the perimeter of the warehouse can be extensive. The legacy yard management process was to simply assign trailers to a row that could accommodate up to 50 trailers. In addition, carriers were often dropping trailers in the wrong rows and workers were moving trailers without recording the change in what was a manual entry into the HighJump yard management system. The poor level of location accuracy led to poor trailer visibility. Meanwhile, the high travel distances across the yard compounded the inefficiency of trailer moves and other yard operations.
To improve upon its yard processes, Ashley Furniture leveraged its HighJump labor management application, AutoCad, RFID, and GPS technologies. They used AutoCad to map the yard, and creatively applied the labor management X,Y coordinate system and travel path engine to determine yard move distances. When it came to RFID, the yard didn’t include many physical or electronic location markers and it was considered impractical to deploy them. Without this as an option, Ashley Furniture needed to deploy an RF system without stationary reference points (both the trailers and the tractor being mobile objects). During yard check-in, RFID tags were attached to trailers and the information was recorded in the HighJump system. The yard management tractors were equipped with antennas that recorded the presence of the stationary trailers as the tractor traversed the yard throughout the day (In most RFID applications of which I am aware, the antenna is stationary and an RFID reading indicates the tag’s presence near the antenna). This enhancement alone improved upon trailer inventory visibility in the yard by verifying trailer presence. To increase location accuracy, Ashley supplemented the row locations in the yard management software with slot numbers. What in the past was “trailer 123 stored in row T” was refined to “trailer 123 stored in row T, slot 5.” To automatically verify trailer (RFID) location, Ashley Furniture augmented the RFID system with GPS. This incorporated location proximity to the RFID reads. These enhancements enabled yard workers to more accurately locate trailers of interest. To add further process efficiency, the company used the increased location visibility to assign yard moves in proximity to the last location of the yard truck.
I believe Ashley Furniture’s yard system is an good example of creatively applying technology to cost-effectively improve inefficient business processes.