Increasing Dock Efficiency with Better Visibility

By Matt Davidson, Contributor

With today’s expectations of same-day delivery, the importance of properly managed warehouse docks and truck arrivals has never been greater. U.S. government studies estimate that billions of dollars are lost annually due to excessive dwell time—highlighting the critical value of the loading dock as the bottleneck in warehouse and freight operations. Meanwhile, truckers are reporting longer and longer dwell times, which cuts into their earnings and drives up the cost of shipping.

In an effort to alleviate the impact of truck detention costs on operations, there has been an increased focus on gaining efficiency at the dock. The first step in improving loading dock operations is actually understanding how existing docks are currently operating. In conversations with many warehouse operators, they have a general understanding that they have a dwell time “problem.” However, when asked to quantify how big the problem is, the usual refrain tends to be anything but specific. In order to effectively tackle the problem, the first step is to clearly benchmark existing operations—both outside and inside the dock.

Visibility Solutions: Sensors, Data, Cloud Connectivity

There are several solutions currently on the market helping to track activity around the dock. Many use sensors placed outside the dock to determine presence or absence of a truck, providing a running clock for how long a truck has been docked. Some go a bit further and will also provide a warning when encroaching on the standard two-hour detention limit. While this can help with real time operations, this data is usually very localized and isn’t sent back to any centralized system for tracking and reporting.

The next group of solutions transfers this data to the cloud to support historical analysis and real-time alerting. Cloud connectivity helps considerably, as it enables distributed knowledge about current dock status across warehouse employees.

The downside of most current dock solutions is they tend to focus only on the external aspects of the dock. More and more, warehouse managers are demanding solutions that track not only dwell time, but also the activity taking place inside the dock. After all, what good is knowing your average dwell time without understanding the internal operating characteristics which contribute to it?

Dock Efficiency—Inside and Out

These more advanced solutions allow operators to review real-time data and alerts—not just about current dwell time—but also about docks which aren’t being actively loaded or unloaded.  Instead of only measuring performance by dwell time, operators can use dock efficiency to gauge the effectiveness of operations. Dock efficiency takes into account dwell time, but layers in the activity inside the dock to help paint a complete picture of what took place. This data empowers warehouse managers with the ability to shift resources, in real time, to prevent detention events and ensure smooth warehouse operations.

While understanding the state of docks in real time helps tactical operational decisions, connecting this data to an intelligent cloud platform has even more potential for operational improvement. These solutions are able to clearly show trend data, displaying graphs of when trucks are arriving, then correlating dwell time with arrival time. This type of analysis allows for smarter resource scheduling, ensuring that the right people are in place to cover anticipated arrivals.

Improving data visibility gives warehouse managers the keys they need to resolve bottlenecks, while improving detention times and enabling managers to allocate their resources more effectively. This helps accommodate last-mile delivery and urban freight demand. Additionally, increased data visibility enables managers to negotiate smarter logistics contracts, with tighter windows and turnaround times that will help save money for the long term. WMHS

About the Author

Matt Davidson is the Vice President of Product and Marketing at Locix, Inc., a Silicon Valley-based startup focused on revolutionizing the supply chain and logistics industry through unique, cost-effective data collection and analysis. Matt has an extensive background as a product and marketing leader focused on value creation at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds—solving complex problems through data collection and cloud-based analysis. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from University of Texas at Austin and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.