High-traffic warehouse and distribution facilities operating on a first-come, first-served truck delivery model often experience dock delays that result in a ripple effect of costs. However, new data-driven scheduling solutions are streamlining operations in this one area to have a dramatic impact on the overall enterprise.
How? By understanding the flow of shipments in and out of the facility by day, week, and month, warehouse managers can efficiently plan warehouse operations.
Read this article that explores how automated dock appointment scheduling platforms that collect actionable data are transforming dock management, and bottom-line performance.
- Benchmark warehouse staff performance.
- Reducing the impacts of dwell time.
- Scorecard carrier performance.
- Identify inefficiencies and cost-saving opportunities.
High-traffic facilities operating on a first-come, first-served (FCFS) truck delivery model often are swarmed early in the week, usually with Mondays as the busiest day. Carriers that have to wait may charge detention fees on top of their standard invoice for each hour they are held. These fees pile up quickly when charged by multiple carriers over the course of a week.
Inefficiencies at the loading dock will spill into other areas of the business, causing significant operational headaches and unnecessary costs. Overtime costs can pile up fast if schedulers don’t know exactly when to expect high volumes of traffic. Manual scheduling of loads also occupies important time in the office that could be better spent on customer service and other tasks. Dock delays may also hold up critical materials or stock needed for production or fulfillment, resulting in a domino effect of negative cost and efficiency impacts.
When trucks need to line up and wait, tension among both drivers and warehouse staff can rise. When warehouse staff arisorking under continuous pressure, they are more likely to make mistakes, become injured, or simply get frustrated and quit. At the same time, poor dock management erodes relationships with carriers, making it difficult to find capacity in tight markets. Even so, 63 percent of respondents to a DAT survey reported that they commonly wait three hours or more for loading or unloading at a warehouse.
Though many warehouse managers attempt to collect enough data to sort out bottlenecks and inefficiencies at the loading dock door, that data is largely anecdotal without a platform to continually record and sort it. Such a platform turns anecdotes into actionable data, offering superior control over loading dock operations. By understanding the flow of shipments in and out of the facility by day, week, and month, warehouse managers can efficiently plan warehouse operations.
63 percent of respondents to a DAT survey reported that they commonly wait three hours or more for loading or unloading at a warehouse. 63% of drivers are detained for more than 3 hours per stop. – DAT Freight & Analytics
Including the Loading Dock in Your Digital Transformation
Some technologies have already become ubiquitous among warehouses, such as warehouse management systems (WMS). Others have become increasingly common, including automated sortation and conveyor systems, picking robots, wearable voice and light picking technologies, and many others.
Many facilities pursued even more technology solutions at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as warehouse managers sought ways to keep employees safe.2 Even with all of this technology adoption, however, many warehouses are still willing to let trucks line up around the corner on Monday mornings to get unloaded because that’s the way things have always been done.
“People think, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” says Jeff Booth, general manager of Opendock, a provider of dock appointment scheduling software. “But I think we sometimes have a hard time seeing what ‘broke’ looks like. They see the trucks show up, get unloaded, and move on. Technically that’s working—but how well is it working?”
To gain true efficiency and resilience, warehouses and distribution centers need to join the broader supply chain’s pursuit of digital transformation. Any proper warehouse digital transformation effort should include a comprehensive appointment scheduling solution that provides essential information about loading dock operations.
People think, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ But I think we sometimes have a hard time seeing what ‘broke’ looks like. They see the trucks show up, get unloaded, and move on. Technically that’s working—but how well is it working? – JEFF BOOTH, general manager of Opendock
“You’re starting to see a lot of traction here,” says Ben Buchanan, vice president of brokerage sales for Loadsmart, a digital freight management platform. “Companies are starting to invest in these solutions because there’s a problem. The facilities that hang on to FCFS models simply aren’t going to become a shipper of choice. Even if it may not seem like as much of an issue right now, in the next couple of years, they’re going to get left behind if they’re not adopting this technology.”
By recording and analyzing data gathered through appointment scheduling software, warehouse managers can see how carriers perform in terms of on-time delivery percentages, long delays, no-shows and reschedules to really understand service carrier levels. They also can gain insight into the performance of their own teams in terms of dwell times, how long trucks sit in the dock, and staff performance.
An appointment scheduling solution allows tracking of other trouble areas as well, such as incorrect dock routing or which products take more time to load. Identifying internal challenges and problem carriers will ultimately contribute to a warehouse environment where managers make informed decisions based on actionable data, facilitating ongoing and continuous systematic improvements.
“Right now, when an executive starts asking questions around metrics or performance, there’s just a complete lack of data there,” Booth says. “How well are you guys doing? How fast can you unload a truck? How much labor does it take to do all of that? Before they have tools in place, they have no idea how long some of these things take, and that creates a lot of pain.”
The facilities that hang on to FCFS models simply aren’t going to become a shipper of choice. Even if it may not seem like as much of an issue right now, in the next couple of years, they’re going to get left behind if they’re not adopting this technology. – BEN BUCHANAN, vice president of brokerage sales for Loadsmart
Incorporating Dock Data Into Your Data-Driven Warehouse
Loading docks that use paper documents and spreadsheets are prone to human error, but appointment scheduling software can help to rectify problems in this area. While spreadsheets are still ubiquitous across the supply chain, 94% of deployed spreadsheets contain errors3 and nearly half of newly created data records have at least one critical error.
At best, spreadsheet mistakes can be embarrassing or inconvenient. At worst, however, a number in the wrong column can result in underbilling, overbilling, inaccurate inventory records, inaccurate carrier payments, and much more. Problems of this nature can drag down the overall warehouse operation by cutting into profit margins and damaging relationships with internal stakeholders, vendors, carriers, and customers.
By feeding dock data from an appointment scheduler into the warehouse management system and other logistics technologies, warehouses can optimize processes that have traditionally created a drain on resources.
“Data is pointless if you don’t put it into action,” says Buchanan. “For instance, when you can look at the driver in and out times and see the appointment was scheduled at 12:00, the driver checked in at 11:45, but did not leave until 3:45, you can see there’s a problem with dwell times. Then you can take action to correct it. When shippers actually use the data, they can improve their operations.”
Data is pointless if you don’t put it into action. – BEN BUCHANAN, vice president of brokerage sales for Loadsmart
Long dwell times drive up costs for shippers. Warehouses often pay $50 to $100 per hour5 in detention fees from carriers whose trucks have to wait. Most truck drivers get paid by the mile, so as a general rule, carriers and their drivers don’t like it when trucks aren’t moving. When the truck sits in one place, money isn’t being made. The driver must also subtract hours from the time they’re allowed to be on the road.
“It’s mainly about hours of service,” Buchanan says. “If they’re spending three or four hours to get unloaded or offloaded, that comes out of their drive time. Then that impacts their on-time delivery and pick-up percentage. We are seeing many carriers adopting appointment technologies because it makes their operation more efficient when they know they aren’t going to have a ton of dwell time at the shipper or consignee.”
With more accurate scheduling, warehouses can easily minimize the risk of unnecessary detention costs, with many facilities saving tens of thousands of dollars or more annually. It also allows shippers to improve relationships with carriers and benchmark performance to identify the best carriers to work with. Even better, good data allows the warehouse to implement a formal carrier compliance policy that assigns costs incurred by non-compliance. For example, costs associated with a late shipment may be directed back to the shipper if the warehouse can show it was not at fault for the delay.
We are seeing many carriers adopting appointment technologies because it makes their operation more efficient when they know they aren’t going to have a ton of dwell time at the shipper or consignee. – BEN BUCHANAN, vice president of brokerage sales for Loadsmart
“I think appointment scheduling brings in a data source that has never really existed before,” says Booth. “It’s coming from the people who matter, which is the person at the guard shack or at the dock who knows exactly when the truck arrived. When you have that, you can actually start to manage your carriers. You can support your transportation team by saying, ‘Hey, here are the carriers that actually save us money because they’re always on time.’ You can train, change and rethink transportation strategies because you will know when it’s worth paying a little more upfront for a specific carrier that will save you money on the back end.”
Appointment scheduling may seem like a minor thing. However, streamlining operations in this one area can have a dramatic impact on the overall enterprise. Other departments may feel the impact of a few late trucks, even if they don’t know exactly where the problem started.
“When you have one small problem in the supply chain—like a truck taking too long to get loaded—it creates a ripple effect,” Booth says. “All of a sudden you don’t have enough supply for the big promotion you’re about to do, and your sales and marketing team is upset because they sold a million items and only half a million are available. Now the finance team needs to give out credits to account for it. The customer service team has to take angry calls. All because of a late truck. It’s crazy how one or two delayed shipments can ripple across so many different facets of an organization.”
Though inefficiencies at the dock door can spread throughout an organization, the problem is easy to address. Automated dock appointment scheduling ultimately helps generate better data that the warehouse can use to mitigate unnecessary expenses and address inefficiencies.
When you have one small problem in the supply chain—like a truck taking too long to get loaded—it creates a ripple effect. – JEFF BOOTH, general manager of Opendock