RFID streamlines yard management, enhances visibility

Global 3PL replaces paper-based system with removable RFID tags and cloud-based software to double gate throughput.
By Josh Bond, Senior Editor
February 01, 2013 - MMH Editorial

Exel, a global contract logistics provider, operates a multi-customer, trans-load facility in Southern California. The 300-space facility serves primarily as a deconsolidation center, unloading sea containers and shipping materials for points across North America for a variety of retail customers. After installing radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking technology, the company has streamlined yard management and has full visibility to the exact location of trailers and containers at the site.

Before the new system, employees would walk or drive through the yard with a pen and clipboard to count and locate trailers. This practice led to problems such as site congestion; shipment delays and related product shrinkage; costly detention and demurrage penalties due to delays, wasted labor, time and fuel.

Having piloted RFID solutions with various consumer-industry customers since the late 1990s, Exel decided to partner with an equipment supplier (Motorola, motorolasolutions.com) and a solutions provider (PINC Solutions, pincsolutions.com) to develop a yard management system (YMS). The team designed a solution focused on advanced asset location capabilities using real-time location systems (RTLS) rather than using the full capabilities of a more traditional, static YMS.

Implementation of the project took less than four months and required minimal IT hardware and software to support the operations. Key system elements include:
• a gate management module at the entrance to the facility,
• tracker modules for the yard trucks that move trailers and containers around the site,
• a software system for administrative users and customer service representatives that allows for yard visibility, customizable fields and easy configuration, and
• use of a Web-based, software as a service, eliminating the need for on-site servers.

Upon arrival, trailers from various shippers each receive a temporary RFID asset tag with unique fleet and shipment information. The trailer is then moved directly to the assigned parking spot, zone or dock door. Yard trucks equipped with RFID readers and GPS receivers serve as the tracker modules and monitor the location of yard assets and shipments, driver details, and arrival and exit times. When trailers exit the facility, tags are removed.

The system performs yard counts on an on-going basis and provides e-mail notification of events. All documentation is digitally stored, searchable and remotely accessible. Service representatives have quick access to high-level information which reduces data entry during check-in.

The system has doubled gate throughput while eliminating manual yard checks and most paper-based documentation. The improved operational control and tracking of assets has led to improved productivity. Penalties such as detention and demurrage charges associated with yard delays have been eliminated. Administrative demands declined by one-third, and drivers spend less time waiting and more time driving, improving productivity and reducing emissions. 

“At Exel, we are constantly looking for technological solutions to streamline operations and reduce costs to benefit our customers,” says Tony Hollis, Exel’s director of innovation and emerging technologies. “While RFID technology can be costly and complex, we worked with our partners to develop a practical, cost-effective application that supports efficient operations for our customers on a daily basis.”

About the Author

Josh Bond
Senior Editor

Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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