Manage fleet yard traffic in name of safety, productivity

Fleet yards differ in size, physical layouts, and potential hazards. But a sound traffic management plan can address every underlying issue – ensuring that trucks and trailers move through the areas securely, efficiently, and safely.

With 175 yards and terminals, Day & Ross manages more such locations than most fleets. And it applies a series of practices and technologies to maintain high-functioning locations, says Jason Kirk, regional operations manager – GTA.

While yard management systems (YMS) automate and monitor many activities, the fleet’s yard management teams still conduct two physical yard checks per day to reconcile the related data and paperwork.

“We want to make sure our checks and balances are there, and that what the system says is in our yards truly is in our yard,” Kirk says.

Distribution center
Traffic flows around fleet yards and distribution centers have a role to play in productivity and safety alike. (Photo: istock)

Meanwhile, security teams monitor all incoming and outgoing traffic. Drivers are asked to provide carrier-issued identification as soon as they arrive. The guard then records the time, tractor and trailer number into the AS400 software system, and verifies the trailer’s seal number.

Dock planners let the security team know where the trailer is expected, so cleared drivers know exactly where to go.

The clearance process is similar at Caravan Group of Companies. Drivers are required to present their ID and trip information at the gate. Afterwards, all the trucks are required to go to the ‘Bay 5’ area, where after a maintenance inspection, yard and warehouse managers decide where the tractor-trailer should park, says Jean-Paul Tombu, the yard’s maintenance manager. The shunt driver then takes the trailer to its designated spot.

To ensure smooth operations, warehouse and yard managers at Caravan rely on the fleet management system, where they log all the information. But the yard manager, and Tombu himself, also keep an eye out in the yard and conduct two daily checks to ensure everything goes as planned.

Despite all the technological advances, one should not rely on YMS alone, says Vik Gupta, executive vice-president – business development at Roadies, an Ontario-based provider of shunting and logistics services.

He also emphasizes the importance of patrolling yards: “With the proper people in place, you can certainly manage a big yard with little resources, and you can have a miserable yard with too many resources. So, at the end of the day, all these computer systems and the technology do not work better than a human brain.”

One-way traffic flow

The direction of travel makes a difference of its own, since one-way traffic flow helps prevent a lot of incidents.

“We can’t do [it] in all yards. But in most of our yards, we can create one-way traffic so everybody’s traveling the same way and there’s nobody getting in each other’s way,” Kirk explains.

“The idea is to flow in the same direction so that everybody’s coming out of the gate in the same manner. If you have drivers and shunters moving in all different directions throughout the yard, it causes a lot of chaos… The one-way really helps that one-directional traffic, and everyone knows the rules. So, everyone’s on the same page.”

A lot of companies practice one-way traffic flow, says Gupta.

“I say that it’s a good idea. You know, I’ve seen many companies practicing that. But at the same time, sometimes I’ve also seen that the distribution centers are too big, and it takes time for drivers to go and come around. And in somebody’s opinion, it’s a waste of time. But at the cost of human life, you know, I think that so-called ‘waste’ of time is worth it.”

Other safety considerations build on that.

While pedestrian traffic should be minimized, it can’t always be avoided. Where it occurs, both Kirk and Tombu stress the need for signals like stop signs, lights and yellow pavement markings to guide people and trucks alike. Cement guards offer yet another level of protection.

Then there’s the matter of effectively utilizing the space for the trailers themselves.

“In a typical trailer yard, where there’s no facility, you could drop trailers in parking spots. Just make sure you have enough room to move around. And then you’re just going to stagger them side by side,” Kirk says. Typically, that involves lining up the trailers so they’re parked tail to tail.

“You’d want space in between the trailer and the terminal to be able to back in another trailer,” he adds.

Keeping the yard’s capacity in mind is one of the keys to properly utilizing the space, Gupta adds.

He often sees carriers trying to maximize capacity in a bid to speed up operations. However, that can quickly create bottlenecks. He says the gatehouse should not allow any extra equipment into a yard if it can’t be accommodated, since it is important for both safety and efficiency to leave enough room for people, trucks and other equipment to maneuver.

“If a yard can accommodate 100 pieces of equipment at any given time, then for mobility, I would say, one should try to keep it under 100.”

Dock efficiency plan

With a good dock efficiency plan in place, scheduling within the yards rarely becomes an issue.  Estimated arrival times are calculated so yard managers can plan how to load trailers as fast as possible and send equipment on its way.

“We’re going to be loading them in sequence,” Kirk says. “They’re going to be unloading them in sequence.”

Pre-sorting freight further enhances efficiencies.

The goal at Day & Ross is to load each trailer and get it out of the yard within an hour or two. Forklift drivers use scanners to identify the destinations for each piece of cargo, and then drop the freight at the loading dock door that’s dedicated for a particular region of Canada. Tractor-trailers await their turn in a staging lane until it’s time to be loaded.

As the freight is loaded, it’s scanned once again before the load is sent on its way.

Caravan is also aiming to send the trailers out of the yard in a timely manner. Usually, it takes between an hour and an hour and a half.

“We don’t really get like crazy busy like we’re probably only doing like maybe 15 off loads and loads a day. Most of our trailers come in loaded or unloaded. And then they’re being dispatched out again,” Tombu says.

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