Advances in technology are yielding significant opportunities to improve business performance
In a successful delivery operation, all relevant parties are kept informed of the status of loads in transit and when trucks arrive they are unloaded expeditiously at the appointed times and at the lowest cost.
Unfortunately, these goals are not always met. For instance, sometimes there are breakdowns in dispatch communications or issues ranging from facility congestion to late-arriving trucks and overcrowded yards throw sand into the gears of unloading operations.
However, there are ways to address these problems and mitigate the risks associated with delayed or missed deliveries.
Synchronizing the Delivery Experience
The freight delivery process is much more complicated than dispatching a loaded truck to a receiving facility.
“Everyone is looking for the lowest cost, but to achieve this goal every part of the process has to be synchronized. The warehouse must load the truck and dispatch it on schedule. The truck has to arrive at the appointed time, and the receiving dock must be clean, uncongested and ready to unload the vehicle when it arrives," explains Tom Scollard, vice president of dedicated contract carriage, Penske Logistics.
It's an intricate dance that is sometimes thrown off track. Here are five ways to reduce or eliminate delivery service interruptions.
1. Improve communications.
In the delivery process, “communication is key" says Scollard, so it pays to enhance the flow of information between the parties involved. Look for issues that impede lines of communication. For example, Penske Logistics' vehicle dispatch software routinely notifies shippers of the estimated arrival time of a truck at its next stop. The notification forewarns relevant unloading facilities of the vehicle's arrival. “It's a very useful capability that is sometimes underutilized," says Scollard. “For instance, some companies have policies in place that prevent staff members from receiving text and email messages so that such notifications can go unheeded. It's important to periodically review policies to ensure they are not getting in the way of important communications."
2. Make sure receiving facilities are prepared.
Cargo operations should begin and proceed without interruption as soon as a truck arrives, but this is not always possible. Perhaps a store's backroom is congested, and it is necessary to move merchandise around as it comes off the truck, which slows the unloading process. In some situations, facilities might need to make allowances for unavoidable delays. For example, “not every location has a dock, so the goods are handled using lift gates and electric pallet jacks," explains Scollard. Such handling methods are prone to delay in bad weather.
3. Use analytics to identify and remedy weak links in the supply chain.
Penske Logistics houses detailed information on delivery operations, such as when trucks arrive and leave receiving facilities, in its dispatch management system. Penske uses this information to pinpoint problem areas and works with its shipper customers to eradicate inefficiencies. “We ran an analysis for a customer that identified its support warehouse as the main cause of delays and detentions," notes Scollard. “The customer was then able to take corrective measures at the warehouse and on-time deliveries improved."
4. Ensure drivers have a place to park.
Providing adequate parking space for trucks might seem like an obvious measure to take. However, as traffic volumes increase, a receiving facility can quickly outgrow its parking areas. Moreover, these areas are more important than ever as drivers must comply with stringent Hours of Service regulations that require them to take rest breaks. Good planning and communication — along with TMS route optimization and other technologies — can often help.
5. Schedule realistically.
It's essential to make sure that each truck is allocated enough time to complete unloading. Again, this might seem obvious, but the task of setting realistic delivery windows is far from trivial in busy facilities that are under pressure to perform at maximum efficiency. Truck scheduling is another operational area where Penske's analytical capabilities can come into play.
These analytical models are gaining in sophistication. Penske has deployed machine learning (ML) in our dedicated contract carriage business and sees opportunities in enhancing the delivery process, helping companies maximize the productivity of receiving facilities and much more. “For instance, we are using ML to help us decide what time of day is best when delivering product to certain locations, where distribution centers should be sited, and to leverage opportunities such as unattended deliveries where the driver has access to storage or backroom spaces," he says.
In addition to using its proprietary ClearChain® technology to fully optimize truck routes and track on-time pickup and delivery, Penske is using advanced analytics to fine-tune delivery schedules dynamically in response to changing operational conditions and the need to get the most out of trucks and drivers.
Advances like these are yielding significant opportunities to improve business performance. In addition to reducing supply chain costs, more reliable, efficient delivery operations reduce the risk of supply interruptions that rob companies of sales opportunities and disrupt production lines.