Food Safety Magazine

Signature Series | June 7, 2013

Big Data Changes Food Traceability at the Loading Dock

By Eric Breen

Big Data Changes Food Traceability at the Loading Dock

If you are interested in information technology, you have probably heard quite a lot about ‘Big Data.’ Businesses are becoming increasingly interested in big-picture analytics, which is not so much about just getting the job done as it is about generating insight for the future. Many folks spanning various industries claim big data’s value as under-realized. They attribute this boom in data-happy analyzers to more prosperous business times ahead. There are new data popping up around the yard and dock as well. Yard and dock management systems (YDMSs) work to collect data through the combined use of radio-frequency identification, global positioning system and sensor technologies. These useful data can be used to increase productivity at your dock and yard and/or to forecast potential issues facing your supply chain.

YDMSs heighten your daily visibility, allowing you to see everything that is happening on and around your loading dock and yard (Figure 1). They increase visibility so you can immediately spot inefficiencies in the yard before they become problems and rack up detention charges. This intelligent software displays activity such as dock door usage, trailer location and identification, off-loading time remaining per dock position and much more. It presents this information through a user-friendly interface.

YDMS Offerings
As is the case with food processing facilities, some YDMSs offer customers a means of exploring data through its reporting feature. Although these loading dock and yard management software systems deal with less data, the results are just as big. Metrics are automatically taken from your yard productivity and dock activity. You may never have even considered this data prior to implementing this system. These metrics will spark questions about your current processes and offer insight so you can expand on productivity, reduce inefficiencies and keep an eye on the food supply chain.

Take for example, dock position usage data. With this information, you have the power to schedule equipment maintenance based on actual usage as opposed to a traditional time-based schedule (Figure 2). Dock usage data are collected and displayed, and the system automatically identifies loading docks that have reached a usage threshold. When this occurs, the system automatically sends out an email to service providers and maintenance managers. Affected dock doors can be automatically locked out for maintenance, ensuring there is no contamination on food supply during maintenance. This strategic practice does away with ‘unnecessary’ maintenance that occurs simply because time suggests it should. This new loading dock insight saves you on labor costs and increases equipment life.

Strengths of the Data
YDMSs provide users an experience like no other warehouse management system has before. Metrics and reports are based on an almost unlimited number of parameters. From monitoring gate performance to optimizing efficiency with carrier arrival and departure data, you can help prioritize trailer movements and tasks (Figure 3). Just imagine receiving tailored reports to help monitor trailer status and storage dwell time. With these systems, you are acutely equipped to keep track of all your assets for increased food traceability and preparedness should there ever be a recall.

One user of these systems, a large, renowned U.S. retailer, used the reporting feature to establish that dock utilization rate was only 30 percent. After putting the data to use for them, this customer was able to increase dock usage to 66 percent, which means they are becoming more efficient with their dock door assets and gaining capability to reduce labor costs, trailer and personnel idle time, fuel consumption, detention charges, security or environmental breaches and maintenance.

4SIGHT’s Management System’s primary focus is to provide real-time data that no other YDMS can provide to fill in the gaps, creating a complete picture that allows your logistics professionals to make the best decisions to optimize operations.

YDMS can be used for practical business advantage in the food distribution arena. It puts the knowhow in your hands so you can increase visibility, productivity and sustainability.

Eric Breen is the systems manager for the 4SIGHT Yard and Dock System. He has more than 16 years of experience in the material handling industry, assisting both large and small companies to become more efficient and cost effective.  Eric can be contacted via email info@4SIGHTSolution.com.