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Dock Scheduling: A ‘Green’ Component of the Logistics Chain

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The color green represents nature tranquility, good luck and health. It’s also synonymous with the methodology of operating a business or organization more cleanly and following practices that are less harmful for the environment. This ongoing shift is not a fad with a limited shelf life, as evidenced by a survey conducted earlier this year by Buck Consultants: 69 percent of approximately 120 surveyed businesses deliberately took measures in 2010 to improve the environmental and social impact of their operations.

This shift is certainly of interest to distributors, warehouses, manufacturers and other facilities that receive inbound shipments, as even just a minor change in the way their manage these deliveries can go a long way in operating more ‘greenly’. For an increasing number of sites, this small change is implementing a dock-scheduling process.

Most material handling professionals have seen their share of the chaos that can ensue when an inbound facility does not require scheduled appointments for its inbound carriers and their deliveries. The visual that may instant come to mind is a long line of trucks and other vehicles backed-up outside the site as they await their turn to unload their goods or products. While waiting, these vehicles remain idle with their engines running, thereby releasing a significant amount of engine emissions into the atmosphere.

Smaller operations that receive only a handful of daily or weekly deliveries may not experience this problem, but it’s a relatively common occurrence at facilities nationwide. In a report released in January 2011, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that 59 percent of interviewed carrier drivers said they experienced detention times in the past two weeks leading up to their response, while over two-thirds stated that they encountered them within the last month prior to taking the survey. Among the most common factor cited in the “More Could Be Done to Determine Impact of Excessive Loading and Unloading Wait Times on Hours of Service Violations” for creating these detention times was limitations in facilities. This includes insufficient loading and unloading equipment or staff when facilities over-schedule their deliveries.

The study shows that another contributing factor was inefficient facility scheduling practices, which could ultimately encourage carriers and drivers to line up hours before the inbound site opens. Additionally, the study also revealed that inefficient facility scheduling practices that may encourage drivers to line up hours before the facility opens.

All of these responses share common traits: They all stem from the lack of a proper scheduling process, and they all ultimately contribute to an increase in idling vehicles and released emissions.

Inadequate or missing scheduling procedures not only impact the environment, but also the overall business operations of an inbound facility. This, in turn, affects its bottom line, which makes a proven scheduling scheme all the more important for distribution centers, manufacturers, warehouse and other locations wishing to function more efficiently and successfully.

The obvious results of the survey show the real need inbound facilities have for an efficient scheduling process.

While shipment-scheduling seems like an absolute requirement for any location, the fact is that many still do not feel the need to assign specific delivery times and docks to their inbound carriers. They instead allow them to arrive at any time during operating hours or give them a delivery window. Either scenario has the potential of causing backups and long wait times, which in turn leads to strain on dock staff and, obviously, an increase in vehicle emissions.

Fortunately, implementing a dependable scheduling process is a simple task. As most facilities maintain regular communication with their carriers—either through a receptionist, dock manager or assigned dock worker—informing them of the change and then providing them with the procedure to schedule their future deliveries. Time is money for the transportation industry, and most will be appreciative of the new delivery process, as they’ll now be able to get in and out more quickly, instead of waiting their turn in line.

The widespread usage of Internet-connected devices has made the scheduling even easier for both dock workers and the carriers, as many have instituted online scheduling software into their delivery processes.

These applications can automate the entire process from start to finish, as drivers can now book their own drop-off times online without having to pick up the phone or respond to e-mail or fax communication. Dock managers and staff also find it easier than trying to manage their deliveries in the traditional manner.

“Going Green” need not be an expensive or labor-intensive endeavor. In fact, many of the small things—such as requiring carriers to book a delivery time—contribute in a big way. And the benefits are felt by all involved in the process: the facility, the carrier and the environment.

About the Author: Eric Richard is the senior technology writer at Appointment-Plus (, the worldwide experts in online scheduling solutions and creators of the most flexible and feature-rich software application used by distributors, warehouses, manufacturers and other inbound material-handling facilities to manage their deliveries. The online scheduling application has booked over 75 million appointments and reservations since 2001.