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It probably wouldn’t be too far off the mark to call yard operations the “unsung hero” of the supply chain. Much more attention is paid to connected functions like warehousing and fulfillment, last-mile delivery, ocean freight, and intermodal transportation. Yet without yard operations, the whole chain breaks down and business grinds to a halt.

Yard operations involve the orchestrated movement of trucks, trailers, and chassis into and out of a warehouse or manufacturing facility and the management of the entire inventory of assets and their locations.

Depending on the size of the organization, yard operations can have anywhere from dozens to multiple hundreds of truck trips per day into and out of a facility. The figure is generally higher for a warehouse or fulfillment center, with its continuous order flow. But in either case, managing a yard is a complex affair, including controlling vehicle access and security and keeping overall logistics running as efficiently as possible.

In general, yard operations have earned the unfortunate industry moniker of “the black hole of the supply chain.” This is because on average, it has not received the kind of technology investment of warehouse operations, transportation and delivery, or supply chain management. It remains a largely manual affair to this day: as of 2022, only about 7% of companies were using a yard management system (YMS). Even among those using YMS, most didn’t have a real-time view of all yard assets and inbound/outbound logistics.

A failure to maintain yard efficiency causes wait times to grow at the gate and docks, leading to all kinds of secondary effects, such as delayed loading and unloading, time wasted locating yard assets, a decrease in line productivity, late outbound orders, missed carrier cutoffs, poor inventory management, and under-utilized assets. These, in turn, have costly downstream impacts: angry customers or partners, detention and demurrage charges for overdue containers and chassis, excess carbon emissions from idling trucks (which could lead to regulatory violations), and poor team morale.

Vehicle access control (VAC) systems have come to the fore as a way to combat inefficient yard operations. A VAC system regulates vehicle entry and exit using technology such as RFID, vehicle data capture, key cards and even biometrics. A VAC helps enhance gate and yard security, optimizes traffic flow, and captures data for monitoring and reporting purposes.

In this article, we’ll discuss different types of VAC systems. We’ll then explore a three-pronged strategy to incorporate VAC technology and enhance yard operations efficiency, and the basics of implementation. The components include: automating entry and exit processes; enhancing yard visibility; and integrating VAC with a YMS system.

Types of Vehicle Access Control in Yard Operations

In general, a VAC enhances security by preventing unauthorized access, improving traffic management, automating entry and exit processes, and monitoring and logging vehicle movements for auditing and compliance purposes. This enables significant improvements in operational safety and resource allocation.

There are four main flavors of VAC:

  • RFID (Radio Frequency Identification): These use radio waves to identify and track tags attached to vehicles, allowing automated gate control and quick access.
  • ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition): ANPR systems capture and analyze vehicle license plates using assets such as security cameras, along with image processing software.
    • IoT Sensors: IoT sensors gather and transmit data from vehicles and gate equipment for monitoring and access control. In addition, they can facilitate predictive maintenance and integrate with other smart systems.
  • Advanced AI Systems: they can capture multiple vehicle and trailer identification markers, including truck number, trailer number, container and chassis number, USDOT number, and license plate.

This last type of VAC represents a significant improvement over traditional systems like ANPR. It can seamlessly integrate with an existing YMS and provides a holistic, real-time view of vehicle and asset management. This approach enhances security and operational efficiency and sets a new standard in vehicle access control by leveraging advanced AI to handle complex data easily.

VAC technology opens up a world of possibilities for greater yard operations efficiency, including smoother vehicle flow, improved asset allocation, resource utilization, and cost savings. Now we’ll explore three ways that VAC can streamline yard operations, including the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics to add predictive capabilities.

Automating Entry and Exit Processes

The gate is a facility’s main security checkpoint, keeping unwanted visitors from entering the property. In an age of heightened concerns over threats, fraud, and various kinds of criminal activity, gate security has become an even more critical function.

A VAC system enhances security and access control by ensuring that only authorized vehicles enter and exit. This strict protection reduces the risk of theft, vandalism, or other malicious acts.

Incoming vehicles are verified through a combination of technology and security protocols. Each is checked against a pre-authorized list. This process is crucial for maintaining site integrity and protecting property and sensitive information.

A VAC system also streamlines traffic flow, minimizes entry and exit delays, and reduces bottlenecks. More efficient vehicle movement enhances productivity and makes for a safer facility by reducing the likelihood of accidents or confusion at access points.

Enhancing Yard Visibility With AI and Data Analytics

Advanced VAC systems powered by AI and data analytics can capture vehicle data through security cameras by using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. They automatically identify and record vehicle details such as license plates and truck/trailer numbers upon entry and as they move throughout the yard. This enables precise, real-time tracking of vehicle location and activity, streamlines traffic flow, and optimizes space utilization.

Predictive management and planning and enabled by advanced analytics. By accessing real-time data from OCR, AI analyzes historical and current vehicle movement patterns to predict traffic and storage needs. You can preemptively reallocate resources and adjust schedules to avoid yard congestion.

Benefits include improved decision-making through real-time data analytics and insights. Yard operations managers can improve space utilization, as the system directs vehicles to dock bays and storage areas based on current capacity and scheduled arrivals. The system can also proactive sense and avert bottlenecks through predictive traffic management.

Using OCR technology in yard management not only adds precision to vehicle tracking and data capture but also makes overall operations more efficient and responsive.

Integrating VAC With YMS

Integrating VAC with a YMS creates a seamless link between access control and overall yard operations. This allows for synchronized vehicle entries, exits, and movements, optimizing yard logistics.

When vehicle access is granted through the VAC, the YMS knows the vehicle’s position and expected movements and manages them. This tight integration allows for immediate updates and adjustments, minimizing manual intervention and errors.

Tangible benefits include a holistic view of vehicle movements, enabling better coordination and faster decision-making. The result is significantly reduced wait times at the gate and docks, as vehicle processing is faster and more efficient. It also minimizes idle times, as loading, unloading, and movement within the yard are optimized.

Overall, integrating VAC and YMS reduces bottlenecks and improves the speed and quality of yard operations, enabling greater productivity and performance.

Overcoming Integration and Implementation Challenges

Integrating AI-based VAC with related systems (YMS, TMS, ERP, WMS, etc.) can pose significant challenges, primarily around ensuring compatibility and employee training.

Do a comprehensive infrastructure assessment to identify potential compatibility issues. Choose a VAC system that either aligns with your existing IT framework or can be integrated using middleware.

Find a provider with a proven track record of integrating complex systems, reducing the risks of costly downtime or integration errors. Do the integration in pilot phases to spot and address issues early on, increasing the likelihood that the system will run efficiently at full deployment.

Training and change management processes should be prioritized. Educate your team on the benefits and efficiency gains, encouraging acceptance and making for a smooth transition and go-live.

Scalability is also important, to address not only current but project needs as your business grows and technology evolves. Your success depends on careful planning, strategic vendor partnerships, effective training, and a look to the future.

Future Trends in VAC For Yard Operations

AI and machine learning (ML) promise smarter, more predictive VAC systems. These systems will enhance security and efficiency by learning from data patterns to further optimize vehicle flow, visibility, asset management, and dock scheduling.

Blockchain has the potential to revolutionize VAC by creating tamper-proof records of vehicle entries and exits, improving the transparency and security of transactions. This can make systems more autonomous, secure, and efficient.

Vehicle Access Control: A Powerful Tool for Optimizing Yard Operations

Vehicle Access Control systems have the potential to revolutionize yard operations and management by bringing greater precision, visibility, and efficiency from the gate to the docks and back again. By syncing VAC with a complementary system like YMS, gate operations, and yard logistics are significantly enhanced, reducing delays (and costs) and keeping production humming.

EAIGLE is a pioneer in applying AI to logistics across retail and manufacturing organizations. Its groundbreaking technology leverages real-time data capture from existing security cameras to optimize vehicle flow and manage all yard assets. EAIGLE’s platform seamlessly bridges the gap between TMS and WMS systems, and augments rather than replaces a legacy YMS.

EAIGLE’s solutions — AVAC™ (Automated Vehicle Access Control) for gate management and YardSight™  for yard operations — are designed to improve operations through faster, more accurate yard asset management, improved gate access, and more efficient bay scheduling and queueing. To learn how EAIGLE can help you achieve the results detailed above, request a demo today.