Efficient warehouse operations provide the levels of service that customers demand as America's economy scales up. In many instances, yard operations impede that efficiency.
Safety, driver facilities, cooperation, and consideration for truckers' time are ongoing challenges. One driver tells us that a yard he regularly serves is "like a moonscape."
The confluence of e-commerce growth in retail and business-to-business with the consumption explosion driven by the recovering economy has made any time a driver spends dwelling in a warehouse yard more damaging than ever.
Is there an automated yard solution just over the horizon? Andrew Smith says there is. Smith is the CEO and founder ofOutrider, a company that builds driverless computer-guided EV trucks designed to efficiently and quickly move trailers from the yard to warehouse and DC doors.
"Over-the-road truckers can waste hours dropping off and picking up trailers in busy hubs," Smith says. "These yards are one of the many bottlenecks in our current supply chain."
Outrider'smain test site is in Brighton, Colorado, and is billed as one of the most automated yards in the country.
Here is how it works. A driver drops a trailer to an assigned spot. Then, warehouse personnel assign a robotic yard dog to that trailer and the robot takes over. The robot navigates through the yard, locates that trailer, gets in position, scans the trailer to confirm it is the correct one, and connects a pressurized air hose to release the trailer's parking brakes. Then a robotic arm extends and hooks up the trailer.
Next stop? The designated warehouse door to back in and unhitch. Done.
That process happens hundreds of times 16 hours a day at the test site. Outrider recently announced that its trucks had completed 1,000 trailer moves at a Georgia-Pacific DC near Chicago.
"It's a monotonous task that takes place millions of times a day in yards," Smith says. "The idea here is that the person that was in that yard truck cab is now available to operate the system or do other work inside the warehouse, or (more importantly) be in the trucks that are over the road."
Add up the thousands of warehouse yards and tens of thousands of truckers serving them, and you can quickly see how millions of hours are slowing down logistics operations across the country. Considering the driver shortage, gaining back those hours for those truckers would speed operations nationwide if robot yard solutions catch on.