Jun 19, 2020

dock congestion

The issue of loading dock congestion has risen to become one of the largest concerns for carriers and shippers. When trucks line up at a warehousing and fulfillment facility, it puts the brakes on entire supply chains. It means that carriers haul fewer loads, earning them less revenue and constricting capacity while ultimately raising rates. It also means that shippers send fewer loads, leading to increases in shipping times (and thus, lower quality customer service), and an inevitable decrease in their revenue, as well. 

The issues presented by loading bays are well documented, which is why dock congestion has sprung towards the top of the American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) annual report on critical issues in the trucking industry. While newcomers to this top-ten list normally break into the 8th, 9th, or 10th place spots, dock congestion debuted at number 4, only proving to be less of a concern than driver shortages, hours of service (HOS), and driver compensation. 

Case study: see how King reduced dock congestion and driver wait times for this commercial equipment provider. Read the case study. 

Dock congestion creates a funnel for drivers
Loading bays at shipping facilities are a prime place for slowdowns to occur. Some trucks need to be unloaded, others loaded, and some need both. There’s paperwork to fill out, damages to be assessed, and drivers often must navigate tight spaces, often backing into bays that are ripe with obstacles and obstructions. Although routes and pickup/drop off times are coordinated to relieve dock congestion at facilities, traffic and unexpected delays on the road often throw off these schedules, and trucks running just a few minutes behind are enough to create dock congestion, especially at smaller facilities that lack multiple bays to receive them. Just a few trucks arriving simultaneously is enough to cause wait times. 

The ATRI report highlights a marked increase in dock congestion and detention times at customer facilities, with drivers reporting a 27.4 percent increase in delays of six hours or more over a four-year timeframe between 2014 and 2018. These delays are further compounded by HOS and electronic logging devices (ELDs) — both of which also make the ATRI’s top-ten list. ELDs continue to log driving times and enforce HOS restrictions on drivers, and dock congestion unnecessarily adds time to a driver’s time log, forcing them off the road in order to comply with HOS rules and regulations. This also leads to an increase in drivers parking in unauthorized or undesignated parking spots in order to avoid violating HOS rules. 

High wait times can exclude certain shippers
The ATRI report prescribes two remedies for fixing dock congestion at facilities: 

  1. The sharing of driver ELD data with facilities 
  2. Creating a “Shipper of Choice” database 

The first solution is a proactive measure carriers can take to alert shipping facilities of dock congestion and drawn out wait times. By sharing their drivers’ ELD logs with facilities, they can call attention to the issue and identify times where congestion is the most severe, allowing facilities to react and make a plan to relieve congestion where it’s hurting them the most. 

The second solution should catch the eye of shippers and cause them to review wait times at their facility. There has been talk of a “Shipper of Choice” database, which essentially ranks shippers by the wait times at their facilities. When capacity is tight, carriers have the option of choosing which loads to haul, and facilities that aren’t in good standing when it comes to wait times and dock congestion could find themselves scrambling to find drivers willing to haul their freight. 

Best practices to reduce dock congestion and loading bay wait times
Ultimately, the buck stops at shippers when it comes to reducing wait times at their warehousing and fulfillment facilities. There is no end-all solution for reducing driver wait times, but dock congestion can be relieved by implementing certain best practices within a warehousing and fulfillment facility: 

  • Optimizing warehouse layout: inventory layout is crucial for pick speeds and loading times within fulfillment facilities. Where items are placed can drastically cut down on pick times. Grouping items that are commonly ordered together, placing popular items on the ground level (allowing employees to “pick horizontally” rather than “vertically), and placing popular items closest to loading bays can all cut down on pick times. 
  • Optimizing picking procedures: there are many ways to fulfill an order, and implementing the best procedure based on what is being picked can be the difference between keeping the supply chain on time and delays for carriers. Is it best to implement individual, zone, or wave picking? What is the item verification process? What is the route the item travels from its pick point to its loading point? Learn more about how to optimize pick times and accuracy here. 
  • Make loading bay safety a priority: brushing up on safety best practices may seem like it slows down warehouse workers, but accidents and other mistakes create even longer delays on average.  
  • Analyze the data: data can be a powerful tool in combatting wait times. Analyze peak times at a warehouse, make note of when the most orders come in (date and time), and create a plan to allocate resources (including manpower) based on the results.  
  • Consolidate shipments: optimize trailer space through LTL and PTL shipping, which can reduce the amount of trucks that need to stop at a facility over the course of the day. 
  • Create a pattern flow: one-way traffic for trucks coming in and out of a facility will prevent jams and backups from occurring outside of the facility. Make sure signs are posted that make it easy and quick for drivers to understand the flow of traffic and where to go when they enter and exit a facility. 

Work with a 3PL partner
Having issues with loading dock congestion in your supply chain? King has your solution. We specialize in working with businesses and our network of carriers to reduce wait times and increase the efficiency of supply chains across the country. Our local fleet of over 200 53-foot dry van trailers, combined with our 300,000 sq. ft. Of warehousing assets makes us one of the ultimate “dock sweeper” in the Twin Cities. 

We help shippers clear space and increase dock capacity by “sweeping docks” via live loading and through our efficient drop-trailer program. Our clients simply fill a trailer that is staged in one of their dock doors, and our carriers will drop and hook it once it’s full. 

Ready to talk solutions? So am I. Get in touch with me today. 


More from Peter