The problem is one that prior to the pandemic most of us had most certainly never thought about. It is something the industries affected have grappled with for years, but haven’t ever come to a sound solution for management. And it is something that, whether the majority of the public realizes it or not, completely and totally impacts their lives and what they see on the shelves in their local grocery stores.
The issue is truck detention, or the time when a truck is sitting idle while it is being unloaded at a local warehouse, and it is a significant one.
For many truckers, detention is an incredible frustration, especially as it tends to be unavoidable. Sitting idle for long periods is a waste of time and money and ultimately could delay the pickup and delivery of more goods to different destinations. If the entire supply chain is a bicycle wheel, detention time is the rubbing brake pad that is constantly and annoyingly slowing everything down.
The real question is, is there much that can be done about it?
The Cause of a Long Detention
Although detention times are usually the most consistently unprofitable aspect of trucking, there isn’t a whole lot a trucker can do about it. Sure, phone calls to warehouses can be made to schedule pickup and drop-off times in advance and fees for an extended detention time can be put into place. However, nothing guarantees that a trucker will be able to affect how quickly or efficiently a truck is loaded or unloaded. They are often completely at the mercy of the warehouse.
Of course, nothing drew this into a clearer perspective than the supply chain crisis that was brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to many closed facilities and labor shortages at warehouses, detention times skyrocketed during the pandemic. The backlog of goods and supplies made warehouses less efficient, effectively adding to an already untenable problem.
In addition to the inefficiencies created by overstocked warehouses, long detentions can be caused by a cascade of other issues. For instance, if delays are occurring at docks and there’s no communication up the supply chain, this poor communication can create extreme ebbs and flows of products and can create additional congestion further up the line. All of this congestion ultimately leads to missed drop-offs and pickups rippling up the supply chain and eating into the wallets of truckers, businesses, and consumers alike.
Another aspect that can exacerbate the issue is the chronic shortage of truck drivers. This isn’t exactly a new issue, but one the trucking industry has been dealing with for well over a decade. Some research suggests that the U.S. alone is experiencing a shortage of over 80,000 truck drivers and that the remaining workforce is disproportionately nearing retirement age. Fewer truckers on the roads can mean fewer supplies are moved, again creating overstocks in warehouses and can lead to ripple effects up the supply chain.
Finding Solutions to Reduce Detention Times
Although many of the solutions to reduce retention times are out of the individual trucker’s hands, there are things that can be done. Perhaps the most effective solution starts at the warehouse itself. Particularly, the organization and stocking levels of the entire operation.
Warehouse layout can be way more complex than many people would give it credit for. There are constantly goods flowing in and out. For the greatest efficiency, everything needs to be accessible all at once. Though that isn’t always possible, organization — including the utilization of vertical stacking — is a strong start. Other warehouse organization strategies include things like keeping walkways clear of goods, improving labeling and goods tracking within the warehouse, and focusing on staff training so everyone is on the same page.
Another strategy focuses on improving communication. Truckers can do their best to reach out to warehouses and make sure they are ready for the incoming truck and explain any load complexities that they need to be prepared for. Warehouses themselves can be better at communicating expected detention times and working to better manage the ebbs and flows of certain products.
There are also certain aspects of the job where technology can go a long way towards helping to increase these efficiencies and reduce detention times. For instance, 5G IoT sensors can help track where loads are and how they are moving through the supply chain. Likewise, the technology can be used to help truckers optimize routes and further reduce potential delays and detention times.
Nobody in the trucking industry enjoys a long detention time. Sitting idle costs valuable time and money. However, many of the most effective solutions are outside of truckers’ hands.
Improving warehouse efficiency and communication is arguably the most profound means of making a difference. Incorporating technologies can also help build greater efficiencies with product tracking and management that will move things along at a faster pace. After many of the supply chain challenges that developed during COVID-19, it could be a while before all systems are back on track and on the road to greater improvement.
Indiana Lee is a writer, reader, and jigsaw puzzle enthusiast from the Pacific Northwest. An expert on business operations, leadership, marketing, and lifestyle, you can connect with her on LinkedIn.
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