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Supervalu Manages Trailer Yard Via RFID

PINC Solutions' Yard Hound system enables the company to view its trailers' locations throughout the yard, based on location data captured by truck-mounted readers.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 17, 2012Supermarket operator Supervalu is keeping a close eye on trailers at its Lancaster distribution center, via a radio frequency identification solution that tracks their locations without the use of any fixed readers. The company gathers its location data from passive RFID tags mounted on trailers and interrogators installed on yard trucks. Since its installation 18 months ago, the Yard Hound system, provided by PINC Solutions, has enabled the firm to reduce its fleet of trailers by approximately 70 vehicles, while also decreasing labor by 80 hours per week.

Supervalu, the third largest traditional food-retailing company within the United States, operates more than 2,500 stores, including Acme, Albertsons and Save-A-Lot, as well as serving as a distributor to other stores. At its 1.7-million-square-foot Lancaster facility—the largest of the company's 26 DCs—approximately 1,000 trailers loaded with goods arrive weekly. Supervalu owns 800 trailers (since reducing its fleet by 70) used on that site, while third-party logistics companies also bring trailers into and out of the yard.

Supervalu's Beth Kroutch
Managing the trailers is a daunting task, the company reports. On a daily basis, many of the vehicles are moved from staging areas within the yard to dock doors in order to be unloaded, and are then returned to the designated areas in the yard. In addition, empty trailers are relocated when it is time to load them. Loaded trailers are moved to outbound-ready lines, and the trailers are also used to move product from one dock area to another.

Until recently, the company accomplished such tasks manually, by means of pen, paper and a mailbox, says Beth Kroutch, the general manager of Supervalu's Lancaster DC. When orders for moving full or empty trailers were placed, staff members at the warehouse office handwrote instructions, including the trailer's description and serial number, as well as its expected approximate location, and placed them within a mailbox mounted outside the warehouse. Yard workers, known as jockeys, would review the paperwork in the mailbox, decide which order to complete, and remove the paperwork specific to that order from the box.

That system worked, Kroutch says, but was slow—the staff had to carry paperwork around, hope that trailers were where the DC's managers expected them to be, and, at the end of the shift, provide written documentation of every step taken. Therefore, the company began seeking an automated solution, she says, adding, "There were lots of IT folks with opinions." The main criterion for determining the best choice, she says, was to find an affordable system that would be user-friendly.

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