Insider Blog

Where LTL dock operations can improve shipper/carrier relations

Defining functions, roles and cross-dock operations

The dock is where the needs of shippers and the abilities of carriers come face-to-face. As the place where freight gets loaded and unloaded, smooth operations at the dock are essential to LTL efficiency.

Typically, a dock is where LTL freight gets moved from one truck to another. Cross-docking is the act of moving freight from one vehicle to another without storing it at the dock. At some docks, freight can be stored before being loaded onto the next vehicle. Speed, efficiency and safety are some of the primary concerns on an LTL dock.

Some of the actions commonly performed on the dock at an LTL terminal are:

  • Identifying the freight on a trailer that needs to be moved
  • Determining where that freight should go
  • Loading freight onto the next trailer
  • Loading a trailer so that it can be efficiently unloaded at its next dock or destination (i.e., loading larger freight near the nose of a truck if it doesn’t need to be transferred at the next dock)
  • Identifying discrepancies (shipper error can lead to a mismatch between what’s listed on the bill of lading and the actual freight on a trailer)
  • Re-rating freight as necessary

In a recent SMC³ LTL Online Education exclusive LTL202 hybrid session “LTL Operations from Dock to Stock”, Dave Millea, Service Center Director at Averitt Express, and Jeff Royster, Director of Business Development at SMC³, discussed the basics of dock operations and how they’ve changed as technology has advanced. “Everything was pretty manual back when I started in the industry,” said Royster. “Even the routing was manual for cross-docking – someone had to manually route which door that shipment was going to.”

How new technology is enhancing LTL dock operations

LTL priorities haven’t changed much – it’s still about moving freight where it needs to go quickly – but the way dock operations can be performed has advanced significantly, and technology underpins today’s dock operations. Freight handlers, material handlers and warehouse workers now have tools that are meant to increase the efficiency and accuracy of dock operations.

From the driver’s electronic logging device (ELD) to travel copies of the manifest for dock associates to leadership’s top-down visibility, there’s an intricate web of information and instructions guiding and tracing freight as it makes its way through the terminal. Dock operations rely on devices and systems that let associates and leaders anticipate, handle and route freight where it belongs from the moment a driver arrives – or even before they get there.

Millea and Royster even discussed electronic bills of lading (eBOLs) as an incoming tool that could increase operational efficiency even further on the dock. LTL APIs are making it easier to transmit the information on an eBOL, which inches LTL closer to the reality of a uniform bill of lading. “Shippers want it,” Royster said.

Tools and practices to enable better shipper/carrier relations

While modern tools are poised to help LTL docks run better, many of the challenges of dock operations aren’t due to technological limitations. Labeling, packaging, P&D delays, promptness of information – these are some of the factors of LTL efficiency that become clearest on the dock, and they are prone to human error.

“So many shippers don’t know the class of their freight today,” Royster said. “They can’t always accurately describe the class to the carrier, so you’re seeing more and more reclassifications on carriers’ docks.” He added that the carrier side of LTL is adopting technology like freight dimensioners to rerate freight and account for factors that affect efficiency.

These are also the hiccups that Millea and Royster said underscore a need for stronger partnerships between carriers and shippers. Pickups sooner in the day give carriers more time to process freight and reduce potential for damages and misloads; proper labeling makes dock operations run smoother. With those factors out of the way, shippers and carriers can start to create healthy business relationships.

Millea said Averitt is a case study in building partnerships with shippers: “We want that relationship – a two-way street,” he said. “We’ve had customers who’ve walked away because of pricing, and shortly, they’ll come back to us.”

“I see stronger relationships and partnerships today, between shippers and carriers, than I did 25 years ago,” Royster said. “Back in the day, if one carrier had one percent better discount than another carrier, then typically, that carrier would get the business.”

Now, it’s more about developing strategic partnerships, including visits to carrier docks. “That starts the collaboration process,” Royster said, “where you start talking about how we can improve efficiencies on both sides.”

Want to know more about enabling smarter, smoother communication between shippers and carriers for better transit, dock operations and LTL freight? Take a look at SMC³’s LTL APIs for shippers, carriers, 3PLs and technology providers.

As part of this cutting-edge hybrid learning curriculum, students will have an opportunity to hear weekly from industry experts and work through a self-paced curriculum of emerging industry topics. You can learn more about this course and other courses on the schedule here.

Subscribe to the Insider Blog

Categories: LTL, Technology