A Step-by-Step Guide for How to Track Trailers in the Yard

May 04, 2021

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Key Takeaways

Yard management is quickly becoming an operational advantage. Learn how tracking trailers in the yard can streamline operations, help you reduce costs, and build stronger relationships with customers.

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Interest in trailer usage is growing. With six million trailers in service in the U.S. today, only 23% of them use telematics solutions to track location and status. That’s about to change; trailer telematics usage is expected to grow to 40% in the next few years.

This growth neatly intersects with another related topic: yard management solutions. Recent events have thrust outdated operations into the spotlight as businesses hustle to adapt. Trailer tracking is a potential solution for companies wanting to optimize their yards.

In this guide, we’ll give you an overview of yard management, why tracking trailers drive yard efficiency, and how to track trailers in the yard.

Why yard management needs a digital overhaul

Yard management is how companies oversee the assets in the yard of their warehouse, transportation hub, or distribution center. This includes all the vehicles, trailers, personnel, freight, pallets, and dock doors in the yard. For some organizations, yard management is as simple as looking out a window. But larger yards with hundreds—or thousands—of vehicles and trailers can span many miles.

Enter Industry 4.0. The internet is available with the simple swipe of a phone. Computer chips are cheaper and smaller. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology has now found widespread use. The Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming more commonplace, allowing us to connect just about everything to the web. It no longer makes sense to have a yard management system (YMS) based on manual tracking. Instead, those hundreds of assets can be managed with accuracy, instantly, with technology.

Efficient yard management: the supply chain’s unsung hero

Time is an important factor when transporting cargo. Yard management inefficiencies result in wasted time and are costly. Drivers fall behind on their routes, yards get bottlenecked, and trailers go underused or even missing. Your yard—and how you use it—is an advantage that’s often overlooked. 

Case in point: stories of supply chain disruptions across every industry made headlines in 2020. The global pandemic exposed existing supply chain management gaps. Companies everywhere scrambled to find solutions. In Gartner’s latest Market Guide for Yard Management, analysts note how companies often focus on warehouse management and transportation improvements. Now, more companies are looking at technology to solve problems in their yards. According to the report, these include “... long trailer wait times, unproductive personnel numbers, poorly synchronized movement of goods and ineffective dock planning.”

Digitizing and optimizing the yards represents a significant opportunity for organizations. While not easy, companies can take digitization step-by-step, working towards automation. One way to make an impact quickly? Start tracking your assets. In particular, tracking trailers in the yard and off-site is a good place to begin.

4 key benefits of tracking trailers in the yard

Many companies still track trailer locations and cargo via spreadsheets. It gets the job done, but even meticulous fleet managers and yard spotters can make mistakes when tracking manually. With freight volumes and trailer orders continuing to climb at record numbers, it’s essential to use more consistent methods. For example, global positioning systems (GPS) can locate a trailer before you step outside. And when combined with telematics, you’ll know if the trailer is available for use or if it contains cargo. Let’s look at a few benefits:

  • Reduces maintenance costs: Alerts notify technicians to schedule maintenance based on driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs). Tracking shows trailer mileage, service intervals, diagnostics, and fault codes. Taking proactive action lessens the chance of costly breakdowns.

  • Increases trailer use: Utilization reports show you which trailers are under-used and which areas have high demand. You can grow revenue by reallocating assets to areas that need them the most. It also saves the potential costs of buying or leasing new equipment.

  • Eliminates yard hunts: Have your yard jockeys ever walked to a trailer only to discover it wasn’t the right one? Or that it was parked somewhere else? GPS trailer tracking shows you exactly where the trailer is, simplifying yard checks for sites. On-site cameras complement these checks with historical video footage. You can also receive proactive alerts notifying you when there is unusual activity in your yard.

  • Automated detention tracking: Besides creating poor experiences for carriers, detention fees add up. Tracking reduces this costly problem. Real-time GPS data generates automatic detention reports for yard managers. Tracking also helps confirm or deny detention invoices, helping recoup fees.

How to track trailers in the yard

Most companies can reap the benefits of improving yard operations through tracking assets. Here’s an overview of the steps you can take to track trailers in the yard.

1. Determine what kind of tracking device you need

There are some things to consider when selecting a tracking solution. Start by asking yourself these questions to figure out what your needs are:

  • Trailer functionality: What trailers are you tracking? Are they basic flatbed trailers? Or do you need hardware that monitors reefers with temperature-sensitive loads?

  • Tracking type: Should you use trackers that are GPS-based? Or trackers that use RFID technology? Some trackers also use barcode tracking.

  • Power source: Is the tracking device powered by solar energy or batteries? Or is it connected to an external power source?

  • Software integration: What other existing software will your tracking device need to connect with? Should you use cloud-based software, or will an on-premise solution work better?

  • Tracking frequency: Do you need to track daily, every few minutes, or in real-time?

  • Reporting and alerts: Where will you view your tracking data? Do you want to set up email or text alerts? Or do you want to view reports anytime and anywhere with mobile apps?

  • Yard security: Will another layer of visibility help your teams better understand what's happening with the trailers on site? Do you want to receive proactive alerts if trailers are leaving or entering the yard during off hours?

2. Select software that fits your needs and systems

New trailer tracking software needs to integrate with your existing technology stack. Many companies already have a transportation management system (TMS) in place. Your telematics provider should be able to integrate with most major TMS and other third-party apps to fully connect all your data. It also needs to be compatible with other yard management software or similar real-time locating systems (RTLS).

Many software providers like Samsara offer pre-built, customizable integrations. This makes installation easier and up-and-running faster. You might also consider looking for software that has open APIs. These are designed for widespread use and are accessible by different parties. To learn more about evaluating asset tracking software, check out our guide.

3. Setup software prior to installation

After selecting your provider, you’re ready to set up your software. There are two kinds of information you’ll need for prior to hardware installation: a list of your existing trailers and the telematics hardware serial numbers. Optional: You can also have IT integrate your software into existing systems at this time, but it’s not required to start tracking trailers.

Your existing assets: Importing a list of assets is as simple as uploading a file. For instance, in Samsara, you can create and edit trailers in bulk by uploading a CSV file. You can also manage trailers and edit details individually, as needed.

Telematics hardware: In most cases, it’s easier to add or import the hardware’s identifying information—for example, serial numbers—into the software before physically installing it on your assets. Add these numbers from the device into your software to link both together.

After loading both datasets, you can easily pair a trailer with a tracking device.

4. Install and activate the tracking hardware

Depending on the tracking hardware, the difficulty of physical installation on your trailers can range. For example, battery-powered asset trackers can be installed with as little as screws or VHB tapes. External-powered trackers have different mounting requirements—like facing a solar panel at the sun or connecting power cables to batteries. Always check with your provider’s recommended installation instructions

TIP: You’ll want to install and activate your tracking hardware outdoors where there’s a strong cellular signal. Turning on the hardware indoors can delay it from connecting with your software dashboard.

5. Set up geofencing

To track trailers in the yard, you’ll want to set up geofencing. A geofence is a virtual perimeter for your parking lot or warehouse yard. It can be generated dynamically or can have a predefined set of boundaries. Geofencing is already used widely in smart home technologies. For instance, temperature or lights adjustments based on when homeowners arrive or leave. 

Once set up, there are many ways you can improve yard operations by monitoring the status of inbound and outbound trailers. You can detect thefts to ensure trailers aren’t moving outside of the yard or during non-work hours. You can also improve dock loading and unloading times. For example, geofence alerts will alert a team to when cargo is approaching for efficient planning. These alerts can also trigger automated check-ins and check-outs, eliminating waiting times. These all contribute to quicker turnarounds. Drivers get back on the road faster, incurring fewer demurrage or detention fees. You can also set up alerts for unusual activity after hours for any trailer entering or exiting the yard.

6. Track trailers with reports and alerts

Your trailers and tracking system are linked up and activated. GPS trackers are sending data back to you in real time. Time to turn that data into actionable insight. Here are the kinds of reports and alerts that can help you save time and money.

  • Inventory reports: View where all your trailers are at a glance.

  • Utilization reports: See how your assets are used. By monitoring usage, fleet managers can improve operations by allocating empty trailers more effectively.

  • Time on site reports: Know how long an asset has spent at a location. This report keeps your customer invoicing accurate and helps contest billing errors. 

  • Detention reports: See detention hours by location and trailer. This provides detailed insights into detention frequency and duration.

  • Geofence alerts: These are set by location and time. Configure alerts to notify the right people when to take action. 

  • Video footage: If there’s a theft or incident in the yard, you can easily locate, share, or export video footage. Use the footage as a coaching moment with your team, or as evidence for investigative authorities.

Brenntag North America is a wholesale chemical distribution company. They own a broad product portfolio spanning multiple markets, including food production, pharmaceuticals, and more. Their business sometimes lends itself to transporting sensitive and sometimes hazardous materials. With over 1,100 tankers and trailers in their fleet, they turned to Samsara to improve efficiency.

Previously, they tracked their trailers with spreadsheets. Now, they’ve increased efficiency in their operations with the Samsara Trailer Tracking solution. “I can tell my warehouse to load [available] trailers as opposed to waiting until a trailer comes back,” said Brenntag’s Supply Chain Manager Brian Bagin. Having more real-time visibility made dispatchers’ lives easier and allowed their warehouse operations to get ahead. Using the Samsara Utilization Report and Dormancy report, Brenntag could reallocate underutilized trailers. “We’re not spending money buying trailers we didn’t need,” said Bagin.

Real-time tracking for yard management systems

There’s never been a better time for receiving the helping hand that digitization provides. Minimize a supply chain’s logistical gaps by using the innovations and data now available. 

Yards are no longer considered an “operational black hole.” They’re quickly becoming a beneficial asset—saving companies money and time. 

Trailer tracking is a cost-effective way for companies to optimize operations, both in the yard and on the road. By tracking trailers, you can streamline operations, reduce costs, and build stronger relationships with customers. 

To learn more about asset tracking and Samsara Trailer Tracking solutions, reach out for a free trial or demo today. 

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