| Written by Christian Aadal

This article delves into how digital solutions transform vehicle yard operations that facilitate global vehicle distribution.
These solutions offer insights into real-time planning, visibility, and strategic logistics that are essential in today's fast-paced market. Discover how advanced yard management systems are not just enhancing efficiency but also reshaping the automotive supply chain landscape. 

Vehicle Yard Management

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The world of vehicle yards

Yard management is a critical component of automotive logistics and supply chain operations, focusing on the organization and management of materials within a designated yard or outdoor storage area. This management includes a wide array of tasks, such as organizing shipments, tracking inventory, and loading and unloading yard trucks. To streamline these processes, a yard management system equips businesses with real-time tracking capabilities, which are essential for the accurate monitoring of goods and assets within the yard and for keeping tabs on the status of orders. This level of oversight is crucial for preempting potential delays or complications.

In the case of vehicle yards, which are essentially vast parking lots designated for finished, imported, or used vehicles, the scale can be immense, often accommodating over 10,000 units. The sheer size of these yards presents significant challenges in terms of management, requiring robust systems to ensure they operate smoothly and efficiently.

Let's look at two big challenges for yard management systems: (1) Finished car management at the vehicle manufacturer's factories and (2) vehicle management from the view of big importers and dealers. 


Business Case 1: Challenges with Finished Cars Management

After a vehicle exits the production line, it goes to the finishing process, where the last preparations are made, such as removing plastering, washing, fuelling, mechanical adjustments, etc. With such complex processes, an effective system is crucial to efficiently managing the operations in both small and large-scale facilities.

Challenges in Yard Management Include:

  • Efficiently allocating parking locations to maximize space utilization facilitates easier parking and vehicle retrieval.
  • Drivers often follow non-standardized routes to park vehicles, leading to unnecessary time loss and increased distance travelled.
  • Locating a vehicle for retrieval can become time-consuming, often requiring extensive searching.
  • Frequent vehicle movement increases the risk of damage, such as scratches and dents.
  • Drivers may need to move several vehicles to access and retrieve a specific car, further complicating the process.
  • Retrieval routes can also be inefficient, mirroring the arbitrary paths taken during parking.
  • The process for conducting physical counts of vehicles is often lengthy and labour-intensive.

Before shipping, vehicles often undergo various customization steps, such as tyre changes, accessory additions, fueling, quality checks, and washing. These tasks need to be performed on the correct vehicle in the right order and at the appropriate time. Yard management must not only be aware of these steps but also actively control and coordinate them.

To maximize efficiency, meticulous planning of resources and tasks is essential. The workshop schedule should be carefully managed to balance workloads and adapt based on task priority and progress. This schedule integrates pre-delivery inspections, vehicle up-fitting, and refurbishment activities, all coordinated based on the availability of personnel, resources, and spare parts, ensuring smart management of every vehicle's preparation process.

Complete visibility within the yard is crucial to identifying the root causes of potential issues. An IoT-based Real-Time Location System (RTLS) offers the monitoring and control capabilities necessary to manage these complex environments effectively, similar to those utilized in smart factories, warehouses, and assembly lines.


Business Case 2: Dealerships and Vehicle Yards

Europe stands out as a key player in the global automotive industry, not only leading in car manufacturing but also in importing vehicles on a large scale. The continent handles the export and import of millions of vehicles annually, utilizing massive vehicle terminals and car carriers for transportation.

Some of the largest car terminals in Europe, including Zeebrugge, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Bremerhaven, Amsterdam, Vigo, Valencia, and Barcelona, boast capacities of up to 200,000 vehicles. These terminals are immense hubs of activity, facing logistical challenges that extend beyond simply finding dock space for incoming vessels.

Timing is critical for managing these terminals efficiently. Operators must coordinate complex activities: unloading vehicles from ships, parking them in the terminal, and loading them for their next destination. This orchestration must be precise to avoid delays and ensure smooth transitions.

Similarly, large car importers face their own challenges once vehicles are on land. They must distribute these vehicles to various locations, including central distribution centres, regional vehicle yards, dealerships, and large vehicles near major seaports. These yards often serve as temporary buffers to manage the flow of vehicles effectively, ensuring timely distribution across different regions.


To boost efficiency and throughput, yard operators look at the following aspects of vehicle yard management:

 1) Preparing

To determine the most suitable parking space for each car, it's crucial to look beyond available spaces in the yard and consider the subsequent requirements of each vehicle. Questions like whether the vehicle requires modifications, if it has any damage, or what its next form of transportation will be, are essential for optimizing parking strategies and minimizing unnecessary mileage.

If a vehicle requires modifications before shipment, these maintenance appointments must be factored into the parking strategy. This planning takes into account assembly deadlines, current logistics, and inventory conditions, allowing for the efficient allocation of personnel and material resources.

When it comes to preparing vehicles for outbound transit, the goal is to maximize the capacity of various transport modes, such as trains or ships. This is achieved through strategic vehicle grouping and thoughtful load planning, ensuring that each transport leaving the facility is fully utilized, thereby enhancing overall throughput.

2) Visibility 

Given the complexity of the operations and customers' high expectations, managing a vehicle yard that accommodates over 10,000 vehicles demands more advanced tools than manual tracking or Excel sheets. Any delay in the process can lead to significant, unnecessary costs. For efficient supply chain management within the yard, it is essential to have immediate access to and transparency of each car's position and status.

Visualization tools enhance the yard's overall transparency and allow for tracking individual Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) throughout their lifecycle. This clear visibility of each vehicle and the associated processes forms the foundation for optimal planning and control, ensuring that every step is managed effectively to meet stringent timelines and reduce costs.

3) Real-time planning

Planning within a vehicle yard must be both dynamic and adaptable. Static plans often fall short due to unpredictable occurrences, such as unexpected absenteeism in the modification centre or delays in parts shipments. It's crucial for yard operators to be able to respond swiftly to these changes. Real-time planning allows for quick adjustments and reshuffling of tasks to address and mitigate potential bottlenecks and delays. This flexibility is essential for managing the fluid dynamics of the work environment effectively, ensuring that operations continue smoothly despite unforeseen challenges.

4) Distribution processes

Since these unpredictable events typically originate from the upstream and downstream processes in the vehicle supply chain, it is beneficial to consider all related processes. Utilizing tools that strategically design and centrally manage the logistical network throughout the entire vehicle distribution lifecycle can aid yard operators in maintaining smooth operations within the yard. Additionally, these tools help meet customer demands and delivery commitments. Central process automation and optimization are further enhanced by consolidating the data from all logistics processes into a single system, providing a unified view and control over operations.


Managing a Vehicle Yard 

The complexity of planning and managing vehicle yard processes highlights the necessity for more than just human oversight. Intelligent yard management systems are crucial for efficiently coordinating and linking various functions within the yard. These systems optimize processes by matching the planned data with the actual data to reduce costs and enhance efficiency by controlling ongoing activities and automatically rescheduling them in real time. They also plan future operations.

Furthermore, intelligent systems are capable of generating measurable data for key performance indicators that help monitor yard performance and manage the reporting and billing of yard services. All data exchanges with OEMs, suppliers, and other partners can be handled through a single data interface.

Quality and punctuality are essential to meet customer expectations in vehicle yard operations, which are distinguished from other logistics activities by their unique processes, such as damage handling and hold management. Given that a vehicle often undergoes its final accessorizing and customization near the customer's location, it is typically considered a "work in progress." As both the processes and physical layouts of yards grow more complex, software becomes indispensable in optimizing logistics. This involves considering multiple parameters on the yard, integrating with upstream and downstream logistics processes, and providing real-time transparency.


FAQs : Managing Vehicle Yards

1. How do yard management systems help in locating vehicles quickly in large yards? Yard management systems utilize Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) to provide precise visibility of each vehicle's position within the yard. These systems track individual Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs), enabling quick and accurate localization of any car. This functionality is crucial for optimizing retrieval times and improving overall yard efficiency.

2. What strategies are implemented to manage car handling processes in large vehicle yards? Effective management of car handling processes involves strategic parking planning, which considers both the current and future needs of each vehicle, such as modifications or transport requirements. Additionally, yard management systems integrate with modification centres and transportation schedules to streamline workflows, minimize vehicle movement, and reduce the risk of damage during handling.

3. How do digital solutions optimize the distribution process in large vehicle yards? Digital solutions in vehicle yards centralize data from all processes, allowing for real-time planning and adjustments based on live operational conditions. This integration enables strategic vehicle grouping for shipments and dynamic rescheduling in response to unexpected changes, such as delivery delays or urgent customer demands. By doing so, these systems ensure efficient space utilization and timely vehicle distribution.


Takeaway: Vehicle Yard Management

The management of vehicle yards, particularly those handling thousands of units, demands sophisticated digital solutions beyond manual tracking or basic spreadsheets. Intelligent yard management systems are essential for enhancing efficiency and reducing operational costs. These systems provide real-time planning and visibility, which is essential for handling the dynamic challenges of vehicle logistics. They allow for the strategic grouping of vehicles for transport, real-time adjustments to workflow, and full lifecycle tracking of each vehicle via unique identifiers. By integrating all logistics processes into one system, these digital tools ensure optimal planning, increased throughput, and robust data management, which is crucial for meeting the stringent demands of modern vehicle distribution networks.

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Christian Aadal, Product Manager