August 25, 2022 | Insights
Modern Shunting and the Ever-Evolving Supply Chain
August 25, 2022 | Insights
Shunting plays an integral role in our supply chain today. High-volume distribution has become so complex that it wouldn’t be able to operate without yard switchers and shunt drivers. But it hasn’t always been this way. Warehousing itself can be traced back to the beginning of global trade routes. Shunting, on the other hand, is relatively new to the scene. So, where did shunting (and the need for it) come from? And more importantly, where is it going? First, let’s define shunting as we know it today.
Shunting refers to moving and sorting trailers from location to location in a distribution center yard. This is an important part of the warehousing process that allows teams to move loaded trailers away from the dock until they are picked up, and to make room for more incoming and outgoing trailers as needed. This shuffling of trailers to make room for more means that more inventory can effectively be stored in the yard, allowing companies to maximize their warehouse capacity.
Many different terms describe this type of work—like jockeying, spotting, and switching. To better understand what shunting is (and isn’t), check out this article on the nuances of logistics industry jargon.
History of Shunting: Roots in distribution
Shunting has existed for over 100 years and first appeared in the railroad industry. The rapidly growing volume of global imports and exports in the 19th century required a more robust railway system for distribution. However, continuing to build more and more tracks isn’t a sustainable solution. To increase the capacity for transported goods, the classification yard was born.
Classification yards, also called marshaling yards or shunting yards (depending on where you are in the world), were created to sort goods by region first before routing them to an exact destination. When trains arrive at a classification yard, their freight cars are decoupled, shuffled around, and sorted into new lines according to where the cargo needs to go. As in the logistics industry today, efficiency was key. Some yards boasted the ability to decouple and sort 60-wagon trains across in 6 minutes.
With teams of switchers and shunt drivers, classification yards still operate this way today—and this model has also been adopted by the warehousing industry. Today, cargo in the global supply chain goes through many channels before it arrives at its destination. Whether it’s by boat, plane, railway, road, or a combination of these—switchers and drivers are needed every step to ensure that the cargo gets routed to the right place.
Shunting has come a long way since its railroad days. Distribution centers rely heavily on shunting and effective yard management to avoid yard congestion and dynamic scheduling to handle changes in volume caused by seasonal and other market-related fluctuations—something that’s proved especially challenging throughout the pandemic.
Logistics tech makes every move count
The biggest problem seen across our industry today is yard congestion, which leads to longer lead times and risk for businesses. Industry tech aims to help prevent congestion and keep warehouse operations moving forward with efficiency, safety, and security. Yard management systems like Shuntware® allow warehouse teams to track all yard activity digitally to ensure that trailers are moved exactly where they need to go when they need to be there.
Total yard management for tomorrow’s supply chain
Implementing a YMS is helping many companies meet today’s challenges, but it may not be enough to prepare them for those of tomorrow. Continued port delays, driver shortages, transportation costs, global inflation, and looming recession all make the future of our supply chain a huge unknown.
Logistical resilience is key for maintaining a strong presence within the supply chain, no matter what the market throws our way. Across every industry, we’re seeing companies make the switch from in-house yard management to strategic logistic partnerships. For a more in-depth guide on this, download our whitepaper on the modern age of total yard management.
The first step toward operational excellence
At NSSL, we leverage the power of supply chain visibility and data to drive total yard management and continuously optimize yard operations. Take the first step toward operational excellence by scheduling a free, no-pressure yard audit.