July 24 2006 11:45 AM

Recall the scene in Cast Away where Tom Hanks� character, an air/ground express manager, passionately declares to his employees, �Time is like fire; it can either destroy us or keep us warm. We live or die by the clock.� Many logistics professionals can relate � especially since the new federal hours-of-service (HOS) regulation took effect this past January.
It is imperative that shippers understand the impact these new rules have on their bottom lines.  Now, more than ever, companies must evaluate how they can shape up while they ship out.  
The New Rules of the Road
Overall, the revision restricts the amount of time truckers are able to drive, thereby decreasing productivity. It changes a driver�s allowable on-duty time from 15 non-consecutive hours a day to 14 consecutive hours followed by a mandatory break of 10 hours. The provision causing the most angst is the rule which redefines �on-duty� to include both driving and non-driving activities � meaning a truck driver is on the clock whether he is driving, refueling or sitting at a congested loading dock. Comprehensive information regarding the HOS revision is available on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Web site, www.fmcsa.dot.gov.
React Positively
The new HOS rule has been established to avoid driver fatigue and reduce accidents on the road. In turn, warehouse operators � especially those with belabored dock operations � may run weary trying to promptly return drivers to the road.
In order to avoid surcharges and increased costs, it is imperative that shippers improve capabilities and reduce driver waiting time, demurrage and stop-offs. Companies have made adjustments to delivery routes to make them more compliant, but they also need to �think inside the box� � meaning they need to focus on their distribution operations within the four walls of their warehouse, getting their boxes out of a facility and onto the truck quicker and more efficiently. Shippers have a great opportunity to react positively by optimizing distribution systems and dock operations.
Be aware of notify-to-deliver/pickup times when appointment scheduling. Make sure you are not scheduling further out than necessary and that carriers are not altering time windows unnecessarily. Document the exact time the truck pulls in and pulls out. Online scheduling tools, which enable shippers to track carrier arrival and departure times and compare scheduled and actual loads, are available to monitor carrier activity and dock efficiency.
Friction at the dock should be avoided. If a truck�s movement is off schedule, the event should be documented and addressed in subsequent correspondence. Abide by the schedule, account for the impinging internal and external factors, and clearly communicate with the carrier to determine an effective course. Have shipments prepared before the truck arrives, and be flexible in order to stay the course should the schedule destabilize. 
Staging Area
Expanding the staging area within the warehouse will allow for more load-ready pallets upon the trucks� arrival. This may require rearrangement of the docking area, but compared to other loading options, staging pallets mitigates long-term costs. Live loads and unloads are becoming more expensive because the driver sits idle at the dock. Direct loading from the conveyor may circumvent palletizing and reduce additional handling, but moving cartons one at a time slows down the loading process.
Drop and Hook
Trailers in the yard can effectively be used as an extension of the warehouse. Enabling drivers to �drop and hook� � drop off a trailer and directly hook to another � allows them to avoid the dock and get immediately back on the road. Be aware, when a driver shows up to drop and hook, a loaded trailer must be ready for pick up.
Smart Material Handling
Effective load management is crucial to fulfilling well-timed shipments. Material handling methods and equipment that mitigate time-consuming inefficiencies are assets in any on-demand environment. Ineffective picking processes and facility layouts require 65% of a picker�s time to be spent simply walking. Shippers are able to enhance dock flow by redesigning material-handling and material-flow processes. Automated systems expedite the flow of product throughout the facility. Ergonomic equipment increases worker productivity. Processes such as cross docking that call for a minimal amount of touches are frequently ideal options. 
Management System Software
Warehouse (WMS), transportation (TMS) and yard management (YMS) systems are key to empowering shippers with complete visibility and control within their facilities. Although software providers are adding features like appointment scheduling and space optimization to beef up each application�s capabilities, the most comprehensive solution is an integrated suite
An optimization engine can concurrently look at available inventory, labor and equipment; capacity of the yard, dock, staging area and storage area; inbound freight; driver wait times; customer service requirements; and transportation costs. Based on this information, the optimized suite creates an optimal schedule for the WMS, TMS and YMS to harmoniously execute.
Education and Cooperation
The new regulations ultimately affect all components of a supplier�s business. Slow response and poor customer service have price tags as well. If a supplier intends to deliver an order by a certain date, it is the supplier that will be held accountable for the late arrival.
Shippers need to educate customers on the impacts of the HOS regulation and communicate how non-compliance surcharges increase costs. Instruct your sales, marketing and customer service departments to encourage efficiency at your customers� facility as well. After all, your efforts at optimizing your dock operations must not be undermined by your customers� inefficiencies. 
Distribution On Demand
Companies are looking to drive down freight costs and achieve Distribution On Demand � the ability to quickly respond to changes in demand while shipping 100% customer-compliant orders at the least cost. Shippers may recognize the opportunity for advancement for those who effectively comply with the HOS regulation, but they may not be able to execute the necessary tasks on their own. Companies can look to outside distribution experts who objectively identify inefficiencies within picking and shipping operations. A qualified specialist is able to present and also imple-ment practical continuous improvement projects that keep drivers behind the wheel and on the road to Distribution On Demand. 
Jerry Vink is vice president of engineering with FORTE, a single-source distribution operations improvement firm. Located in Cincinnati, Ohio, he can be reached at 513-398-2800 or jvink@forte-industries.com.