Loadsmart Resource Center

First Come, First Serve - Why It Makes You Last in Warehouse Efficiency

Most of us have heard the term “first come, first serve” (FCFS), and it means exactly the same thing in the world of dock appointment scheduling.  The first person in line gets served first, second is served second and subsequently until the line is completed.  

What does this mean? No appointments.

FCFS scheduling is very simple to implement, unfortunately, it is also extremely inefficient.  No scheduling ultimately rewards people who are willing to waste the most time.  If a person is willing to join the line early to spend additional hours waiting, they will be rewarded with the first available slot.  

As a consumer we previously experienced these things waiting for seats on airlines or in movie theaters. Today, those industries have evolved to reserved seating and eliminated the need to arrive early and waste time to get the desired seat.

FCFS in shipping and receiving can also present other challenges beyond the inefficient use of time. When a line forms it creates congestion and negatively impacts accessibility within the facility location as well as nearby surrounding areas. Managing a line of people has challenges but managing a line of 53-foot trailers wrapping around a building is a much bigger challenge.

Many warehouses still utilize FCFS even though it is the least effective scheduling method. Despite the extensive negative impacts, it remains the easiest method to implement. Also, change is hard.  

Opendock has heard those phrases “it has always been that way” or “it is too difficult to change”. These phrases usually give way to the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Unfortunately, it is extremely broken as dwell time continues to grow and facilities struggle to efficiently load and unload trucks.

Opendock solves these problems for shipping and receiving facilities as simply as possible - because change doesn’t have to be difficult.  

FCFS scheduling does have an advantage in both simplicity and ease of execution. It is extremely easy to communicate the process to carrier partners and requires minimal preparation for resource planning. Carriers may not enjoy FCFS scheduling, but there is a concept of fairness and understanding because it has been prevalent for so long in the industry.  

The downside of not requiring resource planning is, well, the lack of resource planning. Unable to plan resources for warehouse labor, dock door availability, and unloading equipment likely means an inefficient warehouse operation. While the simplified approach of FCFS scheduling saves time in initial design and communication, it is more than offset from inefficiencies resulting in overtime and detention fees.

Our Opendock customers are trying to answer these critical questions:

  • When do we need to schedule people for load and unload?
  • How can we minimize unnecessary overtime?
  • How long will trucks have to wait and what are the detention costs?

Answering these questions can be difficult. Without systems or tools in place, it is impossible to answer with accuracy. Using a tool like Opendock empowers operational leaders to answer these questions with actual data. Leaders who eliminate guesswork and gut feelings improve planning that lead to cost reduction.

It is difficult to predict when trucks will arrive for unloading and loading without an appointment schedule. Supply chain teams have more tools than ever before with GPS tracking and predictive ETA, but these are not available in advance. For Opendock, these tools are critical to success which is why we actively work to partner with companies providing these solutions. However, they are not a replacement for scheduling because they do not take into account the availability of resources from the warehouse.  

Warehouse leaders would love to have an on-demand workforce allowing them to react to all factors impacting a delivery time, but that is not reality. Employee schedules are made weeks in advance, multiple carrier partners are arriving and departing daily, so the ability to react to new ETAs for a single shipment is challenging. Utilizing an availability schedule based on dock doors, hours of operation, warehouse labor, and loading/unloading duration help ensure warehouses and carriers are on the same page.

A warehouse without a scheduling system in place will inevitably have trucks arriving inconsistently throughout the day. Unplanned arrivals result in unprepared staff, paying staff for idle time waiting for trucks, and overtime costs when a surge of trucks arrive near shift end. These factors are costly on their own and are further compounded with increased shipping costs as trucks wait to be unloaded. Wait times result in detention fees and ultimately increased shipping rates as carriers compensate for lost revenue.

What does an FCFS warehouse look like from a time and cost perspective? 

In this example we will have an FCFS warehouse with the following criteria:

  • Hours of Operation: 8 AM to 1 PM
  • Able to unload 1 truck at a time
  • 1-hour duration for truck unload

First Come First Serve Warehouse

In an FCFS operation, it is possible for multiple trucks to arrive at the same time. This is likely to occur when locations are closed on the weekends because drivers will be arriving at various times and waiting in line come Monday morning. 

Our example warehouse has five trucks arrive at 8 AM. Based on our criteria of unloading a single truck and an hour duration, the fifth truck will have waited for five hours before being unloaded. The result is three hours of detention time. There are two other trucks that would have incurred a total of three hours detention as well. In total this facility would incur 6 hours of detention and, using the national average detention rate of $65, there would be a total cost of $390.  

The detention fees are the immediately quantifiable component, but it does not include the stress and impact on the warehouse staff. Walking into work Monday morning already behind and playing catchup is difficult for a team. The regular occurrence of this would have a notable impact on morale, and possibly attendance. In a warehouse, this can translate to unsafe procedures, damaged freight, and disorganized loading docks that require additional labor to correct it. 

The same frustrations are being experienced by carriers. Drivers anticipated arriving first thing on Monday morning to unloaded quickly and get to their next appointment.  Without visibility into a schedule, there is no reason to think otherwise or to expect other trucks arriving simultaneously. At the FCFS facility, this is not the case. Detention fees are incurred after long wait times to help partially offset the labor cost, but all drivers would rather be driving than waiting. This is further exasperated with hours of service requirements as drivers lose available driving hours waiting for shipments to be loaded and unloaded.

So, what happens in a facility with all of the same criteria, but they have appointment scheduling? 

Appointment Scheduling

Instead of all trucks arriving at 8 AM, like the FCFS model, each truck has a scheduled appointment time. The appointment times are spaced one hour apart to allow for the completion of the previous truck and minimize the amount of wait time. If all trucks arrived at their scheduled appointment time this warehouse location would incur no detention fees. In this example, that is a $390 savings for a single day using five only trucks.  

From the carrier perspective, they can better plan their time and subsequent appointments. Instead of showing up to the facility at 8 AM, drivers can arrive at a scheduled time which ultimately minimizes their overall wait time. In the FCFS warehouse, carriers waited a total of fifteen hours as opposed to the scheduled warehouse where they waited five hours.

But wait! You might be thinking that trucks don’t always show up on-time for shipments.  This is true and, due to the limitless number of outside factors, it is likely trucks will never be 100% on-time. However, for Opendock, we have found that when trucks have a scheduled appointment time, they are much more likely to arrive near that time. While scheduled appointment times are not perfect, giving all parties a specific time target will significantly improve planning and operations.

Is your facility operating FCFS scheduling?  Time to make a change.  Start scheduling appointments, planning your resources, and becoming a shipper of choice for your carriers today by contacting Opendock.

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