There's a new (high-tech) sheriff in town
Warehouses turn to drones and sensors to beef up security in their yards.
By Ben Ames
When contract logistics specialist DHL Supply Chain wanted to improve security at company warehouses in Mexico and Brazil, the Deutsche Post DHL Group unit deployed flying drones with surveillance cameras.
When transportation and logistics service provider XPO Logistics Inc. wanted to beef up security in its employee parking lots, the company rolled out mobile security robots outfitted with video cameras, heat sensors, two-way speakers, and alarm sirens.
Both companies are turning to new technologies to address the age-old problem of safety and security at distribution centers, parking lots, loading docks, and yards. Drones and sensors are taking on larger roles in facility and yard systems, providing capabilities like airborne reconnaissance and 24-hour surveillance that previous generations of systems could not offer.
"Robots offer exciting new capabilities in terms of productivity and security," XPO President Troy Cooper said in an e-mail. During a test beginning in October 2017 at XPO's Atlanta facility, the use of robots reduced the number of security incidents while cutting costs, Cooper said. XPO declined to share specific numbers on the extent of the reductions. In addition to cutting down on incidents like trespassing, car break-ins, and car damage, the robots ensure a workplace is free of intruders and that no suspicious vehicles are parked at a facility, Cooper said.
Drones are becoming an increasingly common sight in transportation applications, according to a March survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). The survey found that 35 out of 44 responding state departments of transportation—or 80 percent—are using drones for tasks including bridge inspections, surveying, photography of highway construction projects, emergency response, and daily traffic control and monitoring.
The ability of drones and other sensors to collect a wide range of data also makes them well suited for applications in busy warehouse yards and facilities, technology providers say.
SENSORS ENHANCE SECURITY
Yard management systems provider Pinc Solutions, a Union City, Calif.-based firm known for its drone deployments, said customers are typically concerned about four types of security in the yard: visitors, trailers, drivers, and containers. Yard management systems can address all of those concerns by using sensors to automatically monitor wide areas, Pinc said.
First, a yard system can track visitors, keeping an electronic log of all people who arrive at a facility, recording when they come, how long they stay, and when they leave, said Rafael Granato, the company's marketing director. Second, yard systems can use drones and cameras to track the location of trailers, allowing supervisors to quickly search for missing units and to determine if they have been misplaced or have already departed the grounds.
Third, a system can track individual drivers, allowing facility managers to monitor drivers who don't behave according to company policies. Lastly, video systems can verify the presence of container seals during gate check-in and checkout, Granato said. This allows a facility to verify its role in the chain of custody, he added.
Cargo theft is a common security concern in warehouse yards, said Walt Swietlik, director of customer relations and sales support for Milwaukee-based Rite-Hite, a provider of loading dock equipment and safety barriers. To help deter thieves from making off with loaded trailers, the Milwaukee-based company offers a trailer restraint that connects a truck trailer or intermodal container to the warehouse dock both with physical hooks and with an electronic connection to the building's security system.
"By far our number one concern is trailer theft and hijacking," Swietlik said. "Year in and year out, loading docks are one of the top locations [for trailer theft]."
Another common problem is unauthorized persons entering a yard to gain access to a building, Swietlik said. Even if these visitors don't intend to steal equipment or inventory, they can present a safety problem by wandering around dangerous loading zones and high-traffic lanes, he said. Because loading docks are often left open to allow for quick loading and unloading of cargo, they offer an easy target for thieves. In response, yard management providers are using sensor-based systems such as security doors, access controls, and motion sensors to prevent unwanted pedestrians from wandering around the yard and DC, he said.
STAYING A STEP AHEAD OF THE CROOKS
Another area where sensors can provide a big payoff is in the tracking and reporting of inventory—a task that's becoming increasingly critical for shippers across all industries, according to Maynard, Mass.-based logistics software vendor Kuebix, which specializes in transportation management systems (TMS). In a recent blog post on its website, the company warned that thieves are changing their tactics in ways that often catch shippers off guard. Rather than stealing entire loads or multiple pallets, they're "lifting" small amounts of product at a time, according to the blog post, "Cargo thieves' new strategy hitting shippers hard." This allows thieves to quickly escape, often leaving victims unaware anything was taken, Kuebix said.
To protect against that threat, companies can collect data from sensors, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, and global positioning system (GPS) tracking units, tying those inputs together with Internet of Things (IoT) platforms in the yard, Kuebix said. They can then analyze the data and use it for applications like locating trucks and drivers in real time, reviewing how long a truck stayed at a particular checkpoint, and tracking and tracing individual pallets as well as identifying any unusual patterns of activity.
Integrating RFID and GPS data into a yard management system is a crucial tool for improving security measures, according to Ed Moran, managing director and senior vice president for sales and marketing, Americas, at Transporeon Group, a German company that develops cloud-based logistics platforms. Whether that data is generated by a driver's smartphone app, an electronic logging device (ELD), or a hovering drone, users can use it to improve yard security and reduce the risk of lost shipments or trucks as well as cargo theft or damage, he said.
Collecting that data may be cumbersome at first, but users can streamline the process by coupling their dock scheduling and yard management solutions with tracking systems and sensor technology, Moran said. That approach can automate the process of performing security checks like locating lost trailers, ensuring that all the trucks in a yard are supposed to be there, and detecting when a certain truck has remained in the yard longer than expected.
Regardless of which types of tools it chooses, deploying monitoring technologies can improve a facility's ability to keep track of both inventory and personnel on site. And that capability will always be important at bustling docks and busy yards.
About the Author
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.
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