Apr 13, 2022

The Secret to Frito-Lay’s Efficient Yard Management Program with Frito Lay’s Mari Roberts

“We all love data. We all love our technology. Sometimes, we have too much of it. The challenge is to figure out how to turn all the data into usable information.

The most recent and applicable example is our yard management project:

  • Connect end-to-end, both from the manufacturing facilities and warehouse operations team for the empty trailers
  • Create visibility to inbound raw materials 
  • Looking for specific SKUs and line items that are coming in inbound

The goal is to manage the yards more efficiently.” -Mari Roberts

Full transcript

Francis Adanza:

Welcome to the Down to Freight Podcast, where we sit down with transportation, logistics and supply chain subject matter experts to discuss some digital transformation projects. I’m the host of the show, Francis Adanza, and it’s a pleasure to welcome Mari Roberts, Vice President of Transportation of Frito-Lay. Mari, thank you for joining today’s episode.

Mari Roberts:

Thanks so much for having me.

Francis Adanza:

Absolutely. Do you mind taking a moment to tell us a little bit about yourself, your company and what you’re responsible for at Frito-Lay?

Mari Roberts:

Yes, sure thing. So I’ve been with Frito-Lay for 21.5 years, which is kind of crazy to say out loud, but spent most of that time all in transportation, both in field operations roles as well as region support type roles and also corporate roles, just dealing with national transportation logistics and then kind of bounce back and forth between field operations and corporate roles.

And the role that I have now, fortunately for me, is the best of both worlds. So I do have all of our field operations. So we have 28 traffic centers located across the U.S. that handles about 78% of all of our outbound volume. So I’ve got the large field operations team. We have 2,020 over-the-road drivers as well as about 265 non-CDL drivers, who drive bulk trucks in our operations. So that’s the bulk of the team.  And the most important people, I would argue, first and foremost, are all the drivers.

\And then we also have the carrier operations team that manages all the third party, which is outsourced to the other 22%. So overall, we’re responsible for shipping over 980 million cases of products, so almost 1 billion cases of Frito-Lay snacks that we’re responsible for getting from all of our manufacturing facilities out into the market for all of you and all your listeners to buy.

Francis Adanza:

That’s awesome. It sounds like you’re dealing with a very small operation over there.

Mari Roberts:

Just a little bit. Yeah, a little bit.

Francis Adanza:

Cool. Well, thank you for providing that context. I’m pretty sure most people are familiar with the Frito-Lay brand, but you touched a little bit on your supply chain. Can you provide a little bit more detail as to how the supply chain works to get from the products that you make into the consumers’ hands?

Mari Roberts:

Yes. Good question. So there’s a couple of different ways that we go to market. And for those that are familiar with Frito-Lay’s go-to-market or DSD, direct sales delivery (sic) [direct store delivery] system, we do have an army of amazing sales representatives out on our sales team. So I think there’s over 16,000, if I’m correct on that number, that are out in the market that are servicing the stores every day. And so we own the product all the way through until it’s purchased out the front door by the consumers.

So those sales team will place orders for their particular stores, and then those orders get aggregated to either distribution centers that are local in their areas. And then those distribution centers then aggregate orders to the manufacturing facilities. So then our role in transportation is to get all of the product that’s coming out of our manufacturing facilities into those respective distribution centers. And then the distribution centers will then pick all of the product at the route level and the store level and then our sales team takes the product from there out into the market.

We also have a direct go-to-market where over-the-road drivers will take product directly from some of our picking locations just to bypass that middle inventory, direct to store too. So we do a little bit of everything to get the product out to market. So it really just depends on what’s the most efficient way to get to market in that particular geography. And what I will tell you is Frito-Lay has a very strong continuous improvement culture. And so we continue to refine and get more efficient in how we go to market and be able to respond and be agile to what our consumers are needing from us.

Francis Adanza:

Thanks for that overview. That really helps. So on the lines of efficiency, as you know, we’re here to talk about technology projects. Is there a recent project or something that you’re currently working on that you’d like to share?

Mari Roberts:

Yeah, great question. And of course, we all love data, right? We all love our technology. Sometimes we have too much of it and a challenge to figure out how to turn all the data into usable information. But the most recent and probably applicable to a lot of the listeners here is our yard management project. So really trying to connect end-to-end both from our manufacturing facilities to have visibility to inbound raw materials as well as our warehouse operations team for empty trailers and looking for specific SKUs and line items that are coming in inbound and really just trying to manage our yards a little bit more efficiently.

So maybe airing a little bit of dirty laundry here, most people probably would have assumed the company like Frito-Lay already had a very robust yard management system. So we have had a lot of different technologies in local or homegrown systems, and we’re really trying to take a more holistic enterprise approach to how we’re managing.

And so there’s blessings and curses, I think, that come with large companies or smaller companies. I think when you’re a small company, you can move very quickly on those types of technology projects. But when you’re a little bigger like ours, sometimes it takes a little longer to get organized and to be able to find companies that can scale to the needs of what we’re looking for. So yes, that’s been a pretty exciting one for us that we’ve been working on in 2021.

Francis Adanza:

Awesome. Yeah, it sounds like yard management solutions are becoming a priority these days. It seemed like you had one or like a combination of commercial as well as homegrown. So ultimately, what was the big vision for the yard management solution that you finally decided to roll out?

Mari Roberts:

Yes. So honestly, from the seat that I sit in, I would love, especially during all the challenges and the headwinds that supply chain is just facing in general, right, both in the U.S. and global, I would love to be able to log in and just get a very quick executive summary status report on how all of our facilities are operating.

What does our load readiness look like? How many loads are ready for pickup? How many loads are completed and have not been picked up either by our own internal private fleet or by a third-party carrier? And then how can we also leverage that visibility to become a better shipper and to be a shipper of choice to enable our carrier partners to be able to have a more smooth and efficient supply chain?

So that, for us, was really the decision on wanting to get system scale and centralization to be able to just get a good gauge as opposed to being able to tap into all of those individual locations and a lot of manual processes.

Francis Adanza:

I can definitely see why that was important to the business. As you evaluated solutions, like what were some of the key capabilities or requirements that you were looking for?

Mari Roberts:

Yes, good question. We had quite a few, but I think the first, there was multiple within the yard, is the visibility and being able to integrate the technology that you’re using, whether it’s RFID or GPS. Those were kind of big considerations we looked at on. I don’t even know what’s in your yard to begin with and then what some of the options were in terms of checking in and checking out. What does that process look like? How easy was the interface for our team members to be able to use?

And then you also have the element of optimizing the yard moves themselves. So in our industry, we call them hostler centers, yard jockeys, yard dogs. We call them a lot of different things, but it’s the folks that move all the trailers within the yard and in and out of all the dock doors that we were also looking for a technology solution to be able to optimize the moves.

So our warehouse coordinators could say, here are all the moves we need to make, and then using just the algorithms, being able to optimize like how do we make those yard controllers the most efficient? So I think that was probably one big criteria we looked at. The other one we really liked was the integration of track and trace technology.

So it’s one thing if you have third-party carriers able to come in and schedule dock appointments. But with as many variables as we all encounter every day, being able to have a live rolling ETA or just that live track and trace integrated into our yard management system for our warehouse, to be able to see what was planned to come in, but actually what was scheduled to come in were usually two different things. So I think those were probably the two biggest requirements that we were looking for in the solution that we were implementing.

Francis Adanza:

That makes a lot of sense. So in terms of where you’re at in the deployment, are you starting to see the impact on the business? And if so, how are you measuring that before and after?

Mari Roberts:

Yes. So we’re pretty early with this new, I don’t know if I want to call it a pilot, because we’re intending it to be a lead site. We wanted to implement this one first, anticipating that this was technology or a solution we wanted to proceed with.

But, of course, with any implementation, you’ve got to work through some of the bugs before we decide if it’s going to work for us to scale. I think some of the initial results have been very positive in terms of user interface, very user-friendly and just the visibility that all of our teams have. So there’s a one-stop shop for our warehouse teams, our traffic teams, to be able to see what’s on the yard, what’s coming in, what’s scheduled to go out.

And we complicate a lot of things, to be honest, with the many different trailer types that we have. And sometimes that, again, adds complications to daily business processes, but we’re able to have a better visibility and streamline communication on here’s exactly what we need. Here’s the loadouts. Where are the trailers? And then we can get a plan to come back.

So I think we’re seeing that. Some of the key metrics we’re looking at is idle time, how often and how much are we able to turn a trailer in the yard and also as well as dock dwell. How long does a trailer sit in the dock. And then you also have the yard controller, and then you’ve got moves per hour. You’ve got distance, so we can really see how efficient we are there.

Francis Adanza:

So it sounds like you’ve been through a few of these rollouts, whether it’s a commercial tool or a homegrown solution. For those that are thinking about getting a yard management solution, what is some advice that you could share whether to do it in-house or buy commercial? And then what is some of the best practices for rolling it out to make sure that it’s a smooth deployment?

Mari Roberts:

Yes. That’s a really good question. And again, like I said, it just really depends on what type of an operation you have. If you’re a relatively small operation, you don’t have multiple buildings or locations to worry about and try to manage multiple yards and multiple trailer pools, then you may not need as robust of a system. You may have a more localized operation that just suits the needs of what you’re trying to accomplish at your site.

If you do have a more enterprise broader system where- we’ve got over thousands of both company-owned and rental trailers across the whole U.S. And so for us, really just looking at was that solution able to provide both the broad kind of corporate view that we would look for, but also does it enable you to drill down locally? So each of our site locations can manage their own operations and trailer pools and not every site is the same.

So just understanding how much customization you need is usually always one of the big challenges. I know a lot of our vendors like to call that scope creep, where we start to talk about here is what we really need. And then as you start getting into it, it’s the, oh, by the way, it would be really nice if I could do this or it would be great if they could do this.

So I think that is one watch out, is you really have to stay focused on what are the true base functionality that you need. And then what are some of the nice to haves or maybe some of the future enhancements that you may look to add on later down the road. And sometimes that’s hard for us because we want everything right away. We want it to work as soon as you implement it. And in reality, that’s not always the case.

And the second piece that I would say a key learning for us has been to ensure that we have all of our key stakeholders involved from day one. Really understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing, what we’re doing, what the objectives and how everybody plays a role, whether it’s both from the warehousing side, from the transport side, but also from our yard controllers. We’ve got very engaged, talented smart people and making sure that they understood and could provide feedback and had a venue.

Because a lot of times, they were getting directed to make moves that didn’t make sense. So it’s like, okay, well, how do we still incorporate that human element into maybe what a black and white algorithm wouldn’t necessarily have seen? And I would say that’s definitely something you want to make sure you’re engaging all of your key stakeholders and keeping your employees right along there with you and making sure they’ve got a voice in that. Because you’ll be amazed what you learn from them. They are the people that do the job every day, right? So we don’t expect a system to come in and be able to outthink them on day one.

Francis Adanza:

That’s an awesome advice. Thank you. So as we wrap up, what’s next on the horizon for this project or any other initiatives that you might be planning for?

Mari Roberts:

Yes. No, good question. So we got a lot of- as I was talking about the nice to haves, I think everybody in the supply chains right now are just feeling the challenges with staffing and raw material shortages. So for us, we’re really trying to take this to the next level on how can we get a little bit more visibility into our other systems from our order management systems. And is there data integration that you can do with order management systems, and even from a fill rate or from a customer wins. How could we really use that visibility to improve customer service or to have better visibility to where all of our inventory is within the supply chain? And where does it need to be? And how do we need to get there?

So I think that’s probably the next big one. And then again, from a raw material standpoint, being able to increase that visibility on where are the raw materials, and are they going to to get there in time to be able to efficiently run manufacturing. So we’re pretty excited about just the potential building from here. But it’s obviously going to take a little bit of a longer road map than just flip the switch and turn it on, and it’s all going to automatically work perfectly.

Francis Adanza:

Great. Well, thank you so much for sharing that YMS story with us. There’s a lot of great information in there, and I’m sure the listeners will walk away with some good pieces of advice.

Mari Roberts:

Thanks again for having us.

Francis Adanza:

Absolutely. Take care.

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