Business Strategy Common Business KPI types Warehouse Strategy
Financial Health Profitability Liquidity Inventory Turnover Return on Assets Reduce Costs: per period, per volume, or per order
Governance CSR, ESG and DEI Structure & Accountability Resilience & Continuity Audit Accuracy Expand Reporting, Improve Safety & Sustainability
Growth Customer Acquisition Cost Sales Revenue Brand Awareness Headcount & Asset Value Free Up Capacity, Be Ready to Scale
Process & System Performance Productivity & Waste Project Success Rate Output Quality Capability Adopt New Technology and Build Digital Maturity
Customer Satisfaction Churn Rate Net Promoter Score Customer Lifetime Value Perfect Order Rate Ship faster, in full and with thorough documentation
Culture & Effectiveness Employee Retention Participation & Satisfaction Profit per Employee Performance of Individuals Improve employee quality of life and learning opportunities.

Dwell Time in Trucking: What It Is & How to Reduce It

November 30, 2023
Tim Branch

You're stuck at a busy loading dock, watching the clock tick away.

Your loads are going nowhere fast, and you're getting frustrated. This wait is what we call "dwell time."

But what is dwell time, and why should it matter to you? 

It's more than just an inconvenience: it can lead to bottlenecks in production or fulfillment, and unexpected detention charges.

But here's the good news: dwell time doesn't have to be a constant headache. 

In this guide, we'll clarify what dwell time is, why it's significant, and most importantly, how you can reduce it. 

Let’s get started.

What Is Dwell Time? 

Dwell time might sound technical, but it’s important to understand how it can seriously affect your logistics. 

Let's break it down in simple terms.

What Is Dwell Time in Warehousing & Surface Transportation?

In the context of trucking, dwell time refers to the time spent waiting at loading and unloading docks. 

It's the period when your truck is parked, and your cargo is either waiting to be loaded or unloaded.

What Is Dwell Time in Maritime Logistics?

For those dealing with shipping containers, container dwell time is a specific concern. 

It measures how long containers sit at ports or terminals, waiting to be unloaded or loaded onto ships or trucks.

Container dwell time matters because it impacts the movement of your cargo. When containers linger too long, it can disrupt the flow of goods through the supply chain.

Understanding these aspects of dwell time is essential. It's the first step in addressing its challenges in your supply chain and trucking operations.

What Does Dwell Time Impact in Your Supply Chain?

Let’s dig into why dwell time is  such a crucial factor in your supply chain. 

Here's why:

Cost Implications

Extended dwell times come with a financial burden. 

While your cargo waits, you're footing the bill for storage, maintenance, and labor. These costs can accumulate quickly and affect your profitability.

Delivery Schedule Disruptions

Dwell time directly influences your delivery schedules. 

When goods don't move as planned, you risk missing delivery deadlines. This can result in dissatisfied customers and strained business relationships.

Detention Charges

Another consequence of dwell time is the potential for detention charges.

Detention fees are generally charged when the time for loading or unloading exceeds a pre-specified "free time," usually ranging from 1 to 2 hours. These charges compensate the carrier for the time the truck is held up, which could otherwise be used for transporting other goods. 

Resource Allocation

Inefficient management of dwell time can tie up your valuable resources. 

Trucks, equipment, and personnel that sit idle could be used more effectively in other parts of your operation.

But that’s not all: dwell time can ripple through your entire supply chain. 

Inventory Management

Prolonged dwell times can disrupt your inventory management. They can throw off cycle counts, limit your throughput, and pull labor away from picking and packing. 

The more your system is clogged with goods in dwell, the less nimble your operations become. 

This can lead to imbalances in your stock levels, potentially resulting in stock shortages or overstocking.

Customer Satisfaction

Delivery delays caused by dwell time can leave your customers dissatisfied. Meeting customer expectations is vital for maintaining a positive reputation.

Operational Efficiency

Inefficiencies triggered by dwell time in one part of your supply chain can have a domino effect, causing a series of delays and disruptions.

Competitive Advantage

A supply chain that effectively manages dwell time gains a competitive edge. It can fulfill orders faster, control costs, and offer a better overall customer experience.

This, in turn, leads to you being able to be more efficient with every dollar you spend. You gain the power to outspend more of your competitors in key areas because you’re simply more streamlined than them.

How to Make Dwell Time Visible

We know why dwell time is important to your supply chain. Now it's time to get practical. 

Let's break down the process of calculating average dwell times per time period, load type, or carrier.

Your main goal in calculating dwell time is collecting data. 

You need to know:

  • Exactly when each load arrived at your facility
  • Exactly when it was either loaded onto or unloaded from the vehicle
  • Exactly when it departed from your facility

Once you know that, some simple math will tell you what your dwell time was for that particular load. Just add up how long the truck or container waited before moving on to its next destination.

Then do that for each load in a given month, and take the average. Then you’ll have your average dwell time.

Optimize this number, and you’ll gain insight into how efficiently your supply chain is working. This could save you a lot of headaches—and a lot of money.

Once you know the numbers, here are seven practical strategies to reduce dwell time and boost your supply chain's efficiency. 

7 Quick Ways to Reduce Your Dwell Time 

Strategy #1: Optimize Your Scheduling

Efficient scheduling can significantly reduce your dwell time.

To make this work, here's what you need to do:

  • Make sure you coordinate the arrivals and departures of your trucks with the availability of loading and unloading facilities. Timing is everything, and aligning your schedule with the facility's hours can prevent unnecessary waiting. (This can be hard when everyone shows up at the same time, but if you can implement a time slot strategy, that can help a great deal.)
  • Invest in a scheduling system that provides real-time updates. This way, you can adapt on the fly if there are unexpected changes. If a truck is running late or a loading bay becomes available earlier than expected, you can adjust accordingly.

Strategy #2: Streamline Documentation Process

Simplify your documentation processes. 

Here's how:

  • Transition from stacks of paper to digital documentation systems. Digital records are not only more eco-friendly but also quicker and more accurate. You can access information with a few clicks rather than flipping through pages of paperwork.
  • Consider automated record-keeping software. It can update records in real-time, decreasing the chance for errors. And it saves precious time that would otherwise be spent manually entering data.

Strategy #3: Communicate Clearly

Clear and prompt communication is essential, but it’s easier said than done. 

Maintain open channels with all involved parties — stakeholders, drivers, and anyone else you interface with. This ensures information flows smoothly with minimized delays. 

Keep those communication lines wide open with these tips:

  • If there are changes or delays, find a way to make sure everyone knows immediately. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and can adapt to new information. You can accomplish this by using better software, the kind that automates notifications.
  • Consider using digital communication tools that allow for instant messaging or updates. These can be especially helpful in situations where quick decisions are needed.

Strategy #4: Embrace and Adapt Technology

Use the technology to your advantage. If you don’t, you’ll lose out to your competitors that adapt well to technology.

Here's how to make the most of it:

  • If you have your own fleet, implement tracking systems that provide real-time visibility into the location and status of your trucks. Knowing exactly where your goods are can help you make informed decisions and minimize wait times.
  • Consider using RFID Tags. RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) tags can revolutionize your cargo tracking. These small devices provide detailed information about your cargo, making it easier to monitor and manage.

Strategy #5: Cross-Train Personnel

Cross-train your staff to handle various tasks efficiently. Having team members who can step in when needed prevents bottlenecks caused by a shortage of skilled personnel.

Encourage ongoing training and development so that your team stays updated on best practices and can adapt to changing situations.

Strategy #6: Implement Incentives

Motivate your partners and team members to collaborate in reducing dwell time. Try out incentive programs that reward efficiency and timely cargo handling.

Here's how:

  • Incentive programs that reward efficiency and timely cargo handling not only boosts morale, but they also encourage everyone to work together to reduce wait times.
  • Create a culture of collaboration where all parties involved in the supply chain are encouraged to contribute ideas for reducing dwell time.

Strategy #7: Monitor and Analyze

Regularly monitor and analyze your dwell time data.

Look for trends and patterns. Are there specific times or locations where dwell time tends to be longer? Identifying these areas can help you focus your efforts for improvement.

Use the insights from your data to take proactive measures. If you notice a recurring issue, address it head-on. 

This continuous improvement mindset will keep your operation running smoothly.

These seven strategies can reduce dwell time in your supply chain. Implementing them will mean less time spent waiting and more efficient cargo movement.

Reduce Your Dwell Time & Boost Your Supply Chain Efficiency

Dwell time can significantly impact your budget, delivery schedules, and stakeholder relationships. The longer your cargo sits idle, the higher the costs and the more disruptions you face.

But we're not just here to tell you about the problem—we're here to offer solutions. We've shared seven practical strategies to help you address dwell time effectively.

By implementing these strategies, you can start reducing dwell time and making your supply chain more efficient.

Now, it's your turn. Take the insights you've gained here and apply them. Review the strategies we've outlined and identify areas in your supply chain where you can improve.

If you're looking for a partner to help you tackle dwell time and optimize your supply chain, consider giving us a call at (+1) 647 848-8250, or booking a demo with the DataDocks team.


let us help you decide if datadocks is a good

fit for your needs

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.