Against all the odds, the loading bay is becoming sexy, as companies recognise that work here will enable them to maximise the capacity of their trailers.
The numbers are compelling: a double-deck trailer can carry up to two-thirds more goods than a standard single-decker reducing road mileage and carbon emissions.
One major supermarket group reckons it is saving 12 million road miles a year by using double deckers. But double deck trailers can only operate where there are the facilities to load and unload them. So it’s not surprising that some of the UK’s major retailers have been converting loading docks to take double deck trailers.
Transdek, for example, has worked with Tesco to convert its top 100 stores for deliveries from double deck trailers, as well as doing work with Boots and Halfords.
Operators wanting to go down the double-deck route can opt for powered double decks. This has the advantage that it is fast to implement and will work with existing loading systems. The disadvantage is that there is a significant weight penalty – up to four tonnes.
Transdek recently won a Queen’s Award for Innovation for its lifts, which are designed for loading goods to and from fixed double deck vehicles. Managing director Mark Adams points out that the company’s focus on the development of pre-built, surface-mounted, modular double deck lift systems, has seen unit install times cut from as much as three months to as little as a single day.
Additional innovation in this field has seen Transdek produce the first ever vehicle to ground (V2G) loading system to service double deck trailers at flat-floor loading bays, and a Load Weight Monitor (LWM) to ensure safe load distribution, which is especially important for high-sided double deck vehicles.
Adams points out that one of the obstacles to making a change is deciding what to do with existing equipment. If a company has dozens of powered double deckers, then moving to an unpowered system is a big corporate decision.
Transdek has been working on both speed of installation and flexibility of its loading units. It can install a unit in a day and equipment can easily be relocated.
Adams says that the company is also working on plans to offer units on a weekly rental basis – he believes that by eliminating the initial capital cost, it will bring the technology within the reach of more users, notably hauliers, expanding the market.
David Whyatt, sales director at Easilift, says: “The growth of double deck transport usage is spreading beyond conventional use between distribution centres, but there can be drawbacks when using a lift platform to also serve single deck vehicles on the same bay.
“We’ve witnessed an increasingly popular scenario, especially in supermarket service yards, where a double deck lifting platform has been installed into an operation currently supported by a single dock leveller bay.
“This brings undoubted benefits for the movement of goods by double deck transport; however, when unloading single deck trailers, operators are attempting to compensate for the height differential between vehicle bed and internal warehouse floor in ways that are not in line with best practice, time-consuming and operationally inefficient.
“For this reason, we have launched the “Double-Dok”, an innovative blend of dock levelling and lifting platform technology that the company believes presents a flexible, cost-effective solution to such changing usage patterns in the loading bay.
“The Double-Dok provides the ultimate flexibility by combining the functionality of a dock leveller and a lifting platform. Its integral loading platform can be lifted up to 2995 mm, easily catering for double deck trailers. Fully adjustable, and in conformance with EN1398 the load platform is capable of a incline or decline relative to the dock and can also be extended to become a versatile loading bridge, for smooth loading and unloading.
The rise of e-commerce and home delivery is also having an impact on loading bay operations. Whyatt says: “These are significant drivers in growth, and we are working with leading retailers to install loading docks into their new dedicated e-commerce and home delivery depots. Again, it’s a crucial factor in rising demand for double deck loading bays but, as mentioned above, there are disadvantages in forcing a wholesale change in loading bay dimensions.
Whyatt sees automation in loading bay operations as a massive opportunity for future growth. Easilift offers the Automatic Truck Loading System (ATLS), which is designed to make loading and unloading operation faster, safer and cheaper.
It offers loading speeds of up to 150 pallets per hour, and is designed for flexibility to suit modern distribution. “We have a vision of being able to furnish a warehouse with not only the external equipment such as dock levellers but throughout the warehouse, using the ATLS,” Whyatt says.
Companies are increasingly looking at the energy usage of their warehouses – and loading bays can be a big issue. A bay that is in constant use can easily be a significant problem.
John Meale, managing director of Thorworld, points out that companies can incur increased energy costs and detrimental environmental conditions as their climate control systems struggle to maintain a consistent internal temperature not only in the warehouse but other areas within the company, during loading and unloading operations when external doors are constantly opened and closed.
Inflatable dock seals are an obvious solution. The vehicle reverses up to the dock as normal and, once in position, the seals are then inflated to create a tight seal before the doors are then opened and loading/unloading can proceed.
Not only does dock seals prevent the loss of refrigerated or warm air, but also help to prevent dirt, dust and insects from entering the building minimising the potential for contamination.
John Lewis has been increasing its use of double-deck trailers and to cater for this it recently installed new inflatable dock pad seals from Thorworld.
Mark Allen, branch maintenance manager at John Lewis’ Liverpool operation, says: “Our loading bay doors face towards the Mersey, so whenever there’s a prevailing wind we’re at the mercy of the elements.”
In recent years, the increasing use of double-deck trailers has put new pressures on the loading bays and the original dock pad seals were beginning to be damaged beyond repair by activity for which they had not originally been fitted.
“While the seals themselves can easily accommodate a double-deck trailer, the height of the fans used to inflate the seals was based on single-decker usage,” says Thorworld technical manager, Ian Langan. Inevitably, the subsequent arrival of double-deck trailers has resulted in the fans being damaged.”
Thorworld worked with John Lewis on the planning of the installation, which required the removal of the old seals as well the repositioning of the fans to the top corner of the bays, high enough to avoid coming into contact with double-deck trailers.
Case study- Sara completes fashion project
Sara has just completed a contract to equip the loading bays at a new warehouse development for a major fashion retailer. The project involved the design and build of two warehouses, accessed by 47 loading bays with dock levellers and six level accesses.
Sara supplied a package comprising doors, sealing pods, dock levellers, traffic lights and access shelters. It worked with Buckingham Group Contracting and Kingspan to ensure the right equipment was specified for the job.
With 47 loading bays, it was important that the warehouse doors should be properly insulated to give the same thermal performance as the roof and wall panels. Sara specified thermally insulated sectional overhead doors that are constructed using Kingspan insulated door panels.
Automated dock levellers were chosen to help to eliminate any bottlenecks for incoming and outgoing goods. The levellers are supported by purpose-designed longitudinal angles hinging at the rear on pivot shafts made from St52 grade stainless steel.
The dock shelters and seals also help to maintain efficiency and save energy costs. Sara dock shelters have two vertical side curtains and a horizontal head curtain attached with a special aerolastic wind guy system to maintain curtain positions. The curtains are constructed and machine stitched in heavy-duty 3mm thick PVC Derco. All fabrics are specially coated and are colourfast.
Case study- Valspar picks Stertil Stokvis
Coatings supplier Valspar chose Stertil Stokvis to install the loading bay equipment within its Atex Zone 2 area at its manufacturing and distribution site at Deeside in Flintshire, Wales.
The equipment included a six tonne capacity telescopic lip dock leveller – type XP22-21, a WI fully-inflatable dock shelter, a roller shutter door, specially-extended PE dock bumpers and a Combilok vehicle restraint system.
Atex Zones are areas which must be protected from effective sources of ignition and are classified into numbered zones: 0, 1, 2 for gas-vapour-mist and 20, 21, 22 for dust.
Paul Thomas of Valspar Europe, says: “Due to the location of the loading bay at the Deeside site, full compliance with all Atex Zone 2 requirements was essential. We had confidence in Stertil Stokvis as our equipment supplier because of their long experience and reputation for quality and reliability.”
Security- Stopping accidental drive-aways
Castell and Traka have created a system, DockSafe, that restricts loading bay access to authorised personnel only, and gives full traceability of who used which door, and when this occurred. This audit trail is vital when both assessing performance and efficiency.
The system works through Traka’s immobiliser system controlling the access to both the loading bay and Castell Salvo Susie device. This means that only authorised users can gain access to the loading equipment. This is the initial way that accidents can be prevented by removing the ability for untrained staff to use potentially hazardous equipment. Access is granted through the intelligent Traka iFob allowing the Castell Salvo Susie to be released.
The Salvo Susie is then fitted to the emergency airline of the articulated trailer. The Castell key is subsequently released and is inserted into the Salvo Control Panel, which allows the bay doors to be operated. This sequence ensures the trailer is immobilised while loading or unloading is carried out.