Multichannel shopping and uberfast delivery is ramping up the pressure on the warehouse so getting goods in and out is increasingly critical, says Johanna Parsons.
It’s a critical moment in the life of any product – the transition from the safety of the warehouse to the back of a truck. Goods can be exposed to the elements, dropped or otherwise damaged. Keeping products in perfect condition, and keeping people safe is vital.
“The loading bay has often been perceived as a basic means of moving product to and from vehicles. However, with the correct design, equipment can add positive value and save cost not only on loading operations, but also on the wider supply chain,” says Mark Adams, managing director of Transdek.
New trends in retailing are influencing loading techniques. For example Transdek has developed a mini lift for the new generation of urban goods vehicles for convenience retailing. And it’s also working on an integrated control system that provides data to multi-drop delivery drivers, and configures loads to match customers’ WMS requirements.
E-commerce and tighter delivery windows mean customers and retailers alike are demanding ever more from distribution networks. And so speed is now one of the most valued features of loading bays today.
Sara LBS maintains that its Rapid Protect range offers the fastest opening speeds of any Machine Protection Doors on the market and offers increased efficiency in operation. To mitigate any danger, the doors have a failsafe mechanism that reduces the chances of injury or damage to equipment, and enables machinery to be fitted closer together.
This touches on another often overlooked area for problems with both safety and speed, which is getting the right fit.
There is always some degree of variation in door and trailer positions. However the popularity of double deck trailers in particular is presenting a problem, often requiring new or adaptable bays and doors.
“This major revolution requires equally radical changes in the loading bay,” explains Rob Fay, managing director of Easilift Loading Systems. “Where there might only be a single bay and restricted space, the implications of getting it wrong could be disastrous.”
In its trials of new longer Lawrence David curtainsiders for example, Lenham Storage made accessing bays a priority. Commercial manager Steve Hall said: “All the trailer variants have been tested at our various customer loading bays and delivery points and there are no issues with reversing or general manoeuvrability.”
But there are options to bridge the gaps. The solution from Easilift is a bespoke scissor lift that can service both single and double deckers. And Stertil Stokvis has installed eight loading bays for Royal Mail’s mail centre at Strood in Kent, to speed the loading and unloading of a range of vans, trucks and lorries including the centre’s fleet of double deck trailers each of which carry loads of up to 92 Royal Mail roll cages.
This includes eight tonne capacity X Series telescopic dock levellers, WIS shelters, sectional overhead doors, composite control panels, dock lights, traffic lights and wheel guides. The X Series dock leveller includes an unusually long 600mm telescopic lip which extends in line with the platform. Precise control of this extension allows accurate alignment and loading.
Caljan Rite-Hite offers a telescopic conveyor with guarded openings to make loading and unloading easier and less dangerous. All sections of the Caljan BeltTrak Comfort conveyor’s are securely closed so that parcels, clothing and body parts don’t get caught.
Asda has taken on Hörmann to make 1700mm deep dock shelters with inflatable heads to be able to accept double-deck, standard and aerodynamically styled trailers on the same bay.
The inflatable head creates a seal at the front of the aerodynamic slope on the rear of the Cheetah Fastback trailers Asda operates. This prevents rainwater from running into the building.
Hörmann says the longer dock levellers enable a greater range of vehicle heights to be accommodated safely. Telescopic lips also help with this as well as allowing the dock leveller to sit behind an insulated door, helping to minimise heat loss through the leveller.
John Lewis has installed new inflatable dock pad seals from Thorworld to work with its increasing use of double-deck trailers. In total John Lewis took four sets of new seals to make way for the double deckers.
Branch maintenance manager, Mark Allen says: “Our loading bay doors face towards the Mersey, so whenever there’s a prevailing wind we’re at the mercy of the elements.”
Exposure to the weather, and gaping doors can compromise stock integrity and temperature control measures – often at considerable expense. But of course it also means less comfortable, and sometimes hazardous conditions for workers.
Transdek’s computerised load weight monitor allows maximised vehicle fill and layout, but it was originally designed to mitigate the risk of vehicles rolling over. Light and audio alerts warn of any danger of overloading, and the lift can lock off at certain weights to block overloads.
The firm reckons that in 2010-11, 57.6 per cent of all HGVs stopped for checking were prohibited for overloading. “According to an HSE report published last year, over 500 commercial vehicles rollover each year in the UK. The majority of these occurred due to factors associated with load layout,” says Adams.
Another recent safety innovation is Hörmann Light Grille which won a goods in goods out Design 4 Safety award. This non-contact safety device is incorporated into the door frame and uses light beams to monitor the door opening. If something gets in the way and breaks the beams, the doors stop.
Thorworld Industries has just launched a range of interlock devices designed to improve operator safety, and to prevent drive-offs, because it reckons that fatalities involving unsecured trailers are increasing. Mark James, the firm’s quality and health and safety manager said: “A sound safety procedure could make many work-related accidents preventable, as well as stopping the huge burden in terms of downtime, repairs and possible legislative fines.”
As well as equipment and application design, another factor that impacts safety and productivity is ensuring on-going performance. This depends on adequate servicing and maintenance of equipment.
Inspections of loading machinery are a legal requirement, but to get the best out of your kit and to minimise the costs of repairs, preventative maintenance should be part of every operation. Paying attention to kit’s condition before inspection time means fixing problems or failures before they occur, avoiding reduced performance or worse, costly downtime.
However, inspections are not always a guarantee of optimal performance. It’s not unknown for inspectors to be unaware of the differences between POWER and LOLER regulations that govern loading equipment. John Meale, managing director of Thorworld says: “We’ve seen equipment that is in a terrible condition and unfit for purpose, yet operators falsely believe everything is fine because they have the incorrect certification…
“In times when existing equipment is being worked longer and harder in lieu of investment in new products, it’s absolutely vital to get it right.”
ALEM, the industry body for Loading and Elevating Equipment in the UK, is currently looking towards a system of approving Competent Loading Bay Engineers who can then inspect Loading Bay Equipment.
The dangers of moving huge volumes of products, the elements they are exposed to and the time-critical nature of their delivery mean that loading is a critical point in the supply chain. In recent years the harsh economy has increased the focus on loading as a key point affecting efficiency, and with a wealth of innovations for the process, getting your loading bays right might be the gateway to success.
Case study- Boots takes Transdek lifts to entire network
Boots enlisted Transdek for 80 lift installations and 17 relocations across its UK distribution network to support its on-going supply chain restructuring, and specifically to work with its new double deck trunking fleet.
The retailer took 80 of Transdek’s 6.5 tonne double deck lifts at all of its UK DCs to allow access to the new fleet of double deck trailers, even at sites with restricted space.
Initially, site surveys and feasibility studies were undertaken. Trials were carried out and the sites were assessed with Autoturn and CAD software to ensure compatibility.
Each of the 17 lift relocations took on average two days with minimal site disruption.
The installation would also allow equipment to be relocated at short notice to adapt to on-going logistics restructuring.
Boots reckons the project enabled its smooth transition to a double deck fleet, and that as result, it has seen considerable cost savings and carbon reductions across its distribution network.
Case study- Six figure investment in safe docking
Norbert Dentressangle has invested a six figure sum in a new system to reduce damage to its refrigerated vehicle fleet; decreasing downtime, improving safety and product integrity and reducing repair costs.
The company is fitting Haldex’ Soft Docking system which uses ultrasonic sensors linked to an electronic braking system to automatically activate the trailer brakes as the distance to the loading dock becomes critical, effectively eradicating the risk of damage, both to the trailer and the dock.
By preventing damage to the trailers’ original insulation, the system will protect product integrity, improve safety, both for drivers and loading bay staff and reduce trailer downtime.
With a fleet of 200 refrigerated trailers, Norbert Dentressangle also expects the system to significantly reduce repair costs, delivering payback on its investment within 12 months.
Case study- Drive away prevention for banana trucks
Banana importer Fyffes has installed Castell’s Salvo drive-away prevention system at its UK distribution centres, on a total of 31 loading bays.
After reversing their vehicle onto the bay, drivers swap their ignition key for a Salvo Susie for that loading bay. They then install the Susie on the emergency airline coupling, which releases a trapped key.
This key is inserted and turned in the Salvo Control Panel on the outside of the bay. The loader opens the door, trapping the key in the SCP outside. While the door remains raised, the trailer cannot be moved.