There are so many ways of making bays faster, safer, and more secure that it seems illogical not to make the most of such a vital touch point in the supply chain.
You can do an awful lot with a loading bay. Even set up an art gallery, as someone has in Brick Lane, London. But the commercial value of a well operated loading bay is sometimes overlooked.
In this age of optimised supply chains and multi-tier visibility it seems bizarre, but it is evidently true that the loading bay is frequently disregarded.
Operators in the UK have been keen to experiment with new forms of trailers, but the true potential of such developments will never be realised if the loading bay is neglected.
Property developers can add real value by factoring in flexibility for loading to and from all these new vehicles. But there is a feeling that this need is under-served.
Dan Mowbray, commercial manager of haulier partnership and transport management firm Jigsaw, describes finding shockingly out-dated loading bays at a new facility, that was only built some 18 months ago.
“It beggars belief that it’s not equipped to deal with extra height, or longer length trailers.
“These are some of the main themes of the day for making savings and running efficiently. Facilities really need to cater for the variety of new initiatives and have the flexibility whether that’s for high or long vehicles.”
Mark Adams, of Transdek UK, says that more and more of its customers that operate double deck trailers are looking for specific ways to enhance the speed of loading of these high-cube vehicles.
“This includes designing loading bays with the flexibility to offer fast, straight-through loading of multiple vehicle types… and installing a customised modular warehouse extension, which converted a single loading bay to three raised docks, providing additional handling and storage capacity.”
For example, Transdek’s deal with Boots at its Beeston distribution centre involved adapting existing dock levellers to provide a direct run-through to the bottom deck of double deck trailers, which are 900mm above ground level.
Tom Langley of Hormann says that this demand is already influencing manufacturers. “To meet these demands, longer dock levellers with telescopic lips allow a bay to work safely with a wider range of vehicle types and loading heights.”
“Similarly dock shelters with inflatable seals enable a greater range of vehicle types to be handled while keeping the heat in or out. This design feature is highly important in the UK where we have double deck and aerodynamic trailers to consider,” says Langley.
And conversions are a growing market, whereby typically a standard dock with dock leveller is replaced with a modular, surface-mounted load-house fitted with a double deck lift.
If some minds are still waking up to the potential of optimised loading, predictions for growth mean that in certain markets loading is about to get even more important.
With IGD research indicating that online grocery sales will soar by 123.7 per cent, discounter sales by 96.3 per cent and convenience store sales by 29.8 per cent over the period to 2018, Adams says that in terms of the loading bay sector, these emerging trends are already having a dramatic effect.
And Langley says Hormann is seeing a similar pattern of demand. “Recently the vast majority of developments have been for major retailers who see the long term benefits in purpose built distribution centres and loading bays able to meet future as well as current demands.”
One of these long term benefits that is seeing increasing investment, is the loading bay’s function as a protective barrier, to actively protect stock, staff and the kit itself.
John Meale, managing director of Thorworld Industries, points out that in this respect, bay equipment is often multi-functional, with cost benefits that far exceeding initial outlay.
“Putting a seal or shelter over a loading bay can protect employees from the elements – reducing the likelihood that they’ll need to take time off due to sickness – but will also help to maintain a consistent temperature within the warehouse for reduced heating or cooling bills,” he says.
Sara LBS reckons that the warehouse sector in the UK could reduce its energy costs by as much as 16 per cent by investing in technologies, such as High Speed Roller Doors, that improve insulation.
“To keep energy consumption down it is vital that thermal insulation is maximised. One of the most important considerations for thermal insulation is the door system that is used; especially in busy warehouses, as each time the door opens heat will quickly escape.”
And as a result, Langley explains that interlocking or double door combinations have become increasingly important, as part of energy saving measures – particularly for frozen and chilled operations.
“Asda has taken this idea a step further and included an unloading area into its new distribution centre in Rochdale that can accommodate two 40-foot trailers at once. The outer and inner doors cannot be opened at the same time, helping to control the internal warehouse temperature. Trailers are parked inside the unloading area and the outer doors closed before fork lifts can enter from inside the distribution centre to unload,” he says.
And as an example of using doors as a safety barrier, Union recently installed a new, very large Ramdoor Super as its 21st installation for waste management company John Pointon & Sons. As well as acting as a hygienic barrier, it also has Union’s “Crash-Out” damage protection against collisions.
Likewise UK manufacturer of waste and recycling trucks, Dennis Eagle, prioritised longevity and uptime by investing some £20,000 in six new vehicle lifts from Halesowen-based Somerstotalkare, supplied with a long-term maintenance service.
Meale says: “We’ve seen too many companies over the years whose ‘make do’ attitude has quickly unravelled when an unanticipated setback has caused bottlenecks to their ability to take deliveries or supply products to customers.”
There is a growing view that improving the working area as a factor in increasing safety. Some more forward thinking operators are actively investing in safety to keep loading running smoothly.
For example, Langley says that Asda has included automatic passive infrared sensors to ensure its dock lighting is on whenever there is movement in a loading bay.
“Similarly Waitrose has included panoramic vision panels in insulated loading bay doors at its new distribution centre in Leyland… The visibility helps with safety, as vehicles can be seen to be in position, and natural light helps to improve the working environment.”
For many operators, the next step in taking control of the loading bay, to avoid downtime and drive efficiency, is to use IT to get a better view of what is happening, to control and plan.
Transdek offers its Advanced Management System, a software platform that is integrated into the control panel of loading bay equipment.
As well as giving information on the number of vehicles loaded per bay and speed of loading times, the AMS can also be linked with customers’ WMS to monitor product despatches.
Easilift Loading Systems also offers a Dock Management System, which enables customers to control door usage for improved security and greater energy efficiency, and to monitor usage patterns to assist future planning of the loading bay.
SaaS provider One Network Enterprises has launched a cloud-based dock door appointment scheduling service.
Bruce Jacquemard, EVP, sales and marketing at One Network says: “This not only enables their schedules to be automatically optimised based on variables such as current and future capacity constraints and how critical the demand for the shipment is, it also gives them complete visibility of inbound supply and outbound product movements in real time.”
So, whether you integrate loading as part of a high tech view of the wider supply chain, or if you’d prefer to optimise processes by improving loading equipment – starting with just getting the right door for the right trailer – there are plenty of options to help get more out of the loading bay.
Case study: Manufacturer opts for Castell’s drive-away prevention
Nippon Seiko Kabushiki Kaisha, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of industrial and automotive components, chose Castell’s drive-away prevention system Salvo to protect staff at its DC in Newark, UK, and its warehouse in Tilburg, Netherlands.
At Tilburg, NSK’s huge facility distributes more than 4,000 pallets a month across the whole of Europe and North Africa. Customers include Ford, Volkswagen, Siemens and Bosch.
Salvo has been installed on 12 loading bays, and four Salvo Club steering wheel locks now safeguard deliveries made by rigid vehicles.
Having reversed their vehicle onto the relevant loading bay, drivers install the Salvo SGL lock on the exposed emergency airline coupling, releasing a trapped key. This key is then inserted and turned in the Salvo Control Panel on the outside of the bay.
An amber beacon illuminates on the inside to indicate that the loading bay is now safe and ready to use. The loader opens the door, trapping the key in the Salvo Control Panel outside.
While the door remains raised and the key trapped in the control panel, the trailer cannot be moved.
Castell says that The Health & Safety Executive booklet “Warehousing and storage: A guide to health and safety” recommends interlocks as a safe system of work to combat drive-aways.
There have been no reported health and safety incidents at the Tilburg site since Salvo was commissioned.