Developments in logistics practice, legislation and technology have all combined over the past few years to change the way the loading bay is perceived and used.
The loading bay is critical to any warehouse and the design and equipment there is critical to the success of the operation.
Recent years have seen the advent of heavier lorries and double-deck trailers, the growth of cross-docking, and increased use of automation. As a result there has been growth not only in the number of loading bays at a typical warehouse but in the range and sophistication of the equipment available for loading and unloading.
The double-deck trailer, for example, is playing an increasingly important role in meeting the distribution demands of business but its introduction has meant changes in handling systems at the loading bay.
The adoption in 2001 of the 44 tonne goods vehicle limit was intended to reduce vehicle movements and consequently congestion, operating costs, pollution and physical impact on the road infrastructure. It did not in itself create a corresponding rise in trailer deck area and overall load volume. As many low density products were already filling available vehicle space long before weight limits were reached and with changes in consumer habits, minimal reduction in packaging volumes, limits on load stacking and more streamlined handling methods all helping to create ‘volume restricted’ loads, hauliers needed to consider other options.
Laweco highlights a 2005 feasibility study by Focus DIY using a 4.8m high double-deck box van trailer with a three-quarter length moving deck and a swan neck area with a fixed double-deck. Carrying palletised goods, roll cages and loose items, the trailer accommodated an RCE (roll cage equivalent) of 87 as opposed to the 45 RCE capacity of a single-decked vehicle. The company achieved savings in distance travelled, driver hours, fuel used and emissions of up to 48 per cent compared with data for two single deck vehicles. The company has now joined the list of high profile organisations like Tesco, Parcelforce, M&S, Argos and the Co-op whose names adorn the flanks of ‘high cube’ trailers.
The growing use of these vehicles has, however, required alterations to infrastructure as many locations, particularly those with conventional 1,200mm high loading docks, struggle to accommodate double-deck trailers.
Laweco’s Jon Tridgell says: “To maintain the proven benefits of double-decked trailers, operators can’t afford delays in turnaround. Loading zones must offer the flexibility to service the different types of trailer that may pull into the yard.”
Depending on existing loading facilities, various options are available; lift platforms can be installed internally in enlarged dock leveller bays or externally, fitted with weather canopies, against existing docks. Alternatively, fully enclosed loading ‘pods’ obviate the need for extensive building alterations, provide all the amenities found in the main building and permit a seamless transfer of goods.
Lifting specialist Edmolift can point to a number of examples of how well-specified loading bay equipment can improve performance. Decathlon Sports Superstores uses Edmolift’s TT3000WS lorry loaders at its stores as they are suitable for a wide range of delivery vehicles from a Transit van to an articulated lorry or double-deck trailer. The lift needs no special training or licence, and nine roll cages can be off loaded in a single movement. Night deliveries are handled using Edmolift low profile lift tables at Co-op convenience stores nationwide. Roll cages are deposited in secure areas over night and then transferred to loading bay and store level using the lift table during open hours.
Loading bay specialist Stertil Stokvis has introduced an improved range of dock levellers. The new generation comprises three versions of leveller: the S series – featuring a swing lip; the X series – incorporating a telescopic lip; and the P series – the parallelogram model, with its unprecedented lip design.
All have the option to be either pit-mounted or frame-mounted/ suspended, depending on the application. The hinged lip of the S series is hydraulically extended into position and is suitable for most standard applications. The telescopic lip of the X series gives this model a greater operating range, enabling it to accommodate many different vehicle sizes, as well as stepped vehicle floors, such as in refrigerated trucks. The telescopic lip can bridge a vehicle tail-lift if required and can also be infinitely adjusted to allow unrestricted use of the full loading area right to the back of the vehicle.
Stertil Stokvis’s P series leveller has a hinged parallelogram lip which remains horizontal at all times, giving the optimum lip-to-platform angle.
The company has also added a fast-acting door to its range of automatic industrial doors. The RapidRoll 3000 uses Disc-Drive technology to provide a faster, gentler winding mechanism with speeds of up to 2,500mm per second. It is low-maintenance, extremely durable and has a clean design to enhance its surroundings.
The RapidRoll 3000 is an aluminium flat lath door for use on external doorways. With a maximum size of 5 x 5 metres, it can be supplied hollow or with optional insulation.
Loading conveyors can offer a number of advantages for loading and unloading operations, according to Owen Conveyors, particularly in terms of speed, safety and efficiency. It offers a range of solutions including the Highrise Expressway, a heavy duty gravity conveyor for unloading large containers, and the Econoloader, a mobile single boom belt conveyor capable of handling loads up to 50kg per metre. In addition, it offers the Telescopic Expressway which has sliding transfer sections
Industrial safety specialist Castell has revamped its Salvo range of driveaway-prevention products with third-party installers and distributors in mind. The most significant new product to be introduced is a plug-and-play control panel.
The PCB-based, software-programmable device is multi-voltage and able to power external traffic lights and beacons, greatly simplifying and speeding up the installation process.
Prenton-based conveyor manufacturer Sovex Systems has rolled out its latest vehicle loading boom conveyor which features free running rollers and uses gravity to transport parcels. “Boom conveyors fitted with rollers are ideal for loading vehicles. Using gravity they are fast, efficient and less costly than the powered alternative,” says managing director David Lindfield.