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There’s more than one way to load a trailer. Finding the best way could open the doors to huge efficiency, but there are many factors barring the way, says Johanna Parsons.

This article first appeared in Logistics & Supply Chain, December 2016.

Every single item in the supply chain passes through a loading bay at some point. But it’s not a passive process. A lot of work goes into making that passage efficient. And the value and volume of business at stake means that getting the most from this gateway is vital.

Anyone working in logistics will be acutely aware of the pressures and the pace of change in the industry. The growth of e-commerce and the rise of convenience retailing has changed the way deliveries are made, and likewise the vehicles that make those deliveries. And emerging sales-driven mega-peaks are another massive force which can turn the loading bay into a bottleneck.

Manufacturers have been quick to adapt trucks and trailers to meet new demands. From streamlined shaping to extra length and double deckers, there are a plethora of types of trailers at work, not to mention the variety of lighter vehicles that are now taking deliveries direct from the warehouse for home deliveries. But all this variety is a problem for standard loading bays.

And it’s a problem that’s compounded by the fact that loading bays are still generally built to a decades’ old standard, according to Mark Adams, managing director of Transdek. He explains that the standard of 1200mm is still the default height for docks in almost all new build warehouses today, with little consideration of the final use they will be put to.

Adams is hopeful that the evolution of UK’s loading bays has begun, although you’d be forgiven for missing it. “We need to see a massive change. It’s started, but it’s a long process,” says Adams.

Of course some smart operators have been addressing dock heights at the warehouse-design level. Ocado has all its yards specially lowered to create the correct level for loading, says Adams. But as massive an undertaking as that may seem, it’s a relatively simple fix that really only works when working with a uniform fleet. “It’s really about ensuring the correct loading bay design for the range of vehicles that will be using a specific bay,” says Adams.

And dock heights are by no means the only problem. When space is at a premium an entire loading operation can be upset by something as simple as the unexpected arrival of a curtainsider. “Side loading and unloading creates a burden on loading bay space allocation,” says Adams. “Instead of requiring one bay to load a vehicle, you need to allow an additional bay on either side for forklift access, making three in total. This is an inefficient use of the loading bay.”

Andy Georgiou, of Stertil Dock and Door Products, agrees about the significance of warehouse layout, and advocates a holistic approach to loading bay design.

“Choose the correct dock equipment for the vehicles and materials handling equipment so that it works with the building design and allows a bit of forethought for future proofing,” he says.

He points out that running without delays doesn’t necessarily mean that loading operations are as efficient as they could be. “Generally the operatives will make it happen one way or another. A poorly designed bay will have an impact on time, people and materials handling equipment. It’s obvious if it takes longer to load a vehicle, but not so obvious when an operative is off sick because of back trouble caused as a result of impact or lifting, or if a fork lift is having reduced battery life and/or regular maintenance to bearings because transition is not smooth,” says Georgiou.

The crux of the issue is that flexibility is the new standard. Margins are so tight that wasting time, space and safety with jack-of-all-trade vehicles is simply not an option. Which means that fleets are becoming increasingly diverse. And even within established businesses the nature and mix of delivery mode is changeable, with many servicing stores and consumers in fluctuating ratios, depending on variables such as seasonal peaks. So having the ability to deal with various different vehicles at the one dock is a huge asset.

To that end, Adams reports that one of Transdek’s latest products is the Vehicle-to-Ground range of load house lifts, which have been developed for sites without raised docks, to service all vehicles from the tallest double deck trailers to rigids and vans. The firm is also developing a combined double deck lift/dock leveller that will enable a direct through flow of products to a range of vehicles, from single deckers to double deckers.

“This enables the fastest possible loading of a variety of vehicles off one dock, offering operators a much more versatile proposition,” says Adams.

Transdek is also currently working on a new technology for one of the largest retailers in the UK. “It will mean that they can phone ahead to a mobile chip inside each loading bay control panel to ensure the lift is functioning before the trailer is despatched, avoiding any downtime on arrival at the delivery site.”

Historically, Transdek has focussed its powers on powered lifts for the bay, because the firm believes that double decks are the trend that is here to stay, and Adams says long-term, fixed decks are the best value option for operators. Even though they require external lifts. Powered deckers with an upper level that can be lowered can usually be loaded off a dock leveller, which is a tempting proposition, but there are drawbacks.

“Unfortunately, there are significant downsides to running this kind of vehicle,” says Adams.

“The on-board hydraulics and lifting mechanisms add up to 4 tonnes to the tare weight of a trailer, and also restrict the width on the top deck. This restricts the useable load and payload to a degree. But more than this, building a lift into essentially a moving box that flexes and bends as it travels down the road makes it notoriously difficult to maintain these trailers. Most operators factor these inefficiencies in to their powered double deck fleets, but we routinely hear of vehicle-off-road rates as high as 10-25 per cent.”

Sometimes those bigger decisions about the fleet and warehouse design are out of our power. Those in rented premises in particular can be limited in the modifications they can make. But the bridge between the warehouse and the trailer is still crucial, and there are many options for making that bridge safer and more robust.


Castell recently launched a new version of its Salvo loading bay safety system aimed specifically at those in rented sites. The Salvo SML-EI is being marketed as maintenance free, requiring minimal installation and low footprint with the ability to remove and re-install in the event of a move. It mounts to either the door or post on the inside of the bay, with auxiliary contacts for traffic lights or existing dock levellers. The device prevents vehicles from driving off during loading or unloading by interlocking the trailer’s air brakes with the dock door. The Salvo Susie lock attaches to the truck’s emergency brake line, ensuring brakes are applied.

And Hörmann recently launched its Wheelblocker safety device that locks lorries into the loading bay.

The manually-operated system has a rotating arm lock, fold-out support pedestal and operating lever, which detect the working position of the wheels. An LED sensor signals when the vehicle has been secured and the status of the lorry is displayed in the hall along with a key switch that provides an override function.

Sometimes, for reliability, the basics are the best, says sara LBS’s Jeremy Albin. “A modern loading bay is likely to be full of eye-catching equipment like electro-hydraulic lifting platforms and inflatable shelters that automatically deploy when a vehicle is ready to be loaded or unloaded. But, to guarantee the round the clock performance required in modern industry, lift bays also need the strength in depth of rather mundane looking, manually deployed lifts and ramps.

“You may think that a ramp is a ramp is a ramp, but that is not necessarily true.. For instance, sara LBS ramps come in a number of standard sizes, but it can also make them to any length and the width can be increased to suit the specific requirements of particular applications. In fact, sara LBS’s designers regularly develop bespoke ramps for individual customers,” says Albin.

On the higher tech end, 4PL firm 3T Logistics is rolling out a loading bay app that helps manage collections and deliveries more efficiently. Solo. DOCK is cloud hosted and supports the management of complex transport functions across multiple sites, operating a live platform to provide real time information and updates to an unlimited number of users.

3T’s general manager Steve Holmes says: “Manufacturers and carriers are under increasing pressure to ship consignments more quickly: next day delivery has become the norm for many companies and so the industry has to find a cost effective way of managing loading and delivery more quickly. Real time information and live reporting is a key part of this.”

So it’s not just online shoppers and giant grocers that are getting demanding. As the pressures mount, more warehouse operators are waking up to the value of a considered approach to loading bay design, and the opportunities that an optimised loading bay can open up.

Risk reversal

Almost a quarter of fatalities involving workplace vehicles occur while reversing, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

To reduce the risk of incidents and near misses, the RTITB Instructor Academy is encouraging employers to implement suitable site rules. “Any vehicle movement poses a risk but this is especially true when in confined spaces or around other people,” says Simon Docherty, RTITB Instructor Academy manager. “Add in the complexity of reversing and there is increased potential for incidents and near misses. The RTITB Instructor Academy advises employers to consider these key issues:
1. Can you reduce risk with rules?

Site rules driven by safety can help to reduce the risk of an incident. However, rules are only effective if they are observed and acted upon, so employees must be trained to be fully aware of any safety guidelines. Supervisors and managers must be similarly aware to ensure rules and processes are being followed.

  1. Are your employees educated?

Drivers and yard assistants should be trained in correct procedures and to understand the risks when reversing a vehicle. In the event of an incident, it is also essential that an employer can prove adequate training has been provided.
3. Do your trainers need training?

Whether training takes place in-house or externally, to protect the business and prevent injuries and fines, companies must ensure that those delivering Banks man or Vehicle Yards hunter training are suitably qualified to do so. The RTITB Instructor Academy runs courses to enable trainers to qualify as instructors.

Boots invests in the Wedge

Boots UK has placed an order with Transdek UK for 60 fixed double deck Wedge trailers which will be the first to be manufactured by The Cartwright Group under a new licensing agreement. The new 4.95 metre high Wedge trailers allow full height clearance for loading over the neck, carrying 128 roll cages, which amounts to 23 per cent more load compared to the company’s existing step frame trailers that carry 104 roll cages. The extra load capacity has enabled Boots to reduce its trunking fleet size from 340 to 280 trailers, maximising the return on investment.

James Parkinson, primary transport assistant contract manager at Boots, said: “With the introduction of Transdek’s innovative Wedge trailer we are aiming to save on average 1,092 trunks a year, which would cut up to 216,000 miles from our routes.”

Insulation installation

Insulation supplier Kingspan has taken a second loading bay platform from Thorworld Industries for its North Yorkshire operation.

An increased demand for Polyisocyanurate (PIR) insulation prompted Kingspan to reassess the safety features of its existing equipment.

“PIR insulation has always presented a challenge as it requires loading into the back of containers that are only accessible from a height,” says logistics manager Joanne Foley.

“Because of an increase in workload we needed to upgrade our existing platform to incorporate the highest available safety standard and install a platform with safety guarding and anti-slip coating.

“I needed a company that could complete the project within a three month window, and I knew that Thorworld would be able to achieve this.”

Foley’s decision to go with Thorworld was based on previous experience and internal recommendations within the Kingspan group.

“Thorworld had previously installed a loading platform at our head office site in Pembridge. The design and specification of that solution met with our own requirements here in North Yorkshire, so I had no reservation in bringing Thorworld back on board to upgrade the loading bay.”

Foley says that the platform is performing well. “As our operators are now fully enclosed while manoeuvring loads, the entire procedure is more efficient and effective.”

Ian Langan, technical and engineering director at Thorworld says: “When products or shipments alter, it is imperative that apparatus in the bay is equipped to meet its loading needs, while keeping operatives safe.

AAH takes loading remedy

Pharmaceutical wholesaler AAH Pharmaceuticals took on Stertil Dock & Door Products to revamp the loading facilities at its distribution centre in Tamworth as part of a major refurbishment.

AAH Pharmaceuticals has more than 3,800 employees based at 20 locations across the UK. Stocking a range of 20,000 products, the firm makes more than 100,000 weekly deliveries to pharmacies, hospitals, retail outlets and doctors’ surgeries.

The upgrade involved transforming 18 existing docks into 16 lorry docks and two van docks. This allows the site to load vehicles including articulated lorries, double deck trailers, container lorries and Sprinter vans.

A key part of the project was the replacement of existing swing lip dock levellers with more versatile telescopic levellers. The extension of the lip is now variable which means that the leveller can be safely used to serve vehicles even without contact with the dock’s bumpers. Also, the telescopic lip allows the loading of vehicles almost right up to the edge of their decks, reducing wasted space.

Installing the new dock levellers was simplified by the Stertil sub frame which allowed existing pit bases to be used with longer dock bumpers.

The height of several of the dock shelters was increased to accommodate double deck trailers.

Also, panoramic window panels were fitted into existing sectional overhead doors to provide greater natural light and visibility of vehicles being docked.

“The upgrade of our loading bay areas has transformed the efficiency of our distribution procedures,” says Dave Baker, manager of AAH Pharmaceuticals’ Tamworth site.

“We are now much better able to cope with a greater variety of vehicles and delivery vehicle turnarounds are considerably quicker.”

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