How effectively one manages goods flow in and out of loading bays can have a big impact on the profitability and customer service of any warehouse operation, especially more so now that online shipping is moving centre stage and demanding same or next-day deliveries. Moreover, in fast and frantic round-the- clock operations the yard should not be neglected. If yard space is at a premium then on greenfield sites one should consider the saw-tooth arrangement for multiple loading docks, as this will not only save space but reduce vehicle manoeuvring . Other external factors should recognise the importance of loading bays’ positions in relation to the prevailing winds and what wind strengths can be commonly expected in any particular locality. Water run off is another issue.
Space, of course, can be even more valuable internally and so for this reason many installations are now choosing relocatable dock houses, or pods, rather than extend the building and thus incur higher business rates, particularly important with the looming rating revaluation in 2017. Placed on the outside of warehouse walls, they permit the use of internal space to be maximised, but they have other advantages, too. They can, for example, cut heating costs because they act like a temperature-controlled airlock system, improve weather protection for loading bay staff and cut down on pest ingress, very important in food establishments. Stertil Dock Products believe that dock houses are an under-appreciated option that more logistics operators should consider.
Given the seismic changes in shopping patterns over recent years, and their significant impact on loading may designs it is now essential in many cases to build in a measure of flexibility. Many warehouse operators must now cope with a wider variety of vehicles from vans to double-deckers and aerodynamic 40ft trailers. This has led to longer dock shelters with inflatable heads, which create a seal around the vehicle regardless of its size. Longer dock levellers, with segmented telescopic lips, are also gaining popularity as they can cope with a wider range of vehicles. Wicket doors incorporated in the larger, external security doors also save energy when only personnel want to pass through them.
In response to the meteoric rise in parcel deliveries, expected to reach 2.3 billion items in the UK by 2023, Hormann has developed its Parcel Walk Door, which accommodates both vans and trucks from the same level access bay. The door can separate into two sections or be raised in full. Its main innovation comes when working with trucks or demountable bodies. Two access ladders on either side of the door lead to an attached walkway, which provides a level access into the back of a truck. This design commends itself to the growing number of operations that use conveyor systems for loading and unloading.
Although loading bay safety remains a paramount issue and the industry has gone to great lengths to improve it with a plethora of safety devices the fact remains that the loading bay still suffers far too many accidents. Only rigorous training, the abolition of whistle-blowing fears among staff, and the enforcement of safety rules, particularly with agency labour whose first language may not be English, will the gruesome accident statistics fall significantly.