In an uncertain future the loading bay industry can expect one certainty: the need for flexibility to futureproof buildings. This highlights the importance that when considering new builds the clients should consult early with the leading loading bay suppliers, rather than rely on the builder to obtain the cheapest price and whose expertise on loading bay issues will likely be inadequate to give the operator the flexibility to cope with changing, Omni distribution channels. This problem has been resolved by one warehouse property developer, Prologis, entering a close, longterm relationship with loading bay supplier, Hormann UK, and together, by engaging with retailers to identify the evolving needs of the industry, they are able to create new, future-proof buildings.

chazThis close congress between loading bay operator and equipment supplier is critical to avoid the common design mistakes like incorrect dock height and dock leveller length. Only by conducting on site visits and discussing a potential client’s likely future distribution channels can a supplier give the best advice to meet the need for flexibility. By specifying properly in the first instance, other costs further down the line, such as illness time caused by injury, and excessive equipment replacement or refurbishment, can be minimised. Such costs are not visible at the build stage, but become crucial later on in the building’s operational life.

Two kinds of problems that can emerge if there has been no adequate briefing at the design stage include personnel risks and early equipment failure. A supplier must know the type and weight of equipment to be used on dock levellers, for example, so that the right capacity leveller is provided.

Choosing a dock leveller with antitwist platform makes sense as this will compensate for any lorry tilting when loads are unequal. Hydraulic platforms with two or more legs will offer better stability than a single lift design, and will bear uneven weights more securely. Suppliers should also be apprised of the likelihood of a potential client needing a mixed fleet of delivery vehicles, from 40ft artics to small vans dedicated to handling online orders for domestic house deliveries.

An important part of a loading bay safety regime is the quality of the after-sales service which, alas, can vary widely. If there is no regular maintenance and inspection then sooner or later equipment will fail, and that poses a safety hazard, not to mention goods delivery disruptions. Other serious hazards exist through lack of robust, accident prevention procedures. Lorries, for example, still pull away prematurely from loading bays, causing serious accidents. The equipment exists to prevent such accidents so there is no excuse for tolerating them. That is not to say that loading bay safety has not improved significantly in recent years. As Alan Jenkins, commercial director at Hormann UK, remarked: “We shouldn’t be complacent though – warehouse managers must ensure the correct procedures are in place and, as manufacturers, we must continue to develop products and systems that help to design out hazards.

All warehouse operators should consider energy issues seriously, if only to meet “green” legislative requirements in the near future.

Hygiene, especially in food and pharma operations, is also very important. All leading loading bay equipment suppliers will be happy to provide free energy audits of premises, with payback periods for equipment like fast-acting PVC roller or insulated lath doors.

For peace of mind, operators should deal with members of the Association of Loading and Elevating Equipment Manufacturers (ALEM) whose members will readily agree to providing their customer site details so that potential buyers can sound them out on the equipment’s performance and the suppliers’ after sales service quality.