Loading bay equipment suppliers have a remarkably good record for frequent innovations, particularly in safety, but gamechanging advances that dramatically improve productivity are far less common. These are the step changes that usually come with automation on the dock, like one-shot vehicle loading systems developed by Joloda and Actiw Systems over the last few decades.
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Apart from the big productivity gains they deliver, the inherent safety issues are sharply improved because no people are in the vicinity of moving vehicles. Yet these automated solutions have been largely neglected, even though there are many warehouses in western Europe, in particular, that are viable cases for automation.

Not dissuaded by the current market attitude to loading bay automation, innovators in this field are still alive and well and one example comes from the Spanish company, Duro Felguera (DF), a multi-national specialising in turnkey industrial projects, especially for logistics systems, who are claiming that their new automatic truck and container loading and unloading system, dubbed Nalon 8, will revolutionise the logistics of large-scale distribution and manufacturing industries, especially where there is high product rotation and tight operating margins.

The system comprises a truck loading car (TLC), similar to a forklift, that moves with its palletised load in and out of the vehicles, and a transfer car (TC) that moves the truck loading car along the various loading places to line up with the centre of the trailer or container. A pallet feeding system places the loads in front of the TLC and a moveable conveying system then transfers the loads from an external system (an automated warehouse or preloading station) to the Nalon pallet feeding system.

A particular attraction of the Nalon 8 is its flexibility, which means it can work with any type of truck or container and requires no modification with any components like bumpers, holders, conveyor belts, brackets and skirting boards. Nothing is needed to hold or brace the truck body with any kind of artificial system, be it mechanical, electrical or hydraulic, and it can be fully integrated into a smart or conventional warehousing system. Nalon 8’s advantages are many and impressive but the one most likely to impress is the productivity. DF says the system can load more pallets per minute than any other conventional loading system and works on up to five loading bay door areas in parallel. Speeds of 150 pallets/hr are achievable compared with 60/70 for any conventional system.

Given that the loading bay remains the most notorious area for accidents, the inherent safety advantages of the system are worth mentioning. No people are involved in the operation and all movements, lengthwise and crosswise, are constantly monitored by detection systems and security scanners. A less appreciated and perhaps rarely mentioned asset is that costs for claims and returns owing to human error are eliminated.

Loading bay staff can also be redeployed into areas with higher added value. Other advantages include savings in shipping space, improvements in the use of space, civil infrastructure and logistics, and thus reductions in amortization costs.