Two key factors influence loading bay operations: the ever-present need for safety owing to stubbornly high accident rates and the need for flexibility to cope with the seismic changes forced by e-commerce. That is not to say running costs are not important nor the need to deal with environmental pressures. So how is the loading bay industry reacting to these pressures?

For many years the industry has done a splendid job improving safety through innovation, often by listening to their customers’ concerns and many of these improvements do not have to be big ticket items. A recent example is Edgedock from Stertil, created to prevent an unsuspecting person being crushed against the dock by a reversing lorry. Communication between dock workers and drivers is never perfect as drivers negotiate tricky manoeuvres and blind spots, while poorly-trained workers could move around behind the lorry. What Edgedock does is offer a protected area by way of steel protective gates at each side of the dock, protected by buffers, so that any trapped person has a safe haven between the back of the truck and the solid edge of the dock.

The company has also developed a new dock bumper with a height adjustment option to give the flexibility and agility for the many types of trailers as well as low docks. Fitted within its galvanised steel housing, the polyurethane bumper can be lowered or raised while remaining fully fixed and can be flipped from one side to the other to even out bumper wear. Another new Stertil improvement are its inflatable dock-shelters. Such shelters have been around for decades but a running complaint has been tear damage caused by vehicles pulling away prematurely before full shelter deflation. Its material is soft for good sealing between vehicle and dock but made of tough ‘Cordura’ fabric with its strong Powerflex protection on the impact-facing sides of the curtain’s material, and being flexible it adjusts to a range of truck dimensions.

Door damage, usually caused by truck collisions, has long been a problem, and even though easy reset, crash-out facilities have long been on the market, damage still occurs and so it would be better still to prevent a crash in the first place. Efaflex have striven to improve this through smarter sensors. Boasting the fastest spiral doors on the market (4 mt/sec) its 44 EFA-SST, thermally insulated doors with higher than average wind resistance of Class 4, uses laser scanners at critical points with cross traffic, so that the doors are only opened if the vehicle is moving directly towards the door. It is the first and only scanner worldwide which can be used horizontally at doors. By generating a large horizontal monitoring area it not only detects the direction of movement, but also takes the distance, direction and speed of the movement into account. It extensively protects the full width of the door and prevents door closure if it detects a moving or stationery obstacle, thus protecting the door and preventing accidents.

In a world of fluctuating demand and sometimes the need to relocate or adjust distribution centres brought on by e-commerce pressures that now see a variety of delivery vehicles used, companies need to be more flexible. They see, however, that the installation of a new loading bay as too costly but the loading bay specialist, Thorworld, offers a much cheaper approach through its “Rent-a- Ramp” solution. The company’s director of administration, quality and safety, Mark James, says: “We are seeing customers increasingly opt for loading bay solutions that are capable of altering alongside their business; and for operations to achieve that they need to be flexible.” The ramps can also be useful back-up should a dock leveller fail.