Every warehouse potential bottleneck is the loading bay, which is also the most accident prone, accounting for about 25% of workplace transport accidents, but will that situation worsen as the industry as a whole heads towards a new way of warehousing, brought on by the remorseless rise of online shopping, in which faster throughput rates are essential to meet market needs? Will the temptation to cut corners grow?

One sine qua non is that warehouse design should be based on current and future needs, with much flexibility built in. But that, however, should not exclude the types of handling equipment that would shorten throughput times nor the importance of automation on the dock, which would certainly impact safety favourably as well as handling throughputs.

Distribution centres must also consider the environmental impact of their operations and that could mean cutting road miles through use of double-deckers and smarter WMS software.

Getting the warehouse design right first time through sole reliance on architects invites disappointments and that suggests that the best people to consult are the leading, comprehensive suppliers of the handling equipment, like dock levellers, doors, shelters and all forms of safety aids, who along with bodies like the FLTA can also advise on safety issues. But it is important to consult early so that safety can be designed in from the outset, thus ensuring that safety and efficiency are considered jointly.

These companies, once fed with all the relevant information on a potential client’s product throughputs, types, etc, and its future plans will be in the best position to recommend workable, flexible and time-sensitive solutions. But that solution, however, will not work at its best if a robust, planned preventative maintenance scheme is not taken on board, all the more important these days when changing consumer expectations work distribution centres harder. Waiting for something to break down before calling in service engineers is not a sensible option.

There are no two distribution businesses that exactly alike but if planning to use many different transport options from doubledeckers down to small vans then it would be sensible to go for longer dock shelters with inflatable heads and longer dock levellers, preferably with telescopic lips to help positioning for a greater range of vehicles, making docking easier and safer.

Given that the need for speed (time to customer) should not mean faster truck movements on the loading docks and corner cutting, attention should be given to equipment that can save time in other ways. If, for example, the DC’s operation calls for unloading lorries in the yard for put-away inside the warehouse’s narrow aisle racking why not consider an RDT-equipped articulated forklift that avoids time wasted depositing a load in the holding area for a narrow aisle truck to take over the racking of the load? The reverse position, from racking directly to lorry, could also be done in one movement.

At the lower level of investment, retailers have found the Express Snoot from Caljan Rite-Hite cuts the turn-around time for handling loose-loaded cargo. The operator can empty or load rapidly by moving the Express Snout, which is attached to the end of a conveyor belt, up and down and from left to right, using the whole of the vehicle height and so saving on transport costs.