Businesses which find their ecommerce operations growing fast understandably sometimes face pressures on their loading bay space. Trying to make do by just accelerating the handling speeds in what has become a cramped working area invites higher accident risks and so safer solutions should be sought but at an affordable price. Faster handling throughputs, however, do not automatically. Imply higher safety risks. It depends partly on changing one’s handling kit both internally and externally (delivery vehicles).

If throughput demands are high enough it may be worth looking at automating the movement of goods from loading bays to and from delivery vehicles. These include one-shot vehicle loading systems like those from Ancra Systems (Skateloader) which can load a 40ft trailer in seven minutes, and others with similar performance speeds from Joloda and Actiw. Ancra claims that a typical return on investment is between 12 and 24 months depending on specific customers’ situations and driving distances. The Skateloader also dispenses with the need for forklifts, thus improving the safety issue.

If money is tight a much cheaper way of saving time on the loading bay and yard would be to harness IT to more versatile forklifts like the articulated kind so that lorries can be unloaded in the yard or the warehouse and forklifts directed by on-board RDTs to put loads straight into the allocated racking pallet positions, bypassing the need for marshalling areas where conventional forklifts interface with the narrow aisle trucks.

In a fast-changing supply chain environment it makes good sense to build in at the build planning stage the flexibility to cope with future changes. Delivery vehicle manoeuvring in the yard can soon become a problem if handling volumes rise quickly. One way to pre-empt that growth problem would be to ensure a saw-tooth arrangement for loading docks to make better use of yard space.

A more usual approach to cope with burgeoning growth is the loading bay pod (loading house) which forms a complete loading bay enclosure which can be installed directly onto the face of a building. Given that the dock leveller, scissor lift and/or other loading bay equipment is housed within the pod, no warehouse space is lost internally and existing operational procedures can continue to be used. These pods ae completely self-contained units so they have minimal construction needs and can be quickly installed often without impacting ongoing operations.

Pressures on loading bay areas can also be relieved by a change in road trailer designs and even software designed to ensure the most efficient use of space inside the trailers or on pallets. Sensibly designed packaging can also allow extra trailer carrying capacity by eliminating wasted air space. The most promising returns, however, can be achieved by a switch to double-deck trailers, which make for better use of internal trailer space and so relieve pressure on loading bays caused by growing business demand, while also improving the environment through fewer miles travelled.