As the needs of warehousing become more flexible so, too, does the need to consult more with loading bay equipment manufacturers at the design stage rather than just leave it to architects who tend to fall back on their existing standard design parameters. A more flexible approach to loading bay design is necessary because the nature of distribution is changing. Cross-docking, for example, popular among big retailers, cuts the need for storage space, handling and storage equipment, but it also creates differing demands on the goods-in and goods-out bays. At goods-in there is usually a requirement to accept a wider range of vehicle types, than at the goods-out side. Loading bay operators have less control over the goods in fleet because they must accept deliveries from a wide rang of suppliers and transport providers. Vehicles are also changing. Although still less than 10% of trailer use, double-deck trailers, spurred by cost pressures, are in a bull market, but these can have decks as low as 870 mm and an overall height of 5.2 mt.
In one camp there are now calls for a change in the height of loading bays to cope with the double deckers but according to Easilift Loading Systems that would inevitably deliver a solution lacking operational flexibility and efficiency. To counter any need to change loading bay heights the company has launched Double-Dok, which combines the functionality of a dock leveller and a lifting platform. Its loading platform can be raised to 2.995 mt, more than enough to cope with double-deckers. It can be extended up to 1.25 mt to act as a loading bridge between dock and vehicle for smooth goods transfer.
A cheaper way to cope with lorry bed height variations is the telescopic lip dock leveller. These can operate through a greater working range than swing lip levellers. Swing lips of 400 mm on a 3-mt long leveller, for example, can accommodate a loading height of 365 mm above or below the dock height. This could be extended to 405mm above and 395 mm below with a 500 mm telescopic lip, while Hormann (UK) offer a 1200 mm long lip that takes it up to 480 mm above and 440 mm below dock height.
The changing face of shopping is beginning to impact the design needs for loading bays. Online shopping, for example, by far the fastest growing sector of retailing, is now making it sensible for big retailers like Tesco to build dedicated distribution centres for home deliveries, rather than rely on order picking in retail stores. These DCs are likely to have a dual dock height, a higher one for goods-in and lower one for goods- out using standard size 7.5 tonne home delivery vans or trucks.
Hormann believes a change in the most common UK loading dock height, currently 1.2 mt, would be beneficial for many operations and is currently working on this with one of its clients. Benefits would include a reduced incline into/out of most vehicles and so it would be easier to operate pedestrian pallet trucks, and its battery-powered trucks would use less energy.
It must be said, however, that the ability to build in flexibility by making structural changes to the loading bay is crimped by current ownership of premises. Many warehouses are leased and landlords might disapprove of any changes which could make subsequent letting to new clients more difficult.
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