The loading dock is the central hub of activity for a warehouse. The efficient onloading and offloading of goods represents the life flow of a company and anything that impedes that activity or threatens to disrupt it is a threat to the company's well being.
The choice of an interface between delivery trucks and the dock itself is crucial. Failure to choose the best leveler for a dock application can jeopardize the safety of workers. It can lead to work stoppages and even damages to expensive equipment. Companies need to learn how to assess their docks; the product they are interacting with and what types of levelers will best suit their particular applications.
In addition, cleanliness is a major concern for food distributors and dock doors are a major thoroughfare for dirt and debris.
"One of the reasons that we ended up switching to vertical dock levelers in our facility is cleanliness," says Kirk Mortenson, director of real estate/facilities for Gordon Food Service, a Grand Rapids, MI-based foodservice distributor. Before switching to the vertical style of dock levelers, Gordon Food relied on mechanical pit levelers to bridge the gap between the dock and the delivery vehicle. However, the physical logistics of having pit levelers presented a number of challenges to the company.
"AIB (The American Institute of Baking) comes into our facilities frequently to make inspections," says Mortenson. "With the vertical levelers we are using, we actually have a pit that runs the length of the dock. It has steps doing down into it that make it easier for our people to clean out any dirt and debris that might collect in there and make sure its clean enough to pass health inspections."
He says the pit levelers were much harder to access for cleaning.
"Many companies are going with the vertical storing leveler all the way throughout their facilities, just because you get the advantage of cleanliness," agrees John Carroll, director of U.S. sales for 4Front Engineered Solutions. The Carrollton, TX-based company is a manufacturer of branded truck and rail loading dock equipment, including Serco vertical dock levelers.
"The levelers have a great impact on cleanliness at the dock. You don't have a hidden pit that you have with the pit style leveler that you can only access and clean from outside the building. With the vertical, everything is standing up. It's visible, it's there for cleaning. Wash down is easier."
Gordon Food service also moves a lot of refrigerated food through its dock doors as part of its food distribution business. The company had to find ways to help cut down on energy loss and preserve the temperature integrity of the food. Switching to the vertical dock levelers provided great benefits in that respect.
"With verticals, trailers typically back into the specially-designed loading dock bay before their doors are open," says Steve Greco, director, international sales and marketing, Blue Giant Equipment Corp., Ontario, Canada. "It makes for a complete seal between the trailer and the facility. Then the driver opens the doors inside the building and the vertical dock leveler is lowered into place inside the bed of the trailer."
"Imagine the driver having to open the doors in the parking lot, where it's 20 degrees inside and 105 degrees outside," says 4Front's Carroll. "The driver has to swing them back, lock them, walk 60 feet back to the cab and then back the truck the rest of the way to the loading dock."
In that time, a great deal of cold air can be lost. 4Front did a study recently that showed companies actually lose one ton of refrigerate air per dock door per year, on average, when they use pit levelers instead of vertical dock levelers. If a ton of refrigerated air costs a minimum of $400 to generate, that means on a 10 door facility a company is losing $4,000 a year on cold air going outside its doors--a significant expense.