Selecting The Right Equipment
While MTZ efficiency may pose complex challenges, solutions are readily available. The key lies in intelligent facility design and in equipment designed specifically to suit current trends in trailers and load configurations.
Facility layout, dock locations, and dock design represent critical components for a fluid and productive MTZ. Of equal importance is proper selection of loading dock equipment. Key considerations include:
Longer, wider dock levelers: Forklifts must have straight-in, straight-out, full-width access to even the largest loads on high-cube trailers. Conventional dock levelers that measure eight feet long and six or seven feet wide may not be equal to the task. To ensure unobstructed access to all loads, even below dock level, companies should consider levelers that are eight-feet, six-inches wide to eliminate pit wall interference. Platform lengths of 10 or 12 feet ensure a gentle grade for lift trucks servicing below dock trailers.
Vertical-storing hydraulic levelers: Another consideration is vertical-storing hydraulic dock levelers, which help better control the dock environment by allowing the dock door to close to the pit floor, providing an increased level of security, and feature a smooth transition between the warehouse floor and the trailer bed. Vertical-storing levelers also allow for easier routine pit cleaning due to fewer obstructions in the pit to trap dirt and debris.
A drive-through application is also available with vertical-storing levelers, which allows the truck to back up to the loading dock with its doors closed. The truck driver does not need to get out of the cab. Instead, the operator inside the facility opens the overhead door and then opens the trailer doors inside of the building. The leveler is then lowered into position in the trailer.
Hydraulic leveler operation: Unlike mechanical and air-powered levelers, hydraulic dock levelers follow the movement of the trailer bed above and below the dock level during all stages of loading or unloading. Hydraulic levelers also eliminate mechanical problems and ergonomic concerns associated with mechanical levelers. Additionally, they eliminate safety leg interference that often prohibits air-powered leveler platforms from effectively reaching low trailer beds.
Technologically advanced levelers, meanwhile, create a smooth transition between the warehouse floor and the leveler, which speeds productivity and helps eliminate product damage that can occur as a result of dock shock.
Full-access environmental control enclosures: Foam pad dock seals provide a tight weather seal against trailers, but they may not fit all trailer sizes. As such, they may obstruct loads by encroaching on the trailer opening. Conversely, shelters wipe against trailer sides, providing an effective seal, yet at the same time do not obstruct loads.
Soft-sided impactable shelters eliminate the costly problem of traditional rigid-frame shelters being damaged or destroyed by trucks that back in off-center. Some shelters also have side curtains with rubber hooks that cover the hinge gaps on trailers with swing-out doors, maximizing weather protection and energy savings.
Impactable dock doors: Ideally, properly sized doors should have impactable sections. If accidentally struck by a lift truck, these panels break away without damage and can be easily re-attached. Some doors also have panels that can flex up to 12 inches without damage. Easily fixed doors can greatly minimize related plant downtime.
Fully automatic vehicle restraints: Vehicle restraint systems should have fully automatic operation, both for positioning, locking/unlocking, and light communication functions. Automated restraints reduce the potential for accidents at the dock, such as premature trailer separation. A new category of automatic restraints is also available to address trailer drop. The restraints support the rear of the trailer during the loading and unloading process, which minimizes both vertical and horizontal trailer movement.
The immediate payoff is improved forklift driver confidence, which translates to increased productivity. In the long run, restraints contribute to overall plant efficiencies by accident avoidance and optimal uptime at the loading dock.