A halfway house

03 March 2014

Thorworld MD John Meale explains how SMEs with an active warehouse space but no loading bay can unload and despatch effectively.

The use of a mobile yardramp provides a solution for portable, safe, efficient loading. Yet, if there is a warehouse in situ, a yardramp on its own is not necessarily the best solution because it is not designed to be integrated with the warehouse.

So what is the answer? We are seeing increasing demand for a solution that fills the gap – a loading/unloading system that is more permanent than a yardramp in order to suit regular warehouse usage, but which is less costly than installing a full loading bay.

The fact is that it’s not at all unusual for a warehouse to be devoid of a dedicated loading bay. Many units simply don’t have financial resource to install one, despite the space being available. In such circumstances, there will be a doorway with a roller or sectional door, but nothing to encourage a trailer to pull up to the building because there is nothing to bridge the height differential between trailer and ground.

Traditionally, options for turning such an ‘open doorway’ into a loading bay would have involved either building up a concrete platform to the height of the trailer or, alternatively, digging down to create a recessed loading bay. Both solutions, understandably, entail significant disruption and costs in terms of planning and civil engineering.

"It’s not at all unusual for a warehouse to be devoid of a dedicated loading bay. Many units simply don’t have financial resource to install one, despite the space being available.”

But solutions are evolving and improving, and today it is possible to implement a tailor-made ‘halfway-house’. How does it work? Essentially, by going back to basics, and building a bespoke solution from three key elements: a ramp, a platform and a hydraulic dock leveller. By integrating these items, it is possible to create a semi-permanent solution that fulfils all of the requirements of a dedicated loading bay. 

Once this solution is positioned flush to the entranceway beneath a roller or sectional door, and bolted to the ground, there is no significant difference in terms of performance, reliability or health & safety. The trailer pulls up; the leveller smooths the transition to the platform; the forklift truck removes the goods along the platform, down the ramp and into the warehouse.

The benefits are multiple. The obvious pro is that this type of apparatus is extremely cost effective, and requires significantly less civil work, both in hours and cost, than creating a traditional loading bay. You simply position the system wherever it happens to be needed, bolt it in place, and you’re away. It also provides significant operational cost savings and energy savings by minimising the heat transfer between warehouse and outside.

However, just because it’s easy, that doesn’t mean to say that safety is compromised. These compact systems are as secure as any other permanent solution, and actually suit certain types of loading techniques better. A platform is ideal for consignments that need to be removed from the trailer horizontally – such as carpets – or during operations where pallets are stacked so high that the operators need an extended flat working area.

The semi-permanent nature of the integrated ramp/platform/leveller system also allows for greater flexibility and manoeuvrability, because it can be easily relocated when needed. While each solution offered by Thorworld is specifically designed and installed for the exact warehouse in which it is to be used, the modular nature of the set-up enables a high degree of configurability that allows for smooth adaptation. 

Finally, the tailored addition of auxiliary elements can put the finishing touches to a bespoke solution. Features such as dock shelters, to protect both users and loads from the outside elements, 

traffic light systems and safety barriers for improved safety or removable handrails to accommodate the manoeuvre of more cumbersome consignments, mean that there is no essential difference in performance or reliability from an actual loading bay.

Of course, the versatility of such a solution means that it can work equally well out in the yard as within a warehouse. The final configuration is dependant only on the customer’s specific preferences, usage patterns and space constraints.

The capabilities of such flexible, tailored loading systems are growing all of the time. Not only does it spare companies the expense of having a permanent installation fitted within their existing warehouse, it also means that – longer term – companies looking for new working space or storage locations are not bound by the need to choose a facility with a dedicated loading bay.