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The loading bay must change

29 May 2015

In a rapidly changing market, there is a need for flexible loading patterns that can accommodate double-deck trailers, traditional single-tier trailers and home delivery vans, says Rob Fay, MD of Easilift Loading Systems.

One size fits all, so the saying goes – but it has never been less true in distribution and logistics. Once, the sturdy standard trailer would suffice for most deliveries; today, however, the competing demands of retailers and customers are literally pulling in both directions.

For the biggest names, the biggest sizes are preferred.  Greater commercial competition, coupled with strategies based on reducing carbon foot print, has fuelled the growth of double-deck vehicles, so the more goods that can be accommodated on a single journey between distribution centres and regional hubs, the better: improved efficiency, lower fuel costs and environmental impact, reduced manpower requirements, and more.

For the consumer, however, less is more. The nimble home delivery van presents the optimum means of having goods brought straight to the door – faster, more personal and taking up less space on the road outside your home.

The variation in vehicle type poses a considerable challenge for warehouse operators needing to balance the demands of their customers, but also their customers’ customers: how do you optimise the loading bay? The huge difference between the width and height of a double-deck trailer compared to a van would imply that separate loading bays are required for each – and yet, consider the practicality within the warehouse. At a regional hub, the same goods arriving (via double-deck) from the distribution centre might then be headed straight out again (on a van) for home delivery. Does it make sense to have different entrance and exit points?

Our current thinking is that, if logistics patterns change, so too must the loading bay itself. Rather than stick rigidly to the traditional tick list of requirements – door, leveller, shelter – it is time to reinvent every element in order to achieve multi-functional, multi-vehicle loading from a single dock.

Multi-vehicle loading brings significant efficiency benefits and savings. First, it enables the warehouse operator to achieve a consistency of equipment and controls, for ease of training and usage. Secondly, customer costs are reduced, not only in terms of faster turnarounds but also in terms of having a single source for maintenance and service.

The changing variables of logistic operations has led us to developing innovative solutions designed to make this exact scenario possible, and enable the loading of vans from the same dock used for unloading double-deck trailers, without compromising on safety or efficiency.   

"Our current thinking is that, if logistics patterns change, so too must the loading bay itself.”

One innovation is our adaptable bridge plate that can be changed to suit narrow vehicles such as vans. Folding "wings” alter the width of the bridge plate enabling a bridge that would typically connect with a wider trailer to be narrowed to engage into the rear of a much narrower van. The transformation from wide bridge plate to narrow bridge plate is made possible by a mechanism that adjusts the "wings” into the vertical position which then act as a safety barrier to prevent personnel, roll cages and MHE from falling over the side.

Another development is our Van-Dock, which utilises a mini-ramp – a lightweight replacement for the traditional dock leveller, a retractable airtight seal, whose height can be adjusted to fit the size of the van, to ensure a tight fit around the van so that a consistent ambient temperature during loading is maintained.

Our final innovation is our patented double-dock, which a solution developed for speeding up the loading and unloading of fixed deck double deck trailers. The double-dock operates as a scissor-lift table for loading and unloading the trailer upper deck, but then transforms into a dock-leveller for speeding up the loading and unloading of the trailer lower deck.

Such developments highlight the changing face of distribution, and as a result the flow of goods from national distribution centres to regional ‘spokes’ and finally to the consumers end destination can be streamlined and optimised without the need for unnecessary detours within the warehouse.