Create a free account to continue

Supply Chain Security Begins At The Loading Dock

While there are many links in any supply chain, loading docks always play a pivotal role - from processing and manufacturing all the way through to distribution. By comprehensively addressing the many challenges to dock operations, facilities managers can go a long way towards ensuring the safe and timely delivery of products moving through their system.

Across America, companies are upgrading their facilities to comply with new governmental regulations designed to enhance supply chain integrity. In some cases, companies are even going a step further and taking measures to comply with anticipated future regulations. In addition to improving safety, these proactive measures are also helping companies protect themselves from financial losses due to cargo theft, product damage or major product recall.

While there are many links in any supply chain, loading docks always play a pivotal role — from processing and manufacturing all the way through to distribution. By comprehensively addressing the many challenges to dock operations — and taking advantage of state-of-the-art solutions to them — facilities managers can go a long way towards ensuring the safe and timely delivery of products moving through their system.

Cargo theft

Cargo theft is one of the largest and fastest-growing of these challenges. According to the FBI, there is an estimated $30 billion in cargo stolen each year in the U.S. with the most highly sought-after shipments being pharmaceuticals, consumer electronics, apparel, and food. Despite serious efforts by the industry to combat cargo theft, those numbers are still on the rise. In an annual report, international logistics security firm FreightWatch stated that there were 794 reported incidents of cargo theft in the U.S. in 2014. Of those, some 19 percent involved food and drink shipments, while electronics accounted for another 16 percent. According to another FreightWatch report, high-value electronics products thefts are also on the rise, with reported incidents tripling from 2013 to 2014. The average value loss of these thefts surged 43 percent, up to roughly $570,000 per incident. Although total thefts were down, the average value of stolen cargo increased 36 percent to more than $232,000 per incident, compared to 2013. The FreightWatch report suggests this is due to “increased organization and innovation on the part of cargo thieves.”

Unsecured trailers at busy loading docks are a prime target for cargo thieves, as well as dropped trailers and those left unattended by drivers.

Risk of Contamination and Tampering

Another common challenge that facilities managers face is protecting products from the elements outside. Any gaps in the perimeter of a dock opening allow outside contaminants like rain, dust or insects to infiltrate the facility during the loading or unloading process.  Temperature and humidity control are also compromised by these gaps – which can lead to spoiled or damaged goods.

Early opening of the trailer is another concern. When the security seal on trailer doors is broken outside the building and the doors are opened in the drive approach by someone other than facility employees, companies have no way of knowing if the contents have been tampered with. This all-too-common occurrence creates a host of potential security issues.

The first step in supply chain security: automatic vehicle restraints

Restraints that automatically secure a trailer or vehicle when it backs up to the dock are the first step in establishing supply chain security. The most common automatic restraints wrap around a trailer’s rear-impact guard (RIG), securing the trailer to the loading dock. RIG-based automated restraints not only enhance employee safety by ensuring the trailer can’t be mistakenly pulled away when a forklift is still inside, they also help prevent other trailer mishaps, including “trailer creep” (gradual separation from the building); trailer pop-up or upending; and landing gear collapse. Additionally, some automatic restraints can be integrated into building management or security systems, providing another level of security and protection against potential theft or tampering.

The most advanced automatic vehicle restraints offer a RIG/restraint vertical engagement range of 9 to 30 inches and can function with intermodal container chassis, which often have an obstructed RIG.  Given the projected rise in overseas container shipments after next year’s completion of the Panama Canal expansion, a company receiving this type of traffic should be considering restraints that work with intermodal chassis as well as conventional over-the-road trailers.

Step 2: Vertical-storing dock levelers

Vertical levelers provide another step for organizations seeking maximum security and environmental control for their dock operations. Like traditional levelers, vertical levelers allow forklifts to more easily enter and exit the trailer by “leveling” the height of floor and trailer. However, since traditional levelers lower into the dock floor when not in use, they require a pit underneath them for storage. This open space can create potential entry points for pests, not to mention a maintenance headache. Vertical-storing dock levelers, on the other hand, remain upright when not in use. The upright design has several advantages. First of all, it allows overhead dock doors to close all the way to the pit floor, instead of on the leveler itself. This helps reduce dust, debris and rodents from entering the facility and eliminates the energy loss from a pit style leveler when stored. It also improves security by minimizing points of entry. In addition, the vertical design of the levelers makes it easier to do routine cleaning on them, as well as full wash-down and pit clean out.

Vertical levelers are often installed in a “drive-through application,” a dock configuration which allows trailer doors to remain closed until the trailer is positioned at the loading dock. Once the trailer is secured, the security seal can be broken and its doors opened inside the building. This creates and provides an additional level of security, with dock personnel having control over the trailer doors. It also provides an uninterrupted cold chain, which is extremely important in industries like food and pharmaceuticals.

Step 3: Seal the dock perimeter

The final step in supply chain security is to create an environmental barrier between the back end of the semi-trailer and the inside of the loading dock. This can be done with a state-of-the-art dock seal or shelter, products which help companies keeping wind, rain, dust, bugs, and other contaminants outside the building, and valuable energy inside. An effective dock sealing system also helps prevent weather-related product damage and contamination. A tight seal around the dock opening can also defend against theft by eliminating gaps that could be passageways for thieves to get in and out.

To maximize protection, all dock door openings should be equipped with a sealing system that closes the gaps at the top, sides and bottom when a trailer is backed in for loading or unloading. Foam compression dock seals, or full-access dock shelters that seal trailer door hinge gaps, together with a full-coverage, under-leveler sealing system, give the most protection and minimizes gaps. Special attention is often needed at the top and corners of the trailer where frequent gaps remain; in these cases, look for a dock shelter that features a weighted header seal.

Some of the most recently developed dock shelters allow the trailer doors to be opened inside the building for security purposes (in drive-through applications), while still maintaining a tight, consistent seal around the trailer. Special design features ensure tight sealing against trailer sides, across the full width of the trailer top and at the corners, without interfering with trailer doors being opened and closed after the trailer has been parked at the dock. This shelter design complements the vertical storing dock leveler design to enhance security at the dock.

Protecting the supply chain at the loading dock

While no two supply chain systems are exactly the same, a systematic approach beginning at the loading dock will almost always result in significantly enhanced safety and security. While these systems have many elements, equipment like automatic vehicle restraints, vertical dock levelers, and appropriate seals/shelters form the core pieces. Working together as a system, these can improve the integrity of the overall supply chain, help protect employees, reduce contamination, limit cargo theft and improve environmental conditions in the process.

Walt Swietlik is director of customer relations and sales support for Rite-Hite.