Steps to Achieving an Efficient and Temperature Controlled Loading Dock

Starting from outside the temperature controlled loading dock and moving our way in, let’s take a look at some technologies and equipment available to address safety concerns and ensure that your operation remains highly productive.

This article first appeared in Food Manufacturing's October 2014 print edition.

Regardless of the application, one priority that generally tops the list for food processors is sanitation. And with a quarter of all warehouse accidents happening in and around the loading dock, sharing the top spot is typically safety. In more recent times, however, there has also been a spotlight on equipment that can achieve the aforementioned in addition to saving energy. Designs that can actually get the job done in a more sustainable fashion are highly sought after, as some estimate that supply chain and logistics operations can represent upwards of 75 percent of a company’s energy usage and environmental footprint. 

Starting from outside the temperature controlled loading dock and moving our way in, let’s take a look at some technologies and specialized dock equipment available to address these concerns and ensure that your operation remains highly productive, compliant and sustainable.

When a trailer pulls into the loading dock what’s the first thing you should do?

Restrain the Vehicle

A vehicle restraint is an effective means of holding a massive semi-trailer close to the dock, which can address two of the priorities mentioned previously — safety and energy savings. Trailer creep and early departure are serious safety concerns at any loading dock. A vehicle restraint works by engaging a trailer’s rear impact guard, which prevents the trailer from moving or ”creeping” away from the dock and leaving before loading/unloading is complete. This type of vehicle restraint is available in powered and non-powered options.

An effective vehicle restraint can keep the trailer snug against the dock seal and/or shelter, and prevent energy from escaping the building. Trailer movement actually creates gaps between the warehouse and the trailer which compromises the effectiveness of the seal and/or shelter, and can lead to a cumulative loss of energy.  This is especially critical for cold-storage facilities.

If you have a variety of trailer types or trailers that have hydraulic lift gates and no rear impact guard to restrain, try a wheel chocking system, which is a restraint that engages the trailer wheels.  Wheel restraints offer continuous force using hydraulic systems, and are typically strong enough to pull a trailer closer to the dock. In-ground mounted wheel chocking systems are ideal for colder climates because they do not impede vehicles such as snow plows. 

Seal the Opening

The loading dock area represents a series of opportunities to lose energy due to the amount of gaps, holes and openings that exist around dock doors and dock levelers. If the loading dock is not sealed properly, energy loss from a conditioned facility can be substantial. 

A sufficient seal for your dock is just as critical as the dock leveler, overhead door, fork lifts, etc.  While a dock seal is the best answer for energy savings, some seals impede full width access to the trailer interior and interfere with, or in some cases, obstruct pallets at the very back of the trailer on wider loads.  In fact, dock seals that spill into the trailer interior can very easily get ripped or torn by passing forklifts during the loading cycle. Some good questions to ask before purchasing a dock seal include: 'does my application require full width access to the trailer during times of loading?’ and ‘do the trailers that frequent my loading dock have swing or roll up doors?'

In climate-controlled environments, trailers with swing doors are very common and when swing doors are opened, they create gaps between the hinges. These gaps allow air to escape and when a seal is compressed by the trailer it closes off these gaps. When full width trailer access is not an issue for you a dock seal is the ideal choice, but what about those situations where you need the full access in addition to superior energy savings? A dock shelter system (HINGE GUARD) begins to work as soon as a trailer reverses into the dock and is automatically activated by the backing trailer which grasps the sides of the trailer and blocks the hinge gaps. It offers a consistent seal, full and unrestricted access to the trailer bed and gives way to ultimate energy savings without any interference to loading.

Get the Right Levels

To maintain a safe and efficient supply chain, environmentally controlled loading docks can be equipped with specialized loading dock equipment. A vertical storing dock leveler does exactly as the name implies — it stores upright and inside the building. This might not sound like any big deal at first but just think, by storing vertically and inside the warehouse this leveler offers energy-efficiency as the door can close completely to the floor. The VSL was created to meet the biggest challenges facing companies in industries such as cold-storage, food, beverage and other perishable assets. Maintaining a sanitized and energy-efficient warehouse environment is imperative where the product is as sensitive as pharmaceuticals or other temperature controlled product.

Anyone in the food or perishable product processing industry will tell you that the sheer ability to ‘clean’ in, around and underneath a dock leveler is a huge advantage. Wash-down’s are made easier with a VSL. Another key feature of this dock leveler is temperature. The VSL allows dock doors to close snugly and tightly against the floor, which eliminates spaces under doors and leaves no gaps or other opportunities for energy to escape as it could around a standard pit style dock leveler. This is a prized piece of loading dock equipment for a climate-controlled loading dock.

HVLS Fan Technology

HVLS fan technology is considered the most effective way to move air in large spaces. An optimized five (5) blade profile can translate to greater airflow while conserving energy consumption. Circulation is a key objective in any temperature controlled facility. An HVLS fan creates a gentle yet massive, cylindrical column of air that flows down to the floor and outward in all directions, called a horizontal floor jet. It’s an energy smart fan that moves air evenly for more balanced circulation. The benefits go far beyond improved circulation, this fan actually helps protect product integrity, reduce opportunities for spoilage and increase environmental comfort for employees. The improved airflow also decreases condensation, resulting in drier, safer floors for employees.

One Control Panel

Integration of equipment is not a new topic but not many people are aware of the possibilities that exist with a master control panel. This panel integrates all of your loading dock equipment into just one panel as opposed to the typical three or more panels provided for each piece of powered equipment per dock position. 

The master control panel ensures that dock equipment operates in a predetermined sequence and in some cases can help automate that operation. For example, if the dock doors are open it is because loading or unloading is taking place. And as soon as loading is complete, the energy saving dock doors will be shut down as part of the sequence so no unnecessary energy loss will occur. 

The same technique applies to your dock lights, your dock levelers, inflatable dock seal or any piece of powered equipment that you have integrated into your master control panel. If you have pre-determined something to close or shutdown at a certain point it will do so as part of a sequence and initiated by the push of the button on your master control panel.  

This special sequence increases safety at the dock as well. It can be programed so that the trailer must be engaged by the vehicle restraint before any other equipment will operate. The dock leveler can be interlocked with the other dock devices, preventing operation until all the safety systems are operational and your dock doors are open. 

Heightened Supply Chain Senses

Technology and automation are tools that are sure to be part of any successful loading dock’s future. Visibility is essential to any successful supply chain. Imagine being able to instantly identify where a trailer is located out on the yard, being able to tell if the door is open, if the vehicle restraint is engaged or if a trailer is ready for departure. 

A system like this combines the loading dock, the yard and the warehouse into one comprehensive unit, providing managers with the visibility, reporting metrics and productivity tools they need to increase efficiency and profitability. The module-based system makes it easy to choose just the solutions needed to solve any operation’s challenges. These modules can easily integrate with existing warehouse management systems and processes. 

When it comes to a temperature-controlled loading dock it takes the right mix of solutions to achieve environmental balance and a prosperous supply chain. A properly designed loading dock system will enable operations to achieve optimal supply chain efficiency. Product enters and leaves a facility through this area so the loading dock truly is the beginning (and in some cases), the end of your supply chain. It pays to show this area attention and ensure that you have installed best-in-class equipment to increase productivity, safety and compliance at all times. 

By Michael Brittingham, Manager, Marketing Communications, Loading Dock Products, Entrematic