Integrate the Loading Bay

Date : Tuesday, 02 September 2014

When we look at the loading bay there are five key areas to consider before undertaking a commission or redesign, in addition to the basic remit to enable loading to and from vehicles. 

First and foremost is safety, which covers all loaders, drivers, fork-truck operatives and pedestrians in and around the delivery yard. Next is speed and efficiency of product movements between the warehouse and delivery vehicles. Recently there has been debate about transport operators suffering supermarket fines for late deliveries, but what about delays in unloading? One major retailer estimated the cost of each artic waiting in the service yard at £150 per hour. However, the overall cost could be greater still if this unscheduled delay affects subsequent deliveries. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if loading speeds can be doubled, there are potentially significant savings to be made across the sector.

Third on the list is the flexibility to service different vehicle types – such as single or double deck trailers – followed by environmental performance. With mounting pressure to enhance environmental standards, businesses are now required to report all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the UK. And last, but not least, cost effectiveness. Will the project deliver a speedy return on investment?

Many believe there are also five stages to achieving optimal loading bay operation. This involves proper planning and design, equipment specification, training (for operators and maintenance personnel), regular maintenance (to ensure best performance) and project management – to keep on top of all of the above!

However, there is increasingly an additional section that could be added to this list: integration. It is not only essential to plan the optimal loading bay design for each specific operation, and to specify the best suited individual equipment components for the loading bay, the real key to a successful loading bay operation is the ability to integrate all of these elements at the planning and operational stages.

Once operational, the aim is to automate the loading bay as far as possible, so as to minimise the potential for human error. It is now the norm for suppliers to offer integrated control panels that operate external traffic lights, loading bays doors, drive-off prevention systems, forklift safety barriers, interior lighting, and loading equipment power in the correct sequence to minimise the risk of accidents.

However, the concept of integration can go far beyond the automated sequencing of docking equipment. It can also refer to the integration of all of these facets of loading bay management into a more cohesive whole. Applying technology to the loading bay in this way can bring value-added benefits to the overall logistics operation.

Correct maintenance and management are essential to the ongoing efficiency, safety and environmental performance of loading bay equipment. However, even with regular planned preventative maintenance (PPM) and dedicated rapid-breakdown response teams, there is still a lot of inefficiency hidden in the loading bay.

"Applying technology to the loading bay in this way can bring value-added benefits to the overall logistics operation.”

By using the loading bay as a data source, we create the possibility to more closely measure and monitor loading bay performance. This in turn can highlight any potential or actual weak spots to management, and can make both operators and equipment suppliers more accountable.

Data on thermal efficiencies, loading speeds, vehicle payloads, equipment performance and servicing requirements can all be sourced using multiple inputs that are fed through programmable logic controller (PLC) panels in the loading bay.

Through connecting each loading bay to a central server, data can be quickly transferred onto a customer IT network and/or made available for remote login. This can provide managers with easy, at-a-glance overviews of intra- or inter- distribution centre loading bay statistics. The system can also provide all authorised users with live plant information, including the status of all electrical interlocks in each bay.

Maintenance personnel can then log into the system to provide remote guidance in the case of breakdowns, saving the expense of unnecessary call-outs – in our experience, 20-30% of breakdown call-outs are based on operator error, rather than on genuine machinery malfunction.

We provide this type of maintenance monitoring through our Active Management System and when combined with our Load Weight Monitor, which ensures the correct load distribution between upper and lower vehicle decks on a double deck trailer, comprehensive load safety aspects can also be effectively incorporated.

By seamlessly integrating the loading bay with a warehouse management system and dovetailing it into the overall business, there’s no doubt that optimal performance can be achieved.


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