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Green Can Lead to Lean at the Loading Dock

Jan. 5, 2012
The loading dock should be one of the first places management looks at to reduce energy costs and contribute to sustainability efforts.

It now seems like a thousand years ago, but before the wave of challenging economic news, many managers and executives had been weighed down by out-of-control energy prices and the fear that the world was reaching peak oil production and things would get even tougher.

Now, employers have other things on their minds, including the mission of wringing more out of their assets and their processes by using Lean/Six Sigma and other approaches to more efficient operation. Despite the pressures of the day-to-day routine, businesses are finding ways to make their operations more sustainable.

This especially is true for the supply chain and logistics. According to a report released by the Material Handling Institute of America at this year’s PROMAT conference, eight out of 10 responding companies have a team for implementing and recommending green initiatives. One of the major reasons for their sustainability programs was for improved efficiencies.

Every doorway along the dock wall is an opportunity for energy to escape for two reasons. Measuring 8 feet x 10 feet, these massive holes in the wall can be difficult to completely seal even when the door is closed. Moreover, in a busy, round-the-clock facility, the doors rarely are closed, with one truck after another pulling up to the dock doorway.

The original purpose for dock equipment was to provide forklifts safe access to truck trailers during loading and unloading. As the focus on the needs of business changes, manufacturing and logistics may re-evaluate how dock equipment contributes to a facility’s overall operations and consider how it can be more efficient. While management is paying considerable attention to the high-tech operations within the plant and along the material handling system, it is the dock that can make operations more efficient with a relatively low investment in equipment strategies.

Going Green

At the same time, industry – along with the country as a whole – is recognizing the need to go green and reduce an operation’s carbon footprint. If not appreciated on its own, going green is being mandated by a number of major companies to the participants in their supply chain. It is the loading dock, which is the beginning and the end of the supply chain, where efficiencies can lead to sustainability.

Efficiencies and improvements at the loading dock can be made relatively quickly, offering prime opportunities to combat energy loss. Here are eight ways to maximize efficient operation and energy savings in the dock area.

1. Door versus forklift

A typical dock door has the same design as the one on the garage door at home, making them no match for a 5-ton forklift running at high speed in a confined space. Whether the collision is head on or a bump from backing up, the door panel can be damaged or, at the least, misaligned. Either way, the gaps can lead to thousands of dollars of energy loss, depending upon the temperature differential between the building interior and the outdoors.

If the door is not taken out of commission, the damage can impact other aspects of the operation. The door can become hard to open, impacting efficiency and employee safety by causing back strain.

In the world of the busy loading dock, impactable dock doors are a line of defense against the invasion of energy-wasting outdoor air resulting from forklift damage. Impactable dock doors can withstand these accidents and ensure that when the door is closed, the doorway is sealed.

When a forklift hits these doors, the panel is knocked out of its track undamaged. A quick pull on retractable plungers resets the panels and the door is back in operation. No loss of energy due to door damage; no calling the dock door repair company; no disruption to the supply chain or the routine.

2. Seal the deal

Using doors with compression-style seals mounted to the door panel instead of the jamb will keep the weatherseal out of harm’s way. That provides a consistent seal comparable to a refrigerator door, which is how many of these dock doors function in a cold storage facility.

In addition, impactable dock doors have double-compression loop seals that are attached directly to the door instead of on the track or door jamb. This design keeps the seals out of harm’s way when forklifts pass in and out of the doorway, and provides a tighter, more consistent seal.

3. Dodge the draft on the dock floor

Standard, pit-mounted dock levelers provide safe trailer access for forklifts, but their design creates passageways for air infiltration and escape. There typically is a small gap between the concrete pits and the edge of the dock leveler, exposing the facility to interior and exterior airflow exchange.

Both new and existing pit-style dock levelers can be outfitted with an advanced weatherseal system comprising a combination of durable open-cell foam and heavy-duty vinyl. This system effectively fills the gaps around the sides and rear of the dock leveler, providing a superior seal around the perimeter without impeding the performance. For additional protection against energy loss, the underside of steel dock leveler platforms can be coated with spray foam insulation to minimize the platform’s ability to conduct heat.

4. Hug the truck

Most facilities have dock seals or shelters to close the gap between the truck trailer and the dock door. They are subjected to damaging force and compression when the truck backs up to the wall.

Dock seals and shelters are critically important in containing conditioned air in the dock areas. As with damaged dock doors, a poorly specified or ill-fitting seal or shelter also permits considerable infiltration.

Dock seals are equipped with fabric-covered foam pads that compress when the trailer backs into them, providing a tight seal around the sides of the trailer and closing the gaps between the trailer’s door hinges. Dock shelters consist of fabric attached to side and head frames, creating a canopy around the full perimeter of the trailer, allowing full, unimpeded access to the interior of the trailer.

5. Get a grip

Many docks use rubber wheel chocks to hold trailers in place during loading and unloading, but they are not as effective as wall- or ground-mounted vehicle restraints at withstanding the forces exerted by forklifts as they drive in and out of trailers. Keeping the truck close to the wall provides safe forklift access to the truck. Plus, powered restraints reduce idle time and emissions by enabling quick trailer release when the vehicle is ready to leave the facility.

Additionally, a trailer that is chocked in the driveway can “walk” away from the dock as the trailer is impacted by the forklift traffic. In the process, it forms an energy-wasting doorway gap. A vehicle restraint holds the trailer snugly to the dock, with the back end of the trailer fully enveloped by the dock seal.

6. See the light

It generally is acknowledged that when it comes to energy savings, lighting is a no-brainer. Proper lighting is important for safety, both on the dock and inside the trailer to prevent injury and product damage. Changing out incandescent lights with LED bulbs can save energy significantly – by an estimated 69 percent.

7. Sustainability through scheduling

In a three-shift facility, trucks likely are parked in the doorway most of the day for loading and unloading. Facilities can reduce idling time that wastes fuel with good scheduling software. Making sure a doorway always is available for scheduled truck deliveries minimizes idling time and fuel waste.

8. Look up and save

High volume/low speed (HVLS) fans on the dock improve worker comfort, contributing to productivity and to energy savings in many different ways. Most HVLS fans destratify the air, lowering temperatures in the summer and raising them in the winter by about 5-8 degrees near the floor level. When fans are used to move the air, the HVAC system does not have to work overtime to maintain the desired temperature, saving energy as well as HVAC maintenance and ductwork. Fans also move a massive amount of air using a small amount of electricity.

Smart managers seek additional opportunities to save money and improve productivity and safety. In the case of the loading dock, productive approaches to getting product through the doorway can mean that the expensive energy generated within the building stays behind. In effect, the same dock equipment that protects employees can defend the bottom line as well.

Michael Brittingham is the marketing communications manager for 4Front Engineered Solutions.

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