What’s leaking, dock?

Plugging your air and light gaps can avoid an unwelcome delivery at loading areas.

By Michael Brittingham February 15, 2013

The idea of going green and increasing sustainability is becoming a fact of corporate life, and the supply chain plays a major role in these efforts. According to research conducted by an independent environmental consultant, the supply chain and logistics operations represent as much as 40% to 60% of a company’s environmental footprint. The energy required for shipping products, heating and cooling the distribution facilities, and fueling the trucks that transport products to their destinations all put a strain on the environment, natural resources, and potentially companies’ bottom line.

The benefits of creating a more sustainable loading dock go beyond simply protecting resources. Facilities can reduce costs, enhance brand equity, and strengthen relationships with customers across many industries by improving supply chain sustainability.

A holistic awareness of the supply chain and its environmental, social, and economic impacts is essential for companies that want to seize the opportunity to increase sustainability. Many facilities are making adjustments to policies and procedures that will allow them to run a more energy-efficient business, and many are turning their focus toward the loading dock.

For a variety of reasons, the loading dock area presents significant challenges when it comes to reducing airflow from entering or exiting the facility. If the dock is not sealed properly, energy loss can be substantial and steal thousands of dollars from the operating budget, defeating the good intentions of the sustainability program.

Completely sealing the loading dock area to increase sustainability requires consideration of a number of factors.

Protect the dock door

Forklifts are essential for loading and unloading trailers. These vehicles are forced to maneuver product within a confined space, which often results in damage to dock doors from forklift impacts, especially when employing traditional metal overhead doors. These doors are similar to a standard garage door, hardly built to survive a direct impact from a forklift.

Even if a traditional door is not completely damaged to the point of repair or replacement, the guide rollers can still be removed from their sheet metal door track guide after an impact, causing misalignment of the door panel, which creates costly gaps and can even render doors inoperable.

A traditional metal door style may be fine for low-usage docks, but for busy facilities, as most distribution centers are, impactable dock doors will save the maintenance budget and boost energy efficiency and sustainability programs to new levels.

As the name implies, impactable dock doors do not resist the force of the impact from a forklift or other material handling equipment. Instead, the heavy-duty retractable plungers release the panel from the door guide, absorbing the impact and preventing damage. A quick pull sets the door back in place, making it operational in just minutes and once again protecting the doorway against forklifts and energy loss.

In addition to energy-saving initiatives within the building, supply chain managers are looking to reduce truck idling time that leads to fuel waste. Quickly restoring a door to operation and making sure a doorway is available for scheduled trucks minimizes that idle time, which reduces fuel consumption and unnecessary pollution.

Seal the gaps at the pit

Standard pit-mounted dock levelers provide safe trailer access for forklifts, but the nature of their design creates gaps along the perimeter of the leveler where air infiltration and escape can occur, creating an inviting environment for energy loss.

However, there is a solution to help prevent energy loss through the gaps around the dock leveler. Most new and existing pit-style dock levelers can be outfitted with an advanced weather seal system comprised of a combination of durable open-cell foam and heavy-duty vinyl that provides a superior perimeter seal along the sides and rear of the dock leveler to block dirt, debris, and insects, and—most importantly—prevent energy loss.

And as an additional layer of protection against energy loss on the loading dock, steel leveler platforms can be coated on the underside with spray foam insulation to minimize the platform’s ability to conduct heat or cold, further sealing off the dock from the elements.

Tighten the seal on trailers

Most docks utilize seals or shelters to provide an effective barrier against the elements to keep the dock area safe and efficient. Dock seals and shelters are a critical component in containing cooled air in the dock areas of temperature regulated and cold storage facilities. These flexible structures can withstand damaging force and compression when a trailer backs up to the wall for years of reliable performance.

In seals designed with a steel backing, the solid mass is replaced with compressible foam on a galvanized steel frame. This offers superior durability because the material will not rot, split, crack, or warp. Using plated screws with load-spreading washers provides a strong, positive seal between internal and external environments, locking out energy loss and the elements.

Employing the proper vehicle restraint that secures the trailer snugly against the dock seal is key to creating this positive seal. Vehicle restraints also provide protection for forklift drivers by preventing trailer creep and add an extra measure to the doorway seal. If the trailer is allowed to slightly pull away from the wall, the doorway seal becomes less effective than one that is held tight to the dock doorway.

Shine the light on sustainability

Proper lighting on the dock and inside the trailer helps prevent injuries and damage to product. Replacing standard incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient, long-lasting LED lights can make a significant difference in energy usage. Studies have suggested that switching out 100 incandescent lights with LEDs can save the average warehouse facility $60,000 over the life of the lights.

Standard dock lights have the potential to suffer damage from a forklift. Impactable LED dock lights are designed for use in the toughest applications. With a rugged housing and lens, they are built to withstand the most severe forklift, trailer, and product load impacts without damage to the light.

Most of these lights can easily be retrofitted to an existing facility or installed into new facilities during construction to provide hours of increased safety and energy savings at the loading dock.

Breeze into energy savings

The HVLS large fan was designed to create a comfortable environment for employees while maintaining an energy-efficient facility. These fans produce a large cylindrical column of air to effectively circulate a variety of spaces and regulate the temperature of large facilities. The selection of sizes and power configurations are suitable for a variety of environments, and the fan’s ability to be run in forward and reverse enables year-round savings.

While these fans help keep employees comfortable, they also can protect product integrity and improve working conditions in a facility. Air circulation helps keep food and produce dry and fresh, reducing spoilage, while floor condensation is also minimized to keep floors drier and safer for foot and motorized traffic.

Execute movements with purpose

Utilizing the proper loading dock equipment is the first step in maintaining sustainability on the loading dock. Configuring equipment to operate in a predetermined sequence ensures that the dock offers protection for both dock workers and the energy program.

Master control panels combine the separate controllers for vehicle restraints, dock levelers, overhead doors, and dock lights into one box. This not only saves wiring and installation costs, but also allows the equipment to be programmed such that the door cannot open or remain open and the dock light runs only while loading is in process.

Keep an eye on logistics

 Management systems for yards and docks use state-of-the-art technology to provide facilities with increased visibility, productivity, and sustainability in their yard, loading dock, and warehouse areas.

Most yard management systems utilize RFID and GPS technology to provide real-time, accurate information to help facilities keep track of everything going on in the yard. From scheduling to reporting, these systems help increase visibility, productivity, and sustainability to perform the most meaningful movements in the yard.

Dock management systems keep the dock running at optimal efficiency by collecting critical equipment analytics to help make important decisions to increase sustainability. These systems allow the entire loading dock to be visible, thus increasing efficiency and keeping the loading dock running at peak performance.

A sealed loading dock area is one key to a successful sustainability program. A properly designed loading dock system will enable operations to achieve both peak energy and optimal logistics efficiency. Product enters and leaves a facility through the loading dock area, and it is there that supply chain sustainability begins.

Michael Brittingham is marketing communications manager for 4Front Engineered Solutions, Carrollton, Tex.