The loading bay might not be the most glamorous part of the goods distribution network, but it is vital to the efficiency and safety of the overall process. Maintaining and monitoring the different elements of the area is an important task because any delays, accidents or damage can be expensive in terms of the opportunity cost of lost production, or because of the remediation works required.
As a general rule, equipment supplier Ritehite says that there are five elements to ensuring proper maintenance of dock equipment, specifically dock levellers: cleaning; lubricating; adjusting; inspecting and documentation. If technicians thoroughly clean equipment and components, they ensure longer life and a more efficient workplace. Regular inspections and cleaning also prevent dirt and debris from clogging working parts and causing premature wear.
Ritehite suggests that technicians apply correct lubricants in the proper places to ensure equipment works efficiently. This action means downtime is reduced, since components are protected from wear, moisture and corrosion.
Equipment that is improperly adjusted can waste time and create hazards. All necessary components should be adjusted properly to make sure the equipment works smoothly and consistently.
Technicians must thoroughly inspect loading dock equipment and should be able to bring small problems to the attention of whoever has responsibility for the environment before they become big issues. Predictive maintenance solutions are offered as needed.
Finally, documentation is important to indicate that service work has been completed, and also to indicate areas of problems. The company says that this measure can save potential headaches down the road.
MAINTENANCE IN DETAIL
Easilift Loading Systems has been involved with dock equipment for more than 50 years, so has seen the evolution of different elements and technologies in that area. When it comes to dock levellers, there are a few different options, including swing-lip, telescopic and manual units. But a common design factor is simplicity. “They are a solid piece of equipment where not much can go wrong if maintained correctly,” says Cameron Robertson, service manager at Easilift Loading Systems. “It’s a simple operation – they lift up, go on to the back of the truck, and are designedto be operator-friendly.”
When it comes to maintenance schedules, docks should be serviced twice a year, recommends Robertson. “It obviously depends on the amount of use, but we typically service levellers every six months – once a year as a minimum,” he explains. “The inspection process includes checking the equipment is functioning correctly and that all of the hydraulic, mechanical, safety and electrical components are free from damage and up to standard.”
On the hydraulics side, the process is a lot more in-depth. “We raise the dock leveller up, isolate the equipment and then check the hydraulics, specifically the power pack unit,” says Robertson. “We want to ensure that there are no leaks, and we also check for hose damage and also the oil levels to see if they need topping up.” Robertson says that operators can normally tell if there is an issue with the leveller, as there are some specific tell-tale signs that creep in. “When you raise the leveller, you’ll find that if it judders or starts creeping down, it could indicate that either the oil level is low, or that there is a damaged hose or other part of the hydraulics system,” he explains.
It’s a similar story on the mechanical side, says Robertson. “We check the welds – such as the fabrication welding on the back edge – and make sure they haven’t cracked. We also make any repairs that might be needed, making sure that the toe guards on the leveller are operating correctly. Again, we recommend six-monthly inspections, once a year at least, to comply with safety standards and regulations.”
“We say twice a year because usually in a warehouse the dock levellers get a lot of use, and with regular inspections and maintenance you can reduce the amount of downtime on the equipment by proactively checking and replacing parts prior to them breaking.
Outside of routine maintenance – which takes around an hour for each visit – the amount of dock leveller downtime is minimal, Robertson points out. “There are very few parts that can fail. Outside of the two inspections every year, usually, the chances of something failing would be down to operator error or site damage.”
In contrast to dock levellers, dock shelters are typically more straightforward when it comes to maintenance. “There is a protective cover that goes all the way around the dock opening to keep the rain out,” he explains. With a standard, collapsible shelter, Robertson says the maintenance is simple, as there are no electrical or hydraulic elements that need to be checked.
“Usually the only time the shelters fail is when they are subjected to excessive wind or damaged by trucks. Due to the simplicity of their design, operators can also go outside of the loading bay and carry out visual checks on the shelter.
THE COST OF INFLATION
For the basic shelters, the maintenance schedule is simple, but that’s not the case when it comes to inflatable items. Typically used when loading or unloading where temperature control is required, these inflatable items are formed of airbags all the way around to ensure a tight seal between the dock area and the vehicle. “These bags can rip or wear over time,” explains Robertson. “There are also electrical components such as the blower motor – which inflates the shelter – that require an inspection.”
He adds that these shelters are beneficial for extended loading tasks, such as dealing with double-deck trailers. “It means that you are protected for the elements, which is important if you are going to be exposed to cold or wet weather for an long period of time.”
Another supplier keeping it simple when it comes to shelters is Hörmann, which offers a range of models that will also fit snugly to ensure heating bills are kept down and protect staff and goods.
The company’s flap dock shelters consist of a tear-resistant material mounted on a galvanised steel frame that is said to fit all size of vehicle and trailer. When it comes to maintenance, Hörmann ensures that components with known life expectancies are monitored and replaced accordingly before they fail, it says. The maintenance process is carried out by trained specialists, ensuring that a thorough check is made to pick up on any possible faults.