Better doorways open up potential for shipping improvements
Third-party warehouses are not what they used to be. No longer just storage facilities, a number of distribution companies are finding themselves the central point where bulk shipments of merchandise are deployed to individual stores across the country. One of these distribution companies is the Tibbett & Britten Group Canada.
A distribution company with several million square feet of warehouse space across the country, Tibbett & Britten’s Stoney Creek, Ontario, facility functions around the clock to serve major retailers with locations throughout Ontario and the West.
"Our customers demand that we get volumes of product to their stores accurately and on time," says Rick Ladouceur, Tibbett & Britten’s director of construction and materials handling. "All the parts of the process have to do their job."
One of the most crucial parts to that process is the performance of the doorways. "We know from experience, backups happen with poorly-chosen dock door equipment," says Ladouceur.
Warehouse management is not just about how much inventory a facility holds, but also about the ability of a facility to achieve the maximum rate of flow from the manufacturers to the retail outlets. Ladouceur set up the Stoney Creek facility as a cross-docking operation to help the responsive sorting of merchandise and to reduce costs.
During the busiest times of the day, one truck after another can line up to access a particular shipping or receiving door. On a 1,000-foot long wall of doorways, Ladouceur says, "we cannot afford to have any one of these openings tied up because of equipment problems."
The area between the receiving dock wall and the conveyor is tight, and depending on the level of traffic, pallets can accumulate on the dock floor, making maneuverability tight. With so much for a forklift driver to keep track of, not to mention keeping an eye on the clock, the door can suffer collision, busted panels, bent track and torn seals.
A doorway also consists of a lot more than just doors. Distribution centre managers must also plan for a tight door-seal when the truck is parked at the dock, safe forklift access to the trailer and efficient truck docking.
Tibbett & Britten decided to use a style of knockout door designed specifically for distribution centre docks. "We went with solid panel sectional knockout doors because we’ve seen our doors getting pounded out of action time after time," says Ladouceur. They chose TKO Welterweight doors and dock equipment from Serco, based in London, Ontario.
Now that the new equipment is in place, when a truck backs up to the dock, the trailer makes contact with steel face dock bumper plates that protect the dock edge. The back of the trailer fits into the dock seal, and a dock attendant activates a safety lock vehicle restraint to securely hold the truck in place during unloading. Once the truck is locked, the dock worker can throw the knockout door open and a hydraulic dock-leveller bridges the gap between the trailer and the warehouse, meeting the varying trailer bed height serviced at the loading dock.
Tibbett & Britten’s choice of dock equipment helps create doorways that are sealed, safe, productive and accessible, which means on-schedule shipping.
The new doors are also dent-resistant, featuring a door guide track designed to enable the door to be pushed out by an impact, but not pushed in for security and wind resistance.
Door tracks generally take the most punishing blows from forklifts, and on standard doors sheet metal tracks crumple easily which makes opening the door difficult. Tibbett & Britten added a reinforced track option at the lower three feet of the door. This section of the door, made of thick plastic, is almost indestructible, says the Schmitz Company.
In a busy distribution centre such as Stoney Creek, the material handling process begins and ends at the dock door, not to mention a heavy investment in equipment and systems in between. Properly outfitted docks help ensure that products flow through smoothly and on schedule.
Alison Dunn is the assistant editor of PEM Plant Engineering and Maintenance. She prepared this article with files from The Schmitz Company.