June 16, 2014
material handling update | Dock Equipment

The most vulnerable place in your DC

The most vulnerable place in your DC

Security threats abound in the supply chain. But having the right dock equipment can greatly reduce the risk at your facility.

By David Maloney

Sartori Co. knows that its reputation is on the line with every shipment of cheese that leaves its premises. The fourth-generation family-owned company prides itself on making quality and food safety top priorities as it fills orders from its 100,000-square-foot converting center in Plymouth, Wis. The facility converts 40-pound blocks of cheese and 20-pound cheese wheels into grated, shredded, and packaged cheese products.

Like all food manufacturers, Sartori also has a responsibility to maintain quality throughout its supply chain. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which President Obama signed into law in 2011, sets guidelines for assuring the security of the nation's food supply against such threats as contamination, tampering, theft, and terrorism. It charges the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with regulating how goods are grown, harvested, and processed. So in essence, the FSMA covers the entire supply chain. And distribution center integrity is a key part of assuring security.

Many would be surprised to learn that the most vulnerable place in their facility is their docks. Docks are where thieves, rodents, dust, and outside temperatures can steal, contaminate, or spoil precious cargo. That's why companies like Sartori have taken steps to shore up this vital area of their distribution operations. They have selected dock equipment with an eye toward choosing items that not only aid in productivity, but also protect products from spoiling, damage, and tampering.

Sartori has six dock positions at the Plymouth operation, which it uses for receiving hard cheeses from its two production facilities along with other ingredients and packaging supplies. Once the cheese is converted into store-ready products, it will move through the same shipping docks onto outbound trailers. To keep these trailers snug to the dock faces, Sartori relies on vehicle restraint systems from dock equipment manufacturer Rite-Hite.

Vehicle restraints lock to the rear impact guard of the trailer, keeping the trailer secure to the dock. They're designed to deter thieves from moving the trailer away from the dock in order to steal items inside the vehicle or to gain entrance to the facility itself. Restraints work much better than wheel chocks for stabilizing trailers, assuring that the trailer will not creep away from the dock, which can happen after repeated entries by lift trucks into the trailer.

Restraints also protect the trailer from being driven off accidently before loading or unloading is complete. Plus, the restraint reduces the chance of trailers' collapsing from their wheels popping up.

Restraints can even be wired into security systems. If the restraint is tampered with or not released properly, an alert can be sent to the security system.

Once a vehicle is properly restrained, the next challenge becomes protecting the trailer's contents from theft and in the case of temperature-sensitive products, contamination. This is where a vertically stored dock leveler can be useful.

A dock leveler acts as a bridge between the dock and the trailer bed. The alignment is rarely perfect when a truck backs up to a loading dock—there is normally a gap of a few inches between the two. Deploying a dock leveler, which is typically a large plate, allows lift trucks, pallet jacks, and people to pass smoothly from trailer to dock.

Dock levelers come in two types—horizontal storing and vertical storing varieties. The first kind, the horizontal storing leveler, is stored within a pit in the floor. However, these models can present a safety and security risk. In order for the levelers to be deployed, trailer doors must be opened when the trailer is still at least 10 feet away from the dock (this ensures there's enough room for the doors to swing open without hitting the leveler). However, opening the doors outside might cause products to spill or shift, and it could compromise the temperatures within both the trailer and the dock. Another disadvantage is that deployment relies on the driver—who may be independent or working for a third party—rather than facility personnel, to open the trailer doors, creating an opportunity for theft or tampering.

To eliminate these risks, Sartori chose the second type of leveler—vertical storing hydraulic models, also from Rite-Hite—for use at the Plymouth facility. As the name implies, vertical storing levelers store upright at the dock area against the door opening. A principal advantage of vertical levelers is that they allow trailers to back in completely to the dock before the leveler is deployed, security seals on the trailers are broken, and the trailer doors are opened. This helps protect the integrity of the products, maintains proper temperatures in the trailer, and reduces the chance of theft. Vertical storing levelers require only a 12-inch pit, compared with 20 to 24 inches for horizontal storing levelers, which makes them easier to install.

The vertical storing leveler also seals directly to the concrete floor and its two sides, closing the gaps between the dock and the trailer. "It keeps the inside elements in and the outside elements out," says Troy Bergum, product manager for Rite-Hite Co. At Sartori, the vertical levelers' sealing capabilities help maintain an internal dock temperature of 34 to 36 degrees, which is ideal for the company's cheese products.

On top of that, they allow overhead doors to close all the way to the pit floor, preventing entry by unauthorized people or animals.

As an added measure of protection against temperature fluctuations as well as dust and pests, Sartori also uses both dock seals and soft-sided dock shelters.

Dock seals are designed to provide a tight seal around the trailer sides and top. The devices are typically made of foam with a covering material that allows them to compress into the interior of the trailer for a tight fit that seals out dirt and outside air. Seals are best suited for dock openings of 9 by 10 feet and operations where most of the trucks and trailers entering or leaving the dock are of a consistent size.

Shelters are better suited for operations that need to accommodate trucks and trailers of varying sizes and for dock openings that are over 10 by 10 feet. Typically made out of fabric, shelters extend out farther toward the trailer or truck and are designed to cover any gaps between the vehicle and the dock. They offer the flexibility to create a seal along the entire width of the trailer, regardless of what that width might be. While they're designed to offer protection against the elements, they do not have the same climate-control capabilities that compressed seals do.

In addition to standard seals and shelters, equipment makers offer hoods made out of fabric or metal that fit over the tops of the seals to protect them from the buildup of snow and ice. Many vendors will also provide customized seals that fit dock leveler pits and trailer tops to further protect them against rain, snow, and extreme temperatures.

While no single system can prevent all theft and contamination, properly deploying the right dock equipment can greatly reduce the chance of your facility's being the weakest link in the supply chain.

About the Author

David Maloney
Editorial Director
David Maloney has been a journalist for more than 35 years and is currently the editorial director for DC Velocity and Supply Chain Quarterly magazines. In this role, he is responsible for the editorial content of both brands of Agile Business Media. Dave joined DC Velocity in April of 2004. Prior to that, he was a senior editor for Modern Materials Handling magazine. Dave also has extensive experience as a broadcast journalist. Before writing for supply chain publications, he was a journalist, television producer and director in Pittsburgh. Dave combines a background of reporting on logistics with his video production experience to bring new opportunities to DC Velocity readers, including web videos highlighting top distribution and logistics facilities, webcasts and other cross-media projects. He continues to live and work in the Pittsburgh area.

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