When New Belgium Brewing Co. was founded in 1991, "we didn't even really have any docks," says facility/project manager Bruce Clark. But that has changed. The Fort Collins, Colo.-based company has grown to become the third-largest craft beer brewer in the country, with brands such as Fat Tire, Ranger IPA, 1554, and Shift. It's now one of the nation's 10 largest brewers, distributing its wares to 39 states and the District of Columbia. Since 1995, New Belgium has operated out of two facilities in Fort Collins: a 205,000-square-foot brewery and packaging center with 25 loading docks and a separate 180,000-square-foot distribution center with 20 loading dock bays.
In the last five years or so, the brewer has experienced a growth spurt, with production soaring to more than 945,000 barrels in 2014 from fewer than 583,000 in 2009. But with more product coming through the DC, problems began to crop up. That was particularly true at the dock bays, where wear and tear were taking their toll on the equipment and the forklift operators who worked there.
"We had a lot of equipment failure, which obviously increased the cost of repairs. We had a lack of safety procedures set up with our dock system. And then, we were getting complaints from employees [about] back, leg, and shoulder issues just from the rough approach from the leveler to the truck," Clark says.
Travel across the transition areas of the dock—the places where the lip meets the dock, the leading edge of the lip, and the edge where the dock meets the warehouse floor—can cause whole-body vibration for lift-truck operators, explains Rite-Hite product manager Troy Bergum. "Whole-body vibration is a major issue when it comes to skeletal damage of various sorts," he says. "There's a lot related to leg and back and neck injury from crossing that bridge going into the trailer. A forklift driver can cross that bridge over 100,000 times a year," he notes.
The equipment was sustaining damage as well. "The components on the levelers weren't holding up," Clark recalls. "We were getting cracks in the leveler and separation on a lot of the welds, and springs were breaking—just a lot of little things. It was a constant problem." On top of that, the vehicle restraints weren't standing up to the hard usage. Added to that, quite a bit of product was being lost to damage as lift trucks entered the trailer.
New Belgium brought in Arbon Equipment, a Rite-Hite company whose services include loading dock planning, building, and design, for help. The dock consultants conducted an assessment and recommended replacing the existing equipment with new gear from Rite-Hite: hydraulic dock levelers, Dok-Lok vehicle restraints, and a communication and control system.
The difference was immediately noticeable.
First, there was the reduction in "dock shock." The new levelers feature what Rite-Hite calls "Smooth Transition" technology: a shorter crown height (which minimizes the gap between the dock and lip), a longer leading edge (on the lip), and a constant-radius rear hinge that Bergum says eliminates the gap between the floor and the leveler. "No longer do you get the rumble-strip effect," says Bergum. "You actually glide across the back of the leveler."
"The transition from the finish floor to the leveler to the trailer is just much smoother all around," says Clark. Damage and repairs to equipment have dropped to normal maintenance levels, he adds.
In addition, the levelers installed at New Belgium include a safety lip to keep lift trucks from driving off the dock, preventing injury as well as damage to products and vehicles. When the leveler is in stored position, it creates a seven-inch-high barrier. The safety lip will stop a 10,000-pound load moving at four miles an hour, according to Bergum.
Clark says complaints about physical problems have decreased—and productivity has increased. "We've had less downtime because of equipment failure," he reports.
Because of the smoother entry, lift trucks are less subject to Joséling as they enter the trailer and are not as likely to hit cases. The result: "There's been less product that we've lost or damaged, so there, again, there's less downtime for cleanup or restocking," says Clark.
As for how the trailers are secured to the dock, New Belgium opted for vehicle restraints designed to address all four major types of dock accidents: premature departure of the truck from the dock; truck landing-gear collapse; "trailer creep"—where the trailer gradually moves away from the dock as it's loaded; and trailer popup, where the trailer can be upended. The device it chose, the Dok-Lok restraint, has a hook that actually comes up and wraps over the top of the rear-impact guard or ICC bar. The unit is also designed to float with the trailer, so it can maintain contact even as the trailer moves up or down during loading or unloading.
For added safety, the vehicle restraint system has been integrated with a communication and control system. After the restraint engages, a red light comes on to signal the truck driver that he or she should not pull away. At the same time, a green light illuminates inside the DC to let the forklift driver know it's safe to start loading or unloading.
Clark says New Belgium has been "extremely pleased" with Rite-Hite and Arbon, as well as with the equipment itself. In fact, the brewer is installing similar Rite-Hite dock levelers in the new distribution center it's building in Asheville, N.C. And it will do the same at a new Fort Collins DC, which is planned to replace the current leased facility in 2017. Says Clark: "It makes my life easier, so we'll continue to be partners with Rite-Hite and Arbon and continue putting product out the door."