The nation’s supply chain continues to face difficulties and delays, especially during the pandemic era boost in e-commerce on top of the demands of the holiday season.
Now, finding methods of improving efficiency and speed is imperative for warehouse companies, dock equipment managers, and the trucking industry.
“Efficiency is about clear, routine operations with reduced manual steps and communication with everyone that is working the dock area, including the transportation drivers,” said Blue Giant Equipment Corp.’s director of engineered solutions, Gerard Biasutto.
Delayed or missed deliveries, on top of driver annoyance, are common challenges for many fleets–especially given the current difficulties surrounding the truck driver shortage.
“I am frequently speaking with drivers about the growing delays at shippers’ docks,” said Grand Island Express’ director of operations, Deen Albert. “Although we are constantly reviewing and revising our delay [and] detention pay to our drivers, this is a growing frustration for drivers and is a threat to driver retention in our industry.”
Additionally, loading docs require regular maintenance, updates, and planning to keep productivity levels high.
“The loading dock is often an ignored place from a maintenance and equipment standpoint, but it is the first and last entry point for the product,” said director of marketing at Ideal Warehouse, Dirk Seis.
To keep less-than-truckload operations working smoothly and on time, the loading dock must keep hours of service open for as long as possible, noted the operations leader of productivity and efficiency at Averitt Express, Amos Rogan.
“Much like the airline industry, the customer expectation is for those flights to depart and arrive timely to make service,” he said. “LTL is the same in that we must hit our schedules to meet the expectations of our customers.”
Of course, proper communication is the most important part of keeping dock shipments moving as safe as possible, Rogan added.
“If you don’t have a good plan of how shipments are going to be processed, you will see dock associates not moving at their highest potential,” he said, adding that project planning includes mapping out routes so that cross-dock movement can take place smoothly. “Anyone working the dock will only be as good as the plan they are working with.”
Still, the biggest issue when it comes to delays at loading docks is typically understaffing.
“As a carrier, we can see that the staging areas are becoming more and more congested,” said Grant Island Express’ Albert. “In certain circumstances, this can be due to a lack of space, but in many circumstances, this is due to an inefficient or overloaded workflow. This creates a visual illustration directly to our drivers and adds to the delay concerns that are already mounting.”
Understanding a dock’s layout is also particularly important when it comes to timely deliveries and pickups.
“We measure our productivity in not only how many pounds per hour we move across the dock but also how many feet per shipment a dock associate travels,” noted Averitt’s Rogan. “If you are shipping trailers on one end of the dock and loading on the other, you’re wasting valuable time traveling back and forth for each shipment.”
Although the issues around potential delays and efficiency are causing further problems for the supply chain, Levinson and Stefani’s Ken Levinson doesn’t want carriers to jump the gun in onboarding new drivers to meet these demands, as safety training around this type of transportation is imperative.
“Everyone understands the pressures of getting trucks loaded, but we always need to keep safety in mind,” he said. “Like anything else, it may be busy and we may want to get things done quickly and get back home, but that doesn’t mean anything should be done unsafely.”
For companies bringing new transportation workers to the loading docks for the first time, Levinson urges that they prioritize safety training efforts as much as possible.
“This is a good time to reiterate protocols to make sure loads are safely sealed and that people are kept safe,” he said.