Automation IIoT

Loading Dock Safety Connects with IIoT

EP Editorial Staff | December 1, 2020

Forty years of technology advancements have improved safety and are now integrating loading-dock activities with plant systems, thus driving overall efficiency.

Various forms of loading-dock technology, connected to IIoT-based systems, greatly improve safety while providing an accurate status of loading/unloading operations.

By Chad Dillavou, Rite-Hite Products Corp.

Before the vehicle-restraint industry was created in 1980, loading-dock workers spent time and risked their own safety to manually place wheel chocks behind trailer truck tires—if they were chocking tires at all. That all changed on April 22, 1980 when Rite-Hite Corp., Milwaukee introduced the Dok-Lok system.

A conversation about trailer/dock-separation accidents at a trucking conference in 1975 got Rite-Hite founder Art White thinking about practical safety solutions. By the time OSHA mandated the use of wheel chocks in 1978 (29 CFR 1910.78), the first vehicle-restraint prototype was being tested. In 1980, the Dok-Lok became reality and, a year after it was available, OSHA recognized it as an acceptable alternative to wheel chocks.

How it works

The original design used a “rotating hook” that secured semi-trailers to loading docks by wrapping around the trailer rear-impact guard (RIG). The device helped prevent common trailer-separation accidents, notably trailer creep and dock walk, that occur when loading and unloading actions push a trailer away from the loading-dock opening.

As new trailer configurations emerged and updated standards took effect, the Dok-Lok was upgraded to ensure trucks could be safely secured at loading docks. For example, when the first RIGs were mandated by NHTSA in the 1990s, a “fish-hook” design helped better secure these types of trailers.

A few years later, restraints that use hydraulic cylinders were developed in response to the surge of air-ride suspension trailers. Hydraulic restraints proved effective at controlling the increased horizontal and vertical movement that occurs during loading and unloading of air-ride trailers. By keeping trailers secured to the loading dock, hydraulic restraints helped prevent loading-dock accidents and, simultaneously, reduced the opportunity for contamination.

This was followed by a secondary “shadow hook” design in 2012. It addressed the need for facilities to secure intermodal chassis trailers, trailers with obstructed RIGs, and traditional trailers. Advanced restraints are now built with an auto re-fire feature for additional safety in the case of trailer movement, and to deter tampering with trailers already secured at the dock.

Early improvements of loading-dock controls included integrating advanced controls for restraints and other pieces of loading-dock equipment. By interlocking pieces of equipment, an advanced control box can be programmed to operate in a safe sequence. For example, a loading-dock leveler cannot be placed into a trailer for loading/unloading unless that trailer has been safely secured by the vehicle restraint. These improvements have given way to more recent advancements that are gaining traction at many loading docks.

Going beyond the traditional red/green lights on the inside and outside walls of the loading dock, new LEDs have provided additional at-a-glance communication for forklift operators in the upper corners of the dock doors and rear corners of the dock-leveler pit at each dock position. In recent years, systems that include sensors with audible and visual LED alerts enhance safety by clearly communicating potential dangers to workers inside and outside the loading dock.

By clearly communicating dangers, workers are able to spend less time worrying about risk and more time focusing on their work. Enhancing safety can effectively improve productivity at the loading dock. As the technology improves, safety and efficiency are likely to get better.

Making the loading dock smart

Recent advances to loading dock equipment controls have blazed the trail for “smart docks.” Facility managers now can connect advanced loading-dock controls into an IIoT platform to garner a wide variety of data and use it to inform decisions related to productivity, energy consumption, and proactive safety.

The same sensors that allow loading-dock controls to interlock various pieces of equipment are being used to communicate this operational information through IIoT technology. Advanced IIoT platforms can include an energy module that tracks temperature data and provides increased environmental control. Most IIoT platforms will include some type of scheduling and loading-dock coordination. However, the best IIoT systems integrate loading-dock management software that can help control detention and demurrage.

Safety and efficiency often go together. Helping reduce the risk of accidents and injury at the loading dock is a key element to improving plant efficiency. As smart technology emerges, the future promises to deliver even more safety at a critical point in the supply chain.

Chad Dillavou is the Director Product Management for Rite-Hite Products Corp. and Rite-Hite Digital Solutions, Milwaukee. A member of LODEM, Dillavou has more than 20 years of experience in the loading-dock industry.

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