From workplace safety to cost-containment and productivity concerns, today’s facilities managers have a lot on their plates. Fortunately, there are some areas of plant operations in which managers can address all of these issues, including the one that has traditionally been among the most problematic — the loading dock.
In today’s competitive global economy, loading docks are expected to move more materials than ever before. Because of that, docks are busier than ever before — and generally larger, as well. These trends present challenges from both a safety and energy-efficiency standpoint. With more shipments going in and out, dock doors are opened more frequently, allowing expensive heated or cooled air to get out, and potentially hazardous elements — like wind, rain, snow and ice — to get in. While slippery, wet or uncomfortably cold conditions can create safety concerns, they can also sap worker morale, both of which hamper productivity.
There are a number of ways to simultaneously make loading docks and surrounding facilities more energy efficient and more comfortable for employees — and save tens and thousands of dollars a year in energy costs and lost productivity in the process.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Tighten the seal. Poorly sealed openings on the dock are perfect passageways for energy losses. Tractor trailers leave gaps on either side of the dock while they’re being serviced. The gaps are significant enough to easily allow unwanted air to flow in and conditioned air to flow out. Also, water can get into the dock, and produces unsafe, uncomfortable conditions resulting in injuries and product damage. By installing modern dock seals and shelters, these gaps can be closed and the elements blocked out.
- Don’t forget about the dock’s fourth side. Dock seals and shelters are used to seal three sides of the opening at the dock. However, energy also escapes through a fourth side of the dock, the underside, a place where the dock leveler, trailer, and dock seal or shelter all meet at the bottom of the door opening. Most warehouses do not consider sealing the underside of the dock opening. By installing under-leveler seals, this overlooked area can be closed to prevent energy loss.
- Install high-volume/low speed (HVLS) fans to move air. Everyone knows that warm air rises … which may mean your facility’s HVAC system is only reaching its temperature set-point in the few feet just below the ceiling — not exactly where your employees are working. HVLS fans can move warm air near the ceiling back down toward the floor and into more areas where it’s needed. HVLS fans move air better and require less energy than conventional fans, generating an air cycle that allows for a more consistent air temperature from floor to ceiling. In addition to worker comfort, this will equate to significant energy savings. A single HVLS fan can reduce annual heating and cooling costs by as much as 20 to 30 percent, depending on the climate.
- Seal the pit floor. Energy loss from the gaps around a loading dock can add up quickly. By installing vertical-storing dock levelers, the overhead dock doors can close down tightly to the pit floor when a loading dock is not being serviced. Sealing the floor provides more control over interior temperatures at the dock and in the facility.
- Upgrade to innovative door technology. An industrial door’s open-and-close time (cycle time) and seal tightness are both more important factors in its energy efficiency than its R value. Doors with low-cycle time allow for air infiltration and potentially high energy loss. By installing high-speed doors, people and equipment are able to move through door openings quickly, reducing energy loss. Some technically advanced high-speed, roll-up doors can operate at up to 100 inches per second.
- Go vertical. Some companies use vertical-storing dock levelers to enhance a more energy-efficient dock. The leveler allows overhead dock doors to seal tightly to the pit floor when a semi trailer isn’t present.
- Weighted, rain-diverting header seals. Water that gets into the dock produces an uncomfortable and unsafe environment. It also can result in product damage. The problem can be addressed effectively with rain-diverting header seals. The key is to choose one that handles tall and short trailers alike, delivers the right degree of gravity-based pressure where needed and withstands repeated punishment by trailers over time.
Gaining control of energy costs is a matter of planning and executing. With energy prices expected to rise, it’s time to take control of the loading dock by improving the environmental conditions at the dock and in the facility.
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