By T.J. Kuehn
From the September 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
According to truckinfo.net there are more than two million tractor trailers that move over $1 trillion in North American freight annually—a service that supports every single business segment and economic driver in the U.S., regardless of size and scope.
The most vital components of this massive delivery network are freight terminals: the hubs that connect North American industrial centers and complete the cycle of supply and demand. A given terminal is rarely more complex than a warehouse with loading docks lined along its perimeter walls. Inside each of these facilities is a flurry of activity that moves interstate commerce at a masterful pace.
The portals from the exterior to the interiors of these facilities are the 9′ x 10′ metal sheet doors that can sometimes number in the hundreds at a single facility. These doors are viewed by most as the shipping industry itself is viewed: a necessity that is all but forgotten until it’s not running at peak performance.
According to several industry insiders, doors account for about 10% to 25% of the repair work at a given facility. To a freight terminal manager, an inoperable door means real dollars lost. And that’s not just repair costs; in a system that relies on speed and efficiency, time is money and the countdown begins the moment a door goes out of commission.
In a nutshell, door damage has one culprit: the forklift. It can be as immediate as a fork through the bottom section of a door, or the cumulative wear of daily dings to a guide track until it pinches the door closed.
Responsible freight terminal managers and vendors alike must appreciate where, why, and how damage happens and work to prevent it. An effective manufacturer will tend to approach remedies from an equipment standpoint. Bollards, for example, can guard entryways with a high risk of damage. Signage that reminds forklift operators of constant wear and tear issues like using a door chain hoist instead of forklift forks or highlighting an area’s reduced speed can be helpful. There are also countless products to assist forklift drivers during day-to-day operations: reflectors, mirrors, and painted pathways, to name a few.
Freight terminal managers benefit from identifying and installing doors and related items that will help protect their facility assets and minimize damage. They can look for product manufacturers that recognize the potential for innovating improvements for freight terminals. One particularly fruitful effort in this arena is the development of a rubber guide track that reduces the amount of impact damage done to the most commonly repaired door component, performing even in harsh conditions. These guide tracks are specifically targeted to the freight industry and are manufactured in one size: the standard 10′ for freight terminals (see Photo 1).
And when the dock doors themselves are damaged, a manager usually needs to replace the damaged sheet door, which requires a complete replacement because the panels are permanently seamed together. To speed the pace of repairs, managers can consider an offering in the industry that allows for door repairs to be performed on-site. There is a door design available that features panels engineered with an edge (patent pending) that locks into place so damaged panels can be removed one at a time for immediate repair (see Photo 2). This means lower repair costs, but it also means managers can keep spare panels on location and reduce downtime.
Repair costs will always be a factor in freight terminal management. There’s simply no way around it given the speed and constant flux necessary in its operation. The good news is mangers can look for doors and related components that mitigate the need for repair. It’s the least that can be done in an industry that quietly keeps this nation moving.