In 2013, private-label drink manufacturer Citrus Systems Inc. finally left its original 68,000-square-foot complex in Minneapolis and expanded into a 135,000-square-foot facility in west suburban Hopkins.
Unfortunately, while the new building allowed Citrus Systems to increase production of its fruit and vegetable blends, concentrated juices, teas and other custom products, it carried over the same antiquated dock equipment used in the old one. And that caused a noisy, painful problem.
The same loud “ker-THUMP” sound that forklifts accessing semi-trailers made in the old plant could still be heard in the Hopkins facility. Because of its dated pull-chain levelers, Citrus Systems’ forklift operators had to drive over a hump – the welded plate in front and a fold-down lip on the back of the leveler – every time they entered or left the trailer.
Besides the annoying sound it made, the dock leveler hump was causing extra wear and tear on forklifts and the backs of forklift operators. This whole body vibration, or “dock shock,” can lead to long-term health problems if not addressed.
Another issue was that truck restraints couldn’t be mounted on two of the docks, meaning wheel chocks had to be used to hold trucks in place during loading and unloading. While no accidents ever came of this setup, there was a safety concern.
“We had various little issues, like trailers shifting in the snow,” said Greg Nicholas, chief operating officer of Citrus Systems. “We hadn't had any reportable injuries as a result of dock levelers, but we had a couple near misses where someone didn't put a chock in, a truck was slowly moving forward, and a manager noticed there was three-quarters of an inch in the lip on the truck and stopped the forklift driver.”
In addition, shrink-wrap was stretching on the top layers of loads – especially taller loads – as the trailers jostled around. That destabilized the pallets and loads, making the products more vulnerable to damage during transit. Considering Citrus Systems employs a chemist and microbiologist to perform shelf life and microbiological product testing, this was a particularly frustrating quality control issue.
Nicholas was determined to rectify the loading dock problems that followed Citrus Systems from the old facility to the new one. As he searched for loading dock upgrades, he specifically wanted to find loading dock equipment that would improve safety and efficiency.
Citrus Systems took advantage of Rite-Hite’s fly-in program to evaluate the dock equipment it offered. After considering product offerings from several different manufacturers, in early 2014 the company outfitted its nine dock doors with Rite-Hite equipment. Products included Rite-Hite Hydraulic 4000 levelers, Dok-Lok vehicle restraints, Dok-Commander controls, and Corner-Vu safety lights. Additionally, Rite-Hite dock seals were installed on some of the doors, while others got Rite-Hite Eliminator-Gapmaster dock shelters.
According to Nicholas, the Dok-Loks and levelers have been a huge safety upgrade. For one, the smooth transition from leveler to trailer has put a permanent end to the formerly pervasive “ker-THUMP!”
“You don't run into the big hump that we used to. It's a smoother transition,” said Nicholas. “It’s easier on the product loads, easier on the shrink-wrap, and easier on the driver.”
He cited the Corner-Vu lights as another example of improved safety. Located at the top corners on the inside of each dock opening, the Corner-Vu’s acrylic tube lights offer at-a-glance status information for forklift operators. The lights automatically turn green when the trailer is locked to indicate that it's safe for forklifts to enter.
Additionally, the control system provided another safeguard. Programmed with a safe sequence of operation, the Dok-Commander prevents the leveler from being activated until the dock hook is fully engaged.
In addition to improving safety and enhancing quality control, the smoother entry has also raised productivity. Lift-truck drivers were forced to slow to a crawl to go over the hump in the old facility, but now they can maintain their speed when entering or exiting the trailer.
“Our turn time on loading a full trailer is probably down to 20 minutes,” said Nicholas.
While Nicholas admits that it’s partly due to the layout of the new warehouse, he has no doubt the new levelers play a significant factor in that productivity gain.
There were cost savings realized with the new equipment, as well.
“I don't know how many pairs of wheel chocks we lost (at the old facility),” he said. “Either truck operators would drive over them or they’d just take them. We would try to chain them up to the wall, (but it seemed like) we were buying wheel chocks every three months. The new Dok-Loks make that a thing of the past.”
The company’s maintenance costs have also dropped. Citrus Systems signed a planned maintenance contract, so its dock equipment gets regular lubrication and care. None of it has needed to be repaired or replaced in the nearly 3 years it’s been in use. That’s a significant contrast from the older-style levelers, according to Nicholas. The bumpy transition from dock to truck meant repairmen were brought in to re-weld loose pit frames and end plates about every six months.
The dock upgrades have allowed Citrus Systems to simultaneous enhance safety, cut operational costs and keep up with an increased volume of in-bound and out-bound shipments. And that deafening “ker-THUMP” sound? Like the wheel chocks and the pull-chain levelers, it's a thing of the past.