Avoiding Risks

There are ways to prevent damage to freight and equipment in cross-docking operations.

By Rick Warren

The trucking industry is facing new challenges and demands every day. With the increase in government regulations and customer demands, the pressures on daily operation performance has never been higher. According to Truckinfo.net, a relatively low operating profit margin of 4.8 percent is the industry average.

With tight operating margins, government regulations and external challenges can increase the pressure on operational leaders to find new ways to be more efficient. Industry organizations are constantly looking at ways to reduce costs based on these narrow margins, and it’s important for lift truck companies to develop solutions that have a direct impact to the customers’ bottom line.

In cross-docking operations specifically, productivity is critical, as the company and its operators are dealing with someone else’s freight. The most effective way of doing business is moving the freight throughout the network in the least amount of time with the least amount of touching points. The more touching points there are in the network, the greater the risk is for damage. In a cross-docking operation, potential damage can occur in three key areas: to the customer’s product, to the equipment and to the property.

Damage to the Customer’s Product

Loads can shift while in transit, making them susceptible to damage. Dunnage bags, also known as airbags or inflatable bags, are commonly used between loads to secure and stabilize the load. Some companies have a pump connected to the building, in which the lift truck operator must get off the truck to reach for the hose and proceed to inflate the bags. This is a good solution, but it has an impact on productivity.

An alternative solution to this problem is having an integrated dunnage bag inflator with front-mount hose storage, making it always available at point of use. This type of dunnage bag operates off lift truck power, and the mounting location is outside the driver’s line of sight to help prevent driver distraction or view blockage.

Many of the loads being moved in a cross-docking operation are large or awkward sizes, making them difficult to handle. These loads of different shapes and sizes can pose a real challenge in terms of safe and efficient handling. One way to quickly and reliably secure these loads is by using a truck winch, which is added to the top of the mast to secure loads that are longer than the lift truck can accommodate. An additional option is to weld a chain hook to heavy-duty brackets on the lift truck’s fender, giving the operator an option to pull awkward loads out of the trailer. These hook mounts provide an advantage by reducing stress on the hydraulic cylinder compared to mast-mounted chain anchors.

Damage to Equipment and Property

Lift trucks are an integral part of cross-docking operations, as they act as media to transfer freight at the various touching points — and each touching point has a risk for damage. As the media or tool to transfer loads, lift trucks themselves are also at risk for damage in the process.

Too often, lift truck operators back over dock plates too fast without raising the carriage and attachment. As a result, the dock plate frequently flips up, catches the bottom retention blocks and tears the attachment off the truck. The repair can be expensive and time consuming. It is important to reduce reverse travel speed to minimize dock-plate flip-up that can damage the carriage and attachment.

Dock plates also can flip up and hit the underside of trucks driving over them. Powertrain components that are exposed can be severely damaged from these events, even causing the equipment to break down. The ideal design is one with a provision to protect critical powertrain components such as the engine oil pan, torque converter and transmission. This frame design provides protection on a transition to a steep grade or when the lift truck is entering trailers that are not leveled with the dock.

Lift trucks also incur damage from contact with trailers and loads, as do the trailer walls from contact with the lift truck’s fenders and tires. One way to reduce incidents is by welding a thick rub rail to the lift truck frame. When there is contact with trailers and doors, the rub rail will most likely make contact first, protecting the lift truck’s tires and wheels, as well as the actual trailers.

Lastly, work lights are easily damaged by running into trailer load beams and other obstructions. A key component of smart lift truck design is the placement of the work lights inside the driver’s compartment. This protects them from hitting shelving and load beams in trailers. Additionally, a secondary but equally important benefit of this design is that it maintains the overall height of the lift truck.

Damage to dock property also can occur when moving freight in a cross-docking operation. The operator may accidentally run into the walls, the doors and other parts of the building, creating damage to the building’s interior and/or exterior. Many of the solutions previously mentioned, such as the thick rub rail on the lift truck frame and interior lift truck lights, can help prevent such damages.

It is important for trucking companies to work directly with lift truck providers to identify pain points and work together to find solutions that will customize their lift trucks for specific operations. This will ensure the company is using the optimal equipment tailored for the environment versus a one-size-fits-all-approach.

Our vast experience within the industry has revealed that low margins and the pressure for faster, on-time deliveries can create serious challenges for the operation. Product damage hurts margins, as well as productivity and customer satisfaction, and it ultimately impacts the bottom line of the company. The key to success within this process is to enable productivity without compromising the quality of load handling, while reducing the bottom-line impact of lift trucks. A set of simple yet effective solutions can help reduce the risk of damage to freight and materials handling equipment, which can save trucking companies crucial time and money.

As director of national accounts for Hyster Company, Rick Warren manages a team responsible for selling to the logistics, rental and trucking industries. He specializes in the heart of the Hyster product lines, ICE and electric lift trucks. Warren joined the company in 1998 and has extensive experience in key account development and management, new business development and direct sales. He is a graduate of Central Michigan University.