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Revolutionising warehouses with automated docking systems

Automated docking systems

SEW-EURODRIVE explains to MHD how its automated docking systems powered by ultra-reliable electro-mechanical drive systems are drastically changing movement of goods in Australian warehouses and DCs.

Every minute spent in the loading and unloading of goods contributes to business costs that will ultimately be passed on to consumers. An operation that can speed up the process has a distinct competitive advantage. In this white paper, we describe an automated docking system that yields time savings of up to 85 per cent, along with significant safety improvements. A critical element for the conveyors used in the system is the reliability of the SEW EURODRIVE’s electro- mechanical drive system that keep the lines moving.

At a time when supply chains are being compromised by world events, a significant logistical improvement and efficiency gain of this kind represents a big win for businesses and consumers, supporting us all in our daily lives during a challenging time.

BOTTLENECKS TO CLEAR

Every drink container we open, every food package – every manufactured or processed item we see or touch – has been transported around the country and, in many cases, across the world. And throughout its journey, each item is loaded and unloaded many times.

According to Shane Byleveld, Solutions Engineer at Industrial Conveying (Aust) Pty Ltd (ICA), traditional loading and unloading methods, such as shifting pallets with forklifts, result in trucks and trailers waiting up to 45 minutes at every dispatch centre, warehouse, or destination site.

These waiting times result in large demurrage costs and lost opportunities for the carriers, who would prefer their trucks to be on the road and earning revenue. There is also the safety aspect. Even when handled with the utmost care by well-trained and experienced operators, forklifts are inherently dangerous.

PALLET ON, PALLET OFF, IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE

Employing conveyors driven by SEW-EURODRIVE’s Helical-Bevel gearmotors and frequency inverters, ICA has developed dock loading and unloading systems that automate the process and deliver significant efficiency and safety improvements.

Byleveld says that, with each client having distinct requirements, ICA generally supplies tailor-made systems to suit the specific needs of each site. Because of the vast diversity of client needs, this ability to customise is integral to ICA’s operations. In-house design and ongoing site support are equally important.

To accommodate different kinds of products, the automated systems can be in the form of chain, skate, roller, or slat docks, sometimes in combination. This enables anything from pallets to large, heavy reels of newsprint to be moved safely and efficiently.

The conveyor systems are revolutionising distribution centres and large warehouses, where the reduction in turnaround times markedly improves logistics capacity. With a user-friendly operating system and improved time management for operators, staff can be redeployed to higher-value work.

“Instead of trucks idling for 45 minutes each time a load is picked up or dropped off, the full load is out of a trailer in two to three minutes. Allowing for paperwork as well, trucks typically arrive and depart within 15 minutes,” says Byleveld.

“When you think about the alternative of forklifts manually unloading a standard semi-trailer and the operation of pulling curtains backwards and forwards, moving side gates and so on, the contrast is stark.”

Stephen Culpitt, Senior Executive at ICA, says the flow-on advantages of automated docks are also important. In addition to saving time, the systems improve safety by eliminating the need for fleets of forklifts. The systems can be linked directly to production lines and can also be integrated with automated guided vehicles (AGVs). Double handling is eliminated, and the size of vehicle fleets can be reduced because of their more efficient use. ICA has calculated that, for a two shift per day operation, unloading and loading costs can be reduced by close to half, over a five-year period.

FROM A TO B – AND BEYOND

According to Culpitt, the automated dock loading and unloading systems are not just for large warehouses. Each time the product is dispatched from its source and arrives at a new site, it is processed in some way and moved again until, in its final form, it reaches the consumer. At each point in the distribution process, there is scope to profit from the efficiencies of an automated docking system.

This applies equally to the truck or trailer itself, where both automated dock systems and stand-alone arrangements are available. The vehicle’s conveyors are powered by the SEW-EURODRIVE gearmotors and frequency inverters, which form an integral part of the associated docks.

QUALITY AND SUPPORT

Culpitt says that ICA has used SEW-EURODRIVE gearmotors and frequency inverters for more than 40 years and has deployed them on more than 95 per cent of its projects. Reliability is a key factor behind the choice. “It’s always been a good relationship,” he says. “And the backup and support is always there if we need it.”

Byleveld agrees. “It’s predominantly because of the reliability. You can install the units, start them running
and then pretty much forget about them. We just don’t have issues with them. And that’s across the board. We have systems that have been running trouble free for over 20 years, if we do need assistance at any stage SEW is always available to help.

“SEW’s service and support begins well before the drive solution is sold, we have consulted with their engineering team about the most suitable solution on several occasions. Their support offering continues through the sales process and into the installation and maintenance phases, we also benefit through engaging with their reputable service professionals, often resulting in a quicker operation of the system including reduction of potential downtime due to installation errors.”

After commissioning, the support continues for the end user, with maintenance and repair available for the life of the product via a network of service and support centres across Australia, often in close proximity to the installation.

We can also rely on support capabilities overseas, taking advantage of SEW-EURODRIVE’s global network of integrated support centres and manufacturing facilities.

CONCLUSION

The automated dock systems are revolutionising the movement of goods at many distribution centres and warehouses across the country. The same opportunity exists for any logistics operation that seeks to speed up its processes.

Many decades ago, science fiction writers imagined ‘rolling roads’ in the form of giant conveyor lines as our principle means of land-based transport. While those ideas remain safely tucked away in the realms of fiction, the advances in loading and unloading technology made by ICA and its close partner, SEW-EURODRIVE, are providing faster, safer and more cost-effective goods- handling solutions that benefit us all.

For more information on SEW-EURODRIVE, click here

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