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Which Kind of Leveler is Best for Your Loading Dock?

By: Shana McGuinn, Contributor

A leveler can bridge the gap between the bed of the truck’s trailer and the warehouse floor. © cherezoff –

A loading dock might rightfully be thought of as the transportation nerve center for a warehouse, distribution center or other type of commercial or industrial building. It is an area of tremendous activity; a central location where vehicles come and go and where goods and products are loaded onto and unloaded from those vehicles. All of that activity poses some special challenges, both in terms of conveyance and safety. A key piece of equipment on loading docks is a leveler – a platform whose height can be adjusted to facilitate the movement of forklifts, pallet-jacks and other vehicles, so that they can deliver loads or take loads away from the semi-trucks waiting at the loading dock. Because of the role it plays, a leveler can be said to “bridge the gap” that can exist between the bed of the truck’s trailer and the warehouse floor.

Whichever kind of leveler you choose for your facility – mechanical and hydraulic are the most common – it needs to be of sufficient length and width to accommodate the products that will be transported over it. You must also make sure the leveler can handle the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW), which is the combined weight of the load and the lift truck or pallet jack. In order to prevent rollover incidents, it is necessary to consult the manufacturer’s capacity rating, but also factor in circumstances related to the specific applications and characteristics that are specific to the facility and its operations and products.

As previously mentioned, levelers with hydraulic or mechanical activation systems are the most popular types. Whichever kind of activation system you decide on, your loading dock leveler should able to allow the smooth conveyance of heavy loads from the floor to the trailer bed; function well for years; enhance the safety of the forklift drivers and other employees who will be using it; and provide a respectable return on investment.

Mechanical dock levelers:

  • Cost less than hydraulic levelers and will last about ten years. However, they generally require a greater expenditure in terms of maintenance.
  • Require manual labor, which can potentially increase the risk of ergonomic injuries. In order to position the mechanical loading leveler so that it becomes a bridge between the loading dock and the back of the trailer bed, an operator must pull a chain. This action raises the platform and extends the “lip” – a steel barrier designed to prevent accidental forklift roll-off. The operator then steps onto the platform and manually moves the leveler onto the trailer bed.
  • Are subject to “stump-out”, which occurs when the changing weight of the forklift being unloaded causes the trailer bed to move downward, to below dock height, and the leveler’s safety legs interfere with the vertical movement of the dock leveler. The result? Pallets losing their products, tires suffering excessive damage and forklift drivers experiencing unpleasant jarring stops.

Hydraulic dock levelers:

  • Are costlier than their mechanical counterparts.
  • Eliminate the need for manual control and are therefore more ergonomically friendly. The operator simply pushes a button on a control panel to raise and lower the level and extend or store the lip. With some models, it is possible to automatically program them to return back to the stored position after use.
  • Automatically adjusts as the trailer bed height fluctuates, which prevents stump-outs.
  • Lack the kind of parts that wear out over time, like springs and a hold-down mechanism. As a result, they tend to require less servicing and have a lower maintenance cost.

Various attachments can be used to raise the level of safety for those working on or around dock levelers. These include bumpers attached to lift trucks and other transport vehicles that shield the dock level and prevent it from being damaged through contact. A toe guard mounted to the side of a deck assembly can provide toe protection when the leveler is above dock level.

Technological advances in hydraulic leveler design and engineering have produced improvements that reduce vibrations (and their effects on workers); prevent rapid descent and withstand harsh environments. Mechanical levelers have also been upgraded, to offer greater durability and better handle float conditions while still providing companies with an economic option.

Consulting with a manufacturer who has a well-established reputation in the industry is the best way to determine which kind of loading dock leveler will meet your needs. WMHS

Shana McGuinn is a freelance writer who specializes on covering topics in material handling, occupational safety and corporate environmental and social responsibility.

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