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The key is to identify wear and tear on equipment before a catastrophic breakdown occurs.

With the pharmaceutical industry being as highly regulated as it is, dealing with an equipment failure of any kind can turn into a major loss of time and some expensive solutions. In a word—catastrophic.

And while all of the equipment that handles the processing of pharmaceuticals is checked routinely, loading dock equipment is often neglected.

However, smart facility managers will treat the loading dock the same way they might take care of their own teeth. They might not like the idea of semi-annual checkups, but they know catching a small problem during a routine exam is better than ending up with a root canal down the line.

Rite-Vu hazard recognition and light communication system (Credit: Rite-Hite)
Dock Equipment Breakdowns

Loading dock equipment—such as dock levelers, vehicle restraints, and dock doors —gets battered by forklift traffic and tractor trailers on a daily basis. Eventually they will have problems, as evidenced by the fact that 70 to 85 percent of all equipment failures are due to improper maintenance.

It can take a forklift as many as 50 crossings or more just to load or unload one trailer. Extrapolate this across an entire day and multiply by 250 workdays in the year (or more) and it can be more than 100,000 crossings in one year. Considering the average forklift weighs around 9,000 pounds without carrying a load, it becomes easier to see why levelers, restraints, and other equipment can (and will) break down.

Even the best, most well-made equipment can’t take that kind of beating forever.

Expensive Fixes

A host of problems may arise when equipment unexpectedly fails, ranging from replacement costs to inefficient downtime at the loading dock. But, the immediate concern is worker safety.

A vehicle restraint that no longer secures a trailer to a facility can lead to a variety of accidents, including: trailer tip-over (from landing gear collapse); early departure (in which the semi-trailer prematurely pulls away from the dock while the forklift driver is still loading or unloading); and trailer creep (in which the vibration of forklift traffic causes the trailer to progressively move away from the dock wall).

In each instance a forklift operator is at risk of falling, which can lead to serious injury or death, and may indicate poor operating conditions to potential business partners and consumers.

From a business standpoint, major breakdowns lead to an inoperable dock. These unexpected shutdowns can cause headaches for facility managers. For operations with limited docks, this can spell disaster. For organizations that use dozens of docks, it can still lead to logistical problems for shipments moving in and out of the facility.

Using internal maintenance staff to work on such breakdowns might work in some instances. However, this solution often means that someone who is not certified to work on a leveler, for instance, is placed in a potentially dangerous situation by attempting to fix unfamiliar equipment.

If the dock equipment suffers a total breakdown, it can cost even more to replace in a rushed, emergency situation. Even companies with contingency funds can’t absorb unplanned spending long-term.

Planned maintenance programs (PMPs) generally start with a complimentary facility survey, which acts as a starting point for the PMP provider and the facility manager to determine the present state of the facility and the type of program needed. (Credit: Rite-Hite)
Routine Maintenance

Luckily, there is a way to avoid many of those emergency costs and unplanned downtime. A planned maintenance program (PMP) offers a relatively inexpensive way to reduce an organization’s dependence on internal maintenance staff to fix problems that they are not qualified to handle. It also reduces the company’s exposure to costs associated with emergency repairs or worker’s compensation claims and allows internal staff to work on jobs they were originally hired to do.

The key is to identify wear and tear on equipment before a catastrophic breakdown occurs. Services performed by certified professionals as part of a PMP can prevent major failures and, in doing so, cut maintenance costs by 12 to 18 percent. If equipment is not working properly, certified PMP technicians are trained to identify root causes of problems, quickly fix them, and offer solutions to prevent similar situations in the future.

Improve Efficiency with a PMP

Another point to consider is that certified PMP technicians after several visits become knowledgeable about the inner workings of the operation and can tend to problems more quickly and affordably than a technician who is unfamiliar with the facility.

Planned maintenance programs generally start with a complimentary facility survey, which acts as a starting point for the PMP provider and the facility manager to determine the present state of the facility and the type of program needed.

PMP inspections can be scheduled monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or yearly. A quarterly inspection is typical with most programs. Over time, a growing familiarity with the facility improves scheduling and increases the efficiency of maintenance inspections.

Regular maintenance maximizes the performance of equipment and, in some cases, can even cut energy bills from 5 to 20 percent. Energy can be saved when doors don’t get stuck in an open position and when dock seals and shelters are properly maintained to reduce gaps in the loading dock.

In addition to providing maintenance, technicians can red-flag items. Advanced training allows them to identify and diagnose equipment problems that might not demonstrate immediate symptoms. The ability to spot small problems early can allow different methods to be used to potentially extend the life of the equipment. It also allows facility managers to begin budgeting for eventual equipment replacement.

While inspections and routine maintenance will temporarily limit use of a dock, it is always better to know when docks are going to be down instead of suffering equipment failures with indefinite downtime.

Additionally, a PMP allows internal maintenance staff to work on jobs they were originally hired to do. If a single dock door needs just one hour of maintenance a quarter, a mid-sized operation with two dozen dock doors is looking at nearly 100 hours of downtime at its shipping operations for annual maintenance. This doesn’t include any breakdowns that might occur.

The loading dock might not be in the front of the building, but ignoring regular maintenance on dock equipment is ultimately going to lead to problems and expenses 100 times more painful than a root canal.
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About the author:
Gerry Timms is vice president and general manager at Arbon Equipment Corp., the distribution and service arm of Rite-Hite and a provider of planned maintenance programs in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. 

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