Supply chain demands are reaching new heights, pushing companies to find new ways to boost efficiency. Loading and unloading are some of the most routine processes in logistics and are an excellent place to start. Tackling truck loading efficiency presents many opportunities to streamline operations and reduce costs.
Loading and unloading are essential to any supply chain but are often inefficient and hazardous, costing time and money. Here are eight ways you can improve things.
One of the least disruptive yet effective ways to boost truck loading efficiency is to reduce weight. Your fuel economy can drop up to two percent for every 100 pounds, adding up to considerable diesel spending over time. You can’t always change the weight of your products, but you can stack them on lighter pallets.
Wood pallets may be the industry standard, but plastic ones are far lighter while providing similar strength and durability. Switching to these alternatives lets you dramatically reduce a truck’s overall weight, leading to lower fuel consumption and spending. Lighter pallets are easier to move, and this step can also help teams load and unload faster.
Similarly, you can load trucks faster and reduce fuel spending by reducing packaging weight. Like using lighter pallets, this strategy minimizes overall load weights without affecting the quality of the product itself. There are several ways to approach this, making it easier to implement in different product groups and workflows.
The most straightforward way to reduce packaging weight is to use less material. However, this isn’t suitable for delicate products and in some cases, it may make consumers think the end product is cheaper. Using alternatives, like air pillows instead of corrugated cardboard, especially in secondary packaging, is a better alternative in some cases.
Another way to increase loading efficiency is to optimize how employees stack products on pallets. These improvements are easy to overlook because they seem relatively insignificant but can have a considerable impact. Test a few different pallet stacking methods for various product groups to see which takes the least time while maximizing load security.
Cube stacking is one way to add security since it aligns the center of gravity of objects on the pallet. Additionally it’s important never to overstack pallets to prevent items from tipping.
Another way to stack pallets for increased security is to use an interlocking pattern. This works best when you have boxes that are different sizes and weights. Having the heaviest boxes on the bottom will increase stability of the pallet before it’s loaded into the truck.
Additionally, it’s important that boxes employees align boxes on the pallet. When boxes hang off the edge of the pallet it can reduce box strength by 30% and increases the likelihood of damage during shipping.
You may need some new packaging equipment to enable more efficient stacking techniques. Roll cradles allow workers to stack cylindrical objects more quickly by minimizing rolling and let them put more on one pallet. The extra material may seem inefficient but it provides new, faster ways forward.
Most attention around loading practices focuses on the loading dock, but other processes throughout the warehouse also impact loading efficiency. Many logistics operations include a lot of unnecessary travel time from poor organization, slowing unloading workflows. Reorganizing the facility so workers don’t have to walk as far between docks and shelves will streamline the process.
Cross-docking is an excellent way to minimize travel time. In other cases, placing high-volume products on racks closer to the loading dock is the best solution. Shipments that contain multiple types of products can be grouped on pallets and in the truck according to where they go in the warehouse to reduce travel.
You can also increase truck loading efficiency through automation. Automated warehouse solutions are available in hardware and software forms and can help streamline loading and unloading. These systems may come with higher upfront costs, but their efficiency improvements will make up for those expenses over time.
Autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) can move products from the loading dock to their spot in the warehouse to reduce employee walking. Similarly, conveyor belts can minimize movement and help get products on and off trucks more quickly. Automated software like loading dock management systems can streamline administrative tasks and highlight inefficiencies to enable long-term improvements.
Loading docks are often crowded, which can reduce visibility. This lack of visibility makes navigating the area harder and can introduce safety concerns, impacting both efficiency and operational costs. Consequently, improving visibility in and around the loading dock can boost productivity and reduce expenses.
Traffic lights can help ease congestion in loading docks and make it easier for drivers to back up. Similarly, you can use different colored lights to communicate things like arrivals and when it’s safe to open doors to keep everyone aware of current conditions even when they can’t see. Placing large mirrors near corners and reducing clutter will also help improve visibility.
Another often-overlooked part of boosting truck-loading efficiency is making the work area more comfortable for employees, increasing productivity. Temperature is one of the biggest influencing factors here, with average output decreasing by three percent for every degree above average.
Ensure loading docks are well-ventilated and that HVAC systems are in good condition, especially in the summer and winter months. Using more natural light or artificial light that mimics sunlight will also help workers feel more comfortable. One of the best resources here is your employees themselves. Talk to loading dock workers to learn what they believe would make their workspace more pleasant.
No matter what other steps you take, it’s important to avoid assuming you’ve done all you can to improve loading efficiency. Every time you change something, keep detailed records about the implementation process and how things changed afterward. Review this data regularly to see if the strategy was effective and if further change is necessary.
Artificial intelligence (AI) solutions can help analyze workflow data to find areas to improve. These technologies create digital twins to run simulations that can reveal where current processes fall short and how changes could impact things. Embracing a spirit of continuous improvement like this will help make the most of your loading and unloading practices.
When loading processes are more efficient, you’ll get more out of every hour you’re paying employees. Other related expenses like fuel costs, lost productivity or workplace injury payments may also fall. As a result, you’ll reduce your overhead on top of boosting agility to meet rising demand.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly covers trends in the industrial sector.