Preparing Docks for the Spring and Summer Seasons: What to Expect in 2019

The summer is nearly here, and now’s a good time to start preparing docks and bays at busy distribution centers for the seasonal changes. In particular, warehouse operators should get ready for two trends that are right around the corner: Summer heat “especially at the docks” and a possible uptick in carrier traffic.

Consider how freight moved in spring and early summer last year. Statistics bear out what you may have seen at warehouse docks: shipments rising as we move from winter into spring and summer. The trends of past seasons could give us some clues about what to expect this year.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ Transportation Services Index (TSI), for-hire freight shipments climbed by nearly 5 percent between January and June of 2018.

Now, this figure alone doesn’t perfectly portray what goes on at distribution center docks. It tracks the amount of freight moving within the for-hire transportation industry, but does not include parcel services, private trucking, or the U.S. Postal Service. Meanwhile, the figure does include railroad, inland waterways, pipelines, and air transportation, as well as trucking.

To get a clearer picture of what to expect from trucking in particular, let’s look at the Truck Tonnage Index, which measures the seasonally adjusted levels of tonnage trucks carry within the U.S.

Those numbers tell a similar story. Between January and June of 2018, truck tonnage grew by more than 5 percent. If the trend holds for 2019, it might be time to pick up a Yard Ramp or two to prepare for sudden rushes at the dock.

Weather Pattern Changes that Could Affect Warehouse Dock Productivity

The boost in freight may coincide with increasing temperatures in some parts of the country, even above the typical summer sizzle. Heat can have a major impact on comfort, morale, and even productivity in the workforce. One study found that worker productivity diminishes on hot days.

The researchers estimate that each day that reaches a WetBulb Globe Temperature of 80.6 degrees (27 degrees Celsius) is associated with a worker output decrease of 4 to 9 percent. And when those temperatures stick around for more than a day at a time, each extra day of heat is associated with an increase of 1 to 2 percent in absenteeism, at least in jobs that don’t penalize a few missed days of work.

Given that loading and unloading truckloads at the dock can be awfully hot work, even in the best of weather, it’d be helpful to know what to expect as the summer begins. And, as you may have guessed, current estimates suggest there could be more heat than we’re used to for most of the U.S.

The National Weather Service’s’ Climate Prediction Center (CPC) projects that Texas, Oklahoma, and other central Southern states will see temperatures of 33 percent higher than normal in May, June, and July 0f 2019.

Along the East Coast, and down into Florida, as well as in the Pacific Northwest, temperatures could be as much as 50 percent higher than normal during those months.

So, for warehouse operators, especially those in the East, this might be the time to invest in extra high-volume, low-speed fans, additional water stations, and dock-related labor-saving devices like Dockmaster Bin Tippers. Heat and extra freight may be on their way, and preparing docks for these ongoing challenges will help to keep DCs productive, no matter what the season has to offer.

For more analysis and material-handling tips, visit the BHS, Inc., Industry Knowledge Base at https://na.bhs1.com/category/industry-knowledge-base/.

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