Pharmaceutical manufacturing is a highly competitive business, with product development, quality control, regulatory/compliance and even shareholder issues that are much more complex than in many other industries. Because of that, pharma execs and facility managers are constantly exploring all possible ways to tighten their belts and bolster the company’s bottom line. A growing number are finding one path to savings runs through an often-overlooked area of their facility’s operations – its loading docks.
When trailers are positioned at the dock being loaded or unloaded, gaps often exist between the trailer and the edges of the dock opening, through which expensive heating and cooling energy can escape, and unwanted contaminants can enter. For example, swing-open style trailer doors typically leave 1- to 2-inch gaps running along both sides of the trailer, which equate to a 2.5-square-foot hole in the wall at each dock opening. Depending on your region, leaving these gaps unsealed can cost up to $1200 annually per dock position in lost energy. Facilities with multiple doors can achieve dramatic energy cost savings simply by equipping docks with proper enclosures that make sure these gaps are effectively sealed.
Often even more concerning in a pharmaceutical facility, however, is the opportunity these gaps present to allow dust, insects or water to enter and contaminate a clean environment. Similar gaps exist along the tops of trailers, at the upper corners, as well as around and beneath the dock leveler and exterior dock bumpers. Protecting the entire area with a solid system of sealing products is essential to maintaining the integrity of pharmaceutical product and operations. The goal is to seal all gaps that are created, 24/7, when trailers are in place or not, and when overhead doors are open or closed. To achieve this, all four sides of the opening must be considered separately. With the help of a qualified environmental control specialist, follow this simple process to achieve the best results:
1) Look for daylight
Visible daylight at loading dock openings indicates a gap in the seal that needs to be plugged. Standing on the inside of the dock, when a trailer is in place and the dock door is opened, examine the perimeter around all sides of the trailer and dock leveler and note areas where you can see light. Next, with the dock door closed, look for light around all four sides of the door and along leveler edges. Different gaps will need to be sealed by different products. Understanding what kinds of gaps exist will lead to more informed decisions on properly sealing them.
2) Seal the top
Gaps along the top of the trailer are common with some types of dock seals and shelters. Even brand new enclosures can leave gaps if not designed and fit to prevent them. To get the best seal possible in this area, choose a foam compression dock seal with a pleated-face head pad, or a dock shelter with a heavily weighted head curtain. A gravity-based design guarantees the tightest, most consistent seal across the full width of the trailer, allowing it to maintain contact as the trailer bounces during loading and unloading. Today’s advanced dock shelters incorporate this type of weighted head curtain, accomplishing a tight seal without the need for an additional overhead rain diversion device.
3) Seal the corners
For the best seal at the top corners of the trailer, choose a dock shelter that is specially designed to seal this problem area. Most dock shelters leave roomy gaps where the side curtains and head curtain meet and interfere with each other when a trailer is backed in. To overcome this issue, technologically advanced shelters feature integral fabric pockets in the side curtains that receive the head curtain and block all daylight in this area.
4) Seal the sides
Foam compression style dock seals generally offer a very good seal along the sides of the trailer. However, they often suffer significant wear-and-tear due to the constant pressure and friction from the trailer positioned against it. Additionally, foam and other material can protrude inside of the trailer when compressed, interfering with forklift loading. In contrast, perimeter-sealing dock shelters offer full access loading as they seal along the sides of the trailer, with nothing protruding into the trailer opening. Unless the right model is selected, however, gaps often exist, especially in situations with swing-open trailer doors as described above. The solution is a shelter with side curtains featuring a fabric-covered hook on the leading edge. This seals the trailer hinge gap and minimizes the intrusion of outside elements.
5) Remember the fourth side
While it is critical to effectively seals gaps at the top and along the sides of the dock opening using a dock seal or shelter, a seal isn’t complete until the fourth side of the opening is addressed. Even with the best seal or shelter in place, gaps typically remain below and around the dock leveler and exterior bumpers, presenting stubborn challenges for sealing out pests and contaminants. Installing a complete under-leveler pit seal with complementary filler pads and other components helps fill tough-to-seal gaps where the dock enclosure, leveler, and bumpers all meet. Inside the facility, leveler lip corner seals, weather seal, door seals and other gap-sealing, daylight-blocking products finish the job.
6) Consider vertical-storing levelers
Utilized in many food facilities which also require clean environments, vertical levelers are another consideration for pharmaceutical applications. Vertical levelers differ from pit-style levelers in that they allow the loading dock door to close directly onto the pit floor. This minimizes outside air infiltration, helps reduce contaminants from entering a building, and also helps protect the dock door from damage. Additionally, their vertical design makes it easy to clean or wash down the pit floor when the leveler is in the upright and stored position.
Save energy and be cleaner at the loading dock
Managers of pharmaceutical facilities looking to save on energy costs and to keep their buildings clean can’t neglect the loading dock. Using a system of products including the right dock seal or shelter, an under-leveler seal, small gap-filling products and a vertical leveler, companies can vastly improve conditions on their docks, keeping wind, rain, dust, and bugs out and valuable conditioned air in. To make sure your situation is managed properly, it’s critical to consult a reputable loading dock equipment provider who is trained to provide expert environmental control analysis and recommend the most effective system of product solutions.