Going the Extra Mile

Dec. 1, 2009
Loading dock equipment was a major consideration when Canadian Tire planned its massive new DC in Quebec.

Don't let its name fool you. More than just tires roll out of Canadian Tire Corp.'s 475-plus dealerships across Canada. In addition to automotive merchandise, the company also stocks and sells home, sports and leisure products.

Canadian Tire has continued to grow during its more than 80 years in business. In fact, the company recently opened a distribution center (DC) in Coteau-du-Lac, just west of Montreal.

The 1.5 million-square foot facility, currently the largest warehouse in Quebec, supplies the central and eastern regions of Canada. At a price tag of more than $200 million, the project was designed to move 55 million cubic feet of product annually in and out of more than 200 loading dock positions.

In addition to its non-conveyable product wing, the DC has a conveyable carton wing with more than 12.5 miles of conveyor fed by a variety of four floor-level pick modules. The proprietary warehouse management system (WMS) interacts with a distributed shipping sortation system, providing flexibility throughout the building. Facility managers can dial up and down as well as turn conveyor sections off and on to coincide with peaks and valleys.

Canadian Tire operates its own facilities in the Toronto area but uses third-party logistics providers to manage its regional facilities. Although owned by Canadian Tire, the building and inventory at the Coteau-du-Lac location is managed by Genco.

Canadian Tire designates a large portion of inventory to “flow-through,” (also called crossdock), a process in which product moves from trailers directly to shipping.

The site has a 20-acre container handling area set aside for stacking more than 1,000 shipping containers at a time. To support the heavyweight containers, the company opted for a base of roller-compacted concrete — the same kind used on airfield landing strips — to provide a strong surface. When the facility needs access to product in the containers, a chassis moves the containers to the receiving doors.

At the Dock

With all the details involved in planning a DC of this size, loading dock equipment can easily become an afterthought. Canadian Tire, however, sees dock areas as potential pinch points and addresses them as such.

As with many fast-paced DCs, the Canadian Tire facility must coordinate material movements so product arrives at the correct dock on time. Avoiding disruptions at the dock is crucial to this coordination.

The company equipped each dock with a hydraulic leveler, restraint and foam dock seal then tied it all together with a master control panel.

Hydraulic dock levelers prevent door and ceiling interference and provide a level surface for high-volume loading and unloading. Because of the way the levelers are designed, they don't require the use of steel shim supports during installation. Four vertical uprights for each leveler provide lateral support and a level interface with the DC floor.

Because hazardous conditions can contribute to bottlenecks, Canadian Tire keeps trailers securely in place with a hydraulically actuated vehicle restraint installed in the pit under the leveler. The restraint reduces the risk of serious injury or death to lift truck and walkie operators when a trailer pulls away from the dock. Because it retracts into the dock wall, the vehicle restraint doesn't interfere with snow plowing at the dock during winter.

With 40,000 pounds of restraining force, the restraint controls vehicle movement by grabbing and holding the rear impact guard throughout the loading and unloading process. It also pulls the trailer against the dock wall to ensure a tight fit against the dock wall.

The powered restraint helps reduce energy loss, too. Heating costs can be considerable for the 38-foot-tall DC, especially during the sub-zero Quebec winters. Other energy-saving measures include trailer presence sensors to turn off lights when docks are not occupied and conveyors set to go dormant when there is no activity during a period of time. Dock seals also prevent energy loss during loading and unloading by securing the trailer against the dock.

A master control panel ties all the dock equipment together. Once a truck is parked at a dock, an operator uses the control panel to actuate the restraint. Once the restraint is fully engaged, the employee activates the dock leveler. When the truck is ready to depart, the restraint cannot release the truck until the leveler is stored and the dock door is closed.

The master control panel allows Canadian Tire to reduce the number of primary power runs and eliminate the need to use wire conduits at each dock.

Finally, LED indicator lights on dock exterior walls give truck drivers a clear view of the dock as they drive up or pull away. This visibility is especially important during Quebec's foggy, snowy winters.

As shown, loading dock equipment was hardly an afterthought when Canadian Tire planned its new DC. To this retailer, every dock is crucial to the safe, continuous flow of merchandise. It's where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.

Michael Brittingham is manager of marketing at 4Front Engineered Solutions Inc., a manufacturer of loading dock equipment. The company owns the Kelley, Serco, LoadHog, TKO Dock Doors and APS Resources brands.