The engineering capability and manufacturing flexibility of distribution solutions provider Easilift Loading Systems has been instrumental in creating the design interface of loading bays at Tesco’s new Grocery Distribution Centre

As Tesco’s flagship distribution centre, the 800,000ft2 facility at Daventry marks an ambitious advance in loading bay design, made possible in part by Easilift’s 3D modelling CAD software – a key element of the £6.5 million bespoke project, the largest single order ever placed in the UK for loading bay equipment.

The unique elements of the project reflect Easilift’s ability to provide a tailored solution in which the dock pods have been designed and installed to the specific parameters of the overall building. Duncan Robertson, project manager at Tesco confirms: “We didn’t want an off-the-shelf loading bay solution but something that would complement and respond to our exact needs. Easilift worked closely with Tesco, our architects and the main contractor Volker Fitzpatrick to deliver a precise, perfectly optimised installation.”

Key challenges

Key challenges included Tesco’s requirement for an increased ratio of bays to floorspace compared to a traditional distribution centre. This was met by Easilift with an innovative arrangement of paired scissor lift dock pods across a central walkway.

Another unusual design aspect is the bespoke resizing of dock leveller pods to match the height of scissor lift pods in order to ensure a uniform roof line along the building’s length – an impressive achievement that aids functionality as well as reinforcing Tesco’s desire to give its flagship distribution centre a bold, clean aesthetic appearance.

Easilift’s design and engineering innovations have been achieved using its Solidworks software. This employs a parametric approach to mapping out loading bay operations in a virtual 3D environment. By analysing the real-world parameters of the site, Easilift was able to determine in advance the size, shape, characteristics and behaviour of the finished distribution centre. This is further enhanced by photo-real, 360 degree CAD modelling to demonstrate how the finished building will look.

“The parametric nature of Solidworks means the dimensions and relations drive the geometry, not the other way around,” explains Darren Seward, engineering manager at Easilift. “By allowing my team to work and build a product within a 3D environment, we could accurately assemble a virtual product rather than spend valuable time and money in the workshop and eventually on site.”

Design interface

Easilift devised the design interface to reflect spatial restrictions at yard level. By constructing the double-deck bays in pairs, Easilift created a tandem pod around a single walkway to ensure safe and easy operator access/egress. The reduction in space was made possible by Solidworks’ simulation tool, which enabled Easilift to verify stress calculations on the dock pod. Going beyond simple hand calculations, the software applies known displacements that can affect stress and strain – for example, vehicles making contact with the loading bay’s front bumper, or forklift wheels rolling over the edge of the scissor lift platform.

The result is that Easilift has been able to reduce the amount of redundant or over-engineered material required for optimum functionality. Crucially, the dock leveller pod table width has been reduced by 30 per cent, a space saving that not only allows room for the central walkway between paired pods but which also enables each pod to accept delivery of 30 per cent more units per vehicle.

“Tesco is at the forefront of initiatives to cut transport costs, and therefore emissions, in order to promote sustainability, so being able to carry more goods into the distribution centre is a real advantage,” confirms Robertson.

The lifts are located within external modular pods, manufactured and partially preassembled prior to delivery. This approach equated to a 60 per cent reduction in installation time for this particular element, when compared with previous lift installations.

Just as impressive is the integration of both scissor lift and dock leveller bays into the building’s seamless roof line. As Seward explains, this is something unique for the logistics industry. “Often, pods can look like add-ons to the overall aesthetic, not least because double deck scissor lift bays and dock leveller pods are at different heights. Here, the architect specified that our bays should match the building’s own cladding to look like an integral part of the design.”

The crucial element was to co-ordinate the heights to match the building’s flashing joints – the vital gaps between cladding panels used by architects to provide drainage points that carry rainwater away from the building’s walls.

Since it is impossible to reduce the height of the double deck pods, Easilift raised the height of its dock levellers by 600mm to match the taller pods, ensuring a uniform roof line and enabling Tesco to alternate pairs of scissor lifts and dock levellers to suit the distribution centre’s operational needs.

“Nobody has attempted this in our industry before, but the results speak for themselves,” remarks Seward. “Without adjusting the dock leveller height, the building would be marked by a zig-zag pattern. Instead, the line is clean, straight and made the project much easier to manage both for the architects, the developers and our own installation team.”