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Automatic loading and unloading systems save valuable time at the loading ramp. And they can do even more. Truckers know that even a time delay of merely 30 minutes cannot be caught up on the road – which makes long waiting and loading times at the ramp even more annoying. One solution is provided by automatic truck loading and unloading systems, or ATLS (Automated Truck Loading Systems). A business that according to a report by market researcher MarketsandMarkets (www.marketsandmarkets.com) in 2015 had a global volume of 1.67 billion US dollars, and by 2022 is expected to grow to nearly three billion US dollars. There is certainly room for growth: Ancra Systems, for example, estimates that in Germany only one percent of all truck shipments are automated. Forklifts still dominate the business.

A bunch of advantages

ATLS provide a range of advantages. First of all, the time factor: Loading and unloading times can be reduced from between 30 and 45 minutes to between 2 and 3 minutes. And if loading and unloading takes less time, companies will require less loading bays per building. Add to that the fact that ATLS loading requires considerably less space than the conventional procedure using forklifts. Which provides constructional advantages. As the procedure is automatic, truck drivers also no longer have to help out on the ramp. In addition, loading and unloading can be carried out outside of normal working hours, as staff are no longer needed. And finally, the automated procedure also reduces the amount of goods damaged and the rate of incorrect deliveries. The system integration of ATLS with the warehouse management makes it possible. The negative aspects of the technology mainly include the initial six-figure investment and the reduced flexibility compared to loading by forklift. In addition, modifications are needed for both the dock as well as the truck trailer.

Sophisticated system with several varieties

An ATLS consists of two components: the trailer system in the truck trailer and the dock system at the loading ramp. When the truck arrives at the ramp, it couples itself to it. The system can then exchange information about load capacity and payload. The actual loading procedure then follows using any one of several systems:

  • Chain system for standard pallets
  • Slat system for mixed pallets, non-palletized loads or slip sheets
  • Belt system for loose parcels and non-palletized goods
  • Load runner for Euro pallets with narrow side forward. Advantage: only minor adjustments in the trailer are required and no trailer system
  • Roller track system for air freight pallets and different weights

Strength in shuttle services

ATLS can best show their efficiency on tours that require a lot of loading and unloading and short journey times. For example with shuttle services (shuttle transportation). A high load volume and standardized pallets and goods are also criteria that warrant considering the use of ATLS. It is expected that in practice ATLS will supplement manual loading procedures and not replace them. Because each system has its strengths.

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