Every loading dock bay should have a dock leveler. It’s an important component to having a safe loading dock. Workers have to walk and drive over the leveler to enter and exit the trailer, and a leveler prevents them from getting tripped up or injured.

While the need for a dock leveler may be obvious for most employers, what isn’t so obvious is the type of dock leveler that’s best for your operation. The most common is pit-style levelers, but there are others to choose from as well, including mechanical, hydraulic and airbag pit levelers. They all serve the same function: to create a safe bridge between building and vehicle. Let’s take a look at what makes them different.

Mechanical dock leveler

When you picture a pit dock leveler, the image that pops in your head is most likely the mechanical leveler. These have been essential to every supply chain for a long time, and there’s a reason for that: They’re reliable.

Mechanical levelers contain springs, chains, levers and gears. Pulling on a chain on the floor of the leveler releases the deck, which then rises. A lip-assist spring, chain and lever pushes the lip outward. As the operator walks forward onto the leveler, he or she uses his or her weight to lower the deck until its lip rests on the trailer.

Because mechanical levelers are operated by simple machines, they can be installed at any loading dock, regardless of whether the building has reliable power. They’re also typically the lowest cost of the pit leveler options.

Hydraulic dock leveler

The hydraulic dock leveler is very similar to the mechanical dock leveler except that it’s powered. Hydraulic levelers limit the need for workers to bend over to pull the chain or use their own body weight to lower the deck.

Rather than chains, gears and springs, hydraulic leveler installations have power pack reservoirs embedded directly into the concrete of the building near the loading bay. These levelers come in many sizes and voltages available, which means there’s likely an excellent hydraulic dock leveler option for your facility.

Some models of hydraulic dock levelers are 100 percent push-button controlled. In these cases, there’s usually one button to operate the deck and another to control the lip. In other models, the deck might be powered, but the lip is mechanical.

Pneumatic dock leveler

Pneumatic dock levelers, also referred to as air-powered or airbag dock levelers, are a relatively recent development in the industry. Like the hydraulic option, pneumatic dock levelers are powered, but rather than requiring power pack reservoirs to be installed in the concrete, these are plug-in appliances that require a single outlet and operate on lower voltages. A self-contained unit, the airbag draws in air, which inflates the bag, lifting the deck upward.

The airbag – or, in some cases, airbags – used in pneumatic dock levelers are highly durable and puncture resistant. Even in situations where a stray tool or equipment part causes a tear in the airbag, it’ll retain much of its pressure. There are various models of pneumatic dock levelers designed for high-traffic docks or operations with unique pieces of equipment.

One of the most beneficial features of the pneumatic dock leveler is that it doesn’t need to be oiled to operate smoothly. With no oil needed, it’s much easier to keep a sanitary loading dock, making this option ideal for any food storage facility that must comply with U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations.

Choose the right pit leveler for your building

All three options have advantages that would benefit most loading docks. They’re all fairly simple to clean, as the pit can be hosed down relatively easily. They all come in a variety of sizes, which means that any could fit your unique loading dock.

In some cases, the choice is very clear. If your building needs to be FDA compliant, consider a pneumatic leveler. If your operation needs to reduce power used, a mechanical leveler might be helpful. However, if the choice for you isn’t immediately clear, talk to a Miner professional today about a loading dock assessment. Our experts will evaluate your operation and determine which leveler option is best suited for your building and processes. To learn more, or arrange for your free assessment and quote, contact Miner today.