Design Guide: Safe, Efficient Loading Racks

Don't follow the one-size-fits-all approach to ethanol loading racks or corn delivery systems. Increase profits while providing workers safe access.
By Josh Baker | March 05, 2009
Designing and constructing a loading facility can be a daunting task for a project manager without the added pressures of designing the rack to meet safety requirements and improve efficiency to increase the bottom line. Many find themselves deep in this dilemma and look for a place to turn for guidance. The following article is intended to help prevent the mistakes others have made. The ability to save time and money on a project is becoming increasignly important in today's rocky economy.

Designing a cargo-handling structure is often considered a minor part of the total handling system. However, the result of a poorly designed structure can be costly in terms of initial capital costs, long-term operating costs, and costs for future modifications. The initial phase of design is to identify the needs from an operational view. This would take into consideration the vehicles to be accessed, the workers needing access, and the tasks to be performed once access is gained.

The wide variety of vehicle shapes and sizes determines access equipment.

Vehicles Type, Use
Determining the vehicle or vehicles which may be loading out ethanol or unloading feedstocks in will help identify the proper solution to fit the need. A main misconception in safety access equipment is the "standard application thinking." There is no one-size-fits-all, standard solution to meet all needs. Every project has its own unique situations and problems that must be carefully considered before proposing a solution to solve them. Differences in the height, width, length and maneuverability of the vehicle can pose potentially deadly results if not fully considered.

Safety and loading equipment will only function properly in given parameters. Outside of the design parameters, this equipment becomes ineffective and potentially dangerous, depending on the situation.

Identifying the type of vehicle used in the current operation is important, but what about the potential for change? Involving plant management, operations management and the transportation company could prove useful in developing a risk factor for the potential of change. While planning for change may add some additional costs, what is the cost of a failed project if the vehicle dimensions change?

The next step is to understand how the vehicle will access the loading facility. Will it be a tank truck pulling alongside, a barge positioned at a dock, a railcar being positioned by the rail company, or will the loading facility leave little room for maneuvers and errors? The ability to move into position and exit the area quickly improves the efficiency and throughput of the operation.

Workers, Operations
Once the vehicle is in position, consideration for the number of workers needing access and the location of the required access is the next hurdle. A solution for a single worker to access a single hatch may prove ineffective or inefficient when the need to access multiple points arises. Planning for the length of access needed and the number of workers on top at any given time will provide a solution that is cost effective and, most importantly, safe and efficient.

Workers' age and physical ability is yet another factor to consider in the design phase of your project. With the American workforce aging according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, ergonomic issues also rise in importance with safety and efficiency. For example, a solution designed to be lifted with 40 pounds of force may be fast and easy for a 22-year-old male, but what about the same solution for a 50-year-old man or woman? Access systems powered by hydraulics, electricity and pneumatics provide speed and ease no matter which operator is on duty. While the ability to quickly put the system in place may seem minor, what would the increase in profits be if one to three more loads were able to leave or be dropped at your facility in the same amount of time?

Once the final decision is made on the vehicle application, the length of access, and the number and makeup of workers needing the access, the operations performed while on the vehicle must be considered. Will workers be loading, sampling, venting or unloading? Will there need to be multiple access points for different tasks, and is there potential for other workers to be present on the ground below the platform? Workers loaded with tools, hoses, breathing apparatus, and other job specific tools add weight and stress to access equipment.

The bulky materials being carried or used to perform their tasks can become awkward and dangerous when the improper safety equipment is put in place. Explaining the operations at the site to the designer and fabricator of the potential solution will help them design and propose a solution that will work in the operational setting in which it is to be applied.

While this article is not a complete guide to designing the next loading facility, by considering the questions listed you will be able to develop a better idea of a solution for which you would be looking. On more than one occasion, it has been reported that a project has been installed, and months or even days later, a variable in the equation changes and the solution becomes almost completely useless. Solutions have been installed and operating without flaw, and the slightest change in height or width of a vehicle can cost a company thousands in repairs. Without addressing the problem, it could potentially cost a worker his/her life.

Taking time through the design phase and working with a company that will ask many questions that may at first seem inexperienced or even non applicable can prove to be the difference between a successful project and one that spells disaster either financially or physically. With the bumpy economic times we all face, the ability to stay on budget and provide a successful solution is important.

Josh Baker is with Carbis Inc. Reach him at or (800) 845-2387.