Rite-Hite Converts Mativ Holdings Mechanical Levelers to Hydraulic Operation in Neenah, WI

Neenah Paper has been a market-leading manufacturer of premium packaging and specialty paper products since it was founded in 1875. In 2022 it became a subsidiary of Mativ, a global brand with 7,500 employees worldwide that do business in more than 100 countries.

Its two facilities, located in Neenah, WI are paper mills and converting centers serving a variety of customers, including the retail and online paper industries. Some of the products it manufactures are fine papers and packaging.

Manually Operated Levelers Present Ergonomic and Efficiency Challenges for Employees

Before Hydraulic Conversion

The Neenah facilities are responsible for shipping or receiving 580 trailers on average per month. It takes 23 active loading dock positions at the two plants to keep up with this demand and make sure throughput remains steady and shipments stay on time. However, the shipping and receiving process at both facilities was held back by outdated equipment at the loading dock. Specifically, they had competitive manual loading dock levelers, which presented ergonomic challenges for workers and hampered their efficiency. 

An employee had to pull a chain at the dock floor height to raise a heavy dock plate," said Ed Hendrickson, safety/training manager at Mativ. He noted that the chain could be difficult to pull to release the dock plate, creating an ergonomic risk. It takes approximately 55 to 70 lbs. of pull chain force to lift a leveler that weighs up to 2,500 lbs. Not to mention, once the plate was released, it lifted to a 33-degree angle that required the worker to "walk the plate down" onto the trailer bed. "If the employee was of smaller stature, they would have to jump up and down on the plate to get it down," said Hendrickson. "If the plate was slippery from moisture or snow in the winter, this caused a major safety hazard."

While no injuries were suffered as a result of this practice, approximately 10 hazard reports or concerns of falling were reported due to slipping on the leveler during a walk-out process.

In addition, the chains on the levelers would break and springs would occasionally malfunction. These maintenance repairs happen multiple times a month and resulted in an hour or two of downtime for each dock position. 

The Rite Solution

After Hydraulic Conversion

Hendrickson worked with his local Arbon sales representative to find a solution to these issues. He was pleased to learn that Rite-Hite hydraulic conversion kits could be installed on the competitive manually operated levelers they used. The kits would convert their manual pull chain systems into hydraulically operated levelers that could be operated with the push of a button. 

Mativ had an Arbon technician install Rite-Hite® hydraulic conversion kits on all 23 loading dock positions at its Neenah facilities in December 2020 and April 2021. Because it only took a few hours to install the conversion kit for each dock position, throughput wasn't affected. the kit includes a main hydraulic cylinder to replace mechanical hold-down devices (used to keep the leveler positioned down onto trailer beds) and a hydraulic lip cylinder to replace mechanical lips (used to hold the leveler lip up for positioning on the trailer bed). These hydraulic features can be operated by push-button operation, eliminating the need for employees to use manual processes to lift a leveler, place the leveler lip, or walk the leveler down into operational position. 

“The attitudes of employees who work on the docks have greatly improved regarding having to raise and lower the dock plates," said Hendrickson. "They were very happy about having the new systems in place and told us that they appreciated this facility improvement.”

Like all Rite-Hite hydraulically operated levelers, the hydraulic conversion kit comes with a non-adjustable velocity safety fuse that helps stop rapid leveler descent in the case of an early trailer departure. It helps provide free-fall protection by allowing the leveler to only fall 3 inches below dock at a time.

In addition to creating a more ergonomic and safe environment for loading dock workers, less moving parts on the hydraulically converted levelers means less maintenance and more productivity. When maintenance is needed, the Rite-Hite Safe-T-Strut included in the hydraulic conversion kit uses a central through-the-lip design to help provide another layer of safety for workers beneath the leveler. 

"We have not had any reported incident or injury with raising or lowering dock levelers since installing the hydraulic conversions," said Hendrickson. "The Rite-Hite hydraulic dock leveler system is a 100% improvement from the manual system we used to have."

As an added safety feature, Hendrickson also elected to install Dok-Guardian® Safety Barriers at all 23 loading dock positions. These mesh curtain safety barriers can stop up to 30,000 pounds of impact across loading dock openings up to nearly 16-and-a-half feet wide. The curtain easily fits into the storage warden when access for loading and unloading is required. Dok-Guardian Safety Barriers can be interlocked into a loading dock combination control panel, which can be programmed into a safe sequence of operations, along with the newly hydraulically converted levelers. 

“Our employees love both systems as they understand the improvement in safety for them at the loading docks." -Hendrickson.

Benefits of Hydraulic Conversion Kits:

  • Upgrade mechanical or air powered levelers to hydraulic push button operation for more ergonomic relief, helping to reduce acute and chronic employee injuries.
  • Eliminate "stump out" with a velocity safety fuse, helping to protect personnel from injury and equipment from damage.
  • Fewer moving parts for less required maintenance.
  • Full suite of safety products come standard with a hydraulic conversion kit (includes Safe-T-Strut™ and heavy-duty full range toe guards) for an extra layer of pedestrian safety. 

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