As route-cases-per-delivery averages became larger, delivery trucks became larger; frequently becoming tractor semi-trailer delivery routes. Along with those increases in delivery size came corresponding demands for improved material handling productivity and labor savings on the delivery routes. The old dairy route delivery practices of drivers manhandling cases out of a route truck rear or side door, one case at a time, and stacking on the ground for two-wheel hand trucking in the customer's door were no longer adequate.
Mechanical aids to improve delivery route material handling generally fall into two categories - portable ramps and lift gates.
Ramps are stored externally beneath the route body or trailer and must be retrieved and carried or lifted to either rear or side door position by the driver for each delivery stop. Body or trailer doors must be left open during the entire delivery and the ramp returned to its in-route storage after each delivery. In general, delivery ramps are the cheapest of material handling aids to purchase and will have the least cost to maintain.
But experience shows ramps to be the least "driver friendly" of any of the common material handling alternatives. They are likely to be a generator of driver injuries and workers compensation claims. Ramps also require more delivery parking area than do lift gate and elevator alternatives and only permit drivers to unload by using two-wheel hand trucks.
Liftgates are nearly unlimited in their ability to suit specific tasks by lift weight capacity, platform size & type and with available material handling accessories. Gates are first categorized by their rear or side mounted locations. Within those categories there are different mechanical types or styles. In general the standard external types are rear mounted conventional (flip up), tuck-away and rail lift gates. Internal rear-of-trailer elevator lifts are another option for palletized unloading, but are generally used for non-refrigerated products. Side mount gates offer fewer variations in type. The standard side gate styles are tuck-away, or swing. Side gate platform load capacities are smaller than for rear gates.
When making a liftgate purchase decision it is paramount that the original purpose of improving delivery route and driver productivity not be lost or forgotten. Far too frequently the decision is made on price without a clear understanding of the operating and user negatives attached. Base your decisions on a clear understanding of the range of load capacities and types (cases, pallets, carts), safety considerations, maintenance cost & damage expectations, flexibility in types of delivery and loading; including both dock delivery and parking lot pavement level, driver ease of use and convenience.
A basic rear mount conventional gate will be among the lowest cost alternatives with tuck-away gates in the same cost neighborhood. Neither of these types has the rail lift's range of flexibility and use. Rear mount tuck-away gates probably experience the most damage and are clearly the least driver friendly gate design. Rail lift gates, as a class will be more expensive than conventional or tuck-away. But rail lifts are considered to be the most productive and flexible gate in types of delivery and loading uses along with superior driver ease of use, safety and convenience along with relatively low maintenance cost when properly and regularly serviced and maintained.