Understanding Different Types of Loading Dock Levelers


Looking to streamline your facility operations? Start with selecting the right loading dock leveler.

In this article we break down and compare the different types of dock levelers available – so you can find the best one to suit the unique needs of your facility.

Keep reading to find out which leveler type is right for you.

Common Types of Loading Dock Levelers

The following dock levelers are popular throughout a large range of different facility types.

Hydraulic Dock Levelers

Built to endure heavy loads, high-usage and extreme weather, hydraulic systems are known for their durability and ease-of-use. Hydraulic systems are safe and fully automatic, designed with a push-button operating system. The fully automatic system translates into a virtually maintenance-free option as it eliminates breakdowns that mechanical and air systems are sometimes prone to.

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance, efficient and easy-to-operate loading dock leveler, a hydraulic system is your best option.

Mechanical Loading Dock Levelers

Mechanical systems are considered one of the more economical options as they don’t require a power source. They instead use a mechanical spring system to lift the leveler and come equipped with safety legs. This safety feature, although critical, is sometimes the cause of the issue of ‘stump-outs’. Stump-outs occur when the dock leveler can’t move down to accommodate the trailer bed movement. In extreme cases, this can potentially lead to injury of the forklift driver while backing up, as well as possible damage to the product or equipment.

If an immediate economic solution is your priority, a mechanical leveler is the best option for you. However, long-term maintenance costs may outweigh any short-term savings when compared to a hydraulic option.

*Although there are many types of loading dock levelers, most of them will be powered through either a hydraulic or mechanical system*

Air-Powered Dock Levelers

Air-powered systems are semi-automatic systems built to endure moderate traffic loads. They function by using an inflatable air bag to raise the leveler, usually operated with a push-button. Relative to hydraulic systems, this system will require more long-term maintenance due to the need for occasional cleaning of the air bag. Additionally, air-powered levelers are a moderately higher risk option due to the possibility that debris can puncture the air bag. Air levelers also employ the safety leg system which can cause the same ‘stump-out’ problem as mechanical systems.

Air-powered loading dock levelers have fewer components than mechanical levelers and as a result are typically the more reliable of the two systems, though also more expensive. In contrast, they have more moving parts than hydraulic systems, leaving them more susceptible to breakdown.

Comparing Hydraulic, Mechanical & Air-Powered Dock Levelers

TYPE Ideal Traffic Load Operation Type Maintenance Schedule Initial Cost Power Source Energy Efficiency
HYDRAULIC Medium-Heavy Automatic Very Limited High Required Moderate
AIR-POWERED Medium Semi-Automatic Moderate Moderate Required Moderate
MECHANICAL Medium Mechanical Moderate Low None Required Zero Consumption


Less Common Types of Loading Dock Levelers

The following types of dock levelers are manufactured with additional features that may benefit certain facilities – such as temperature controlled facilities and facilities operating very heavy loads. 

Vertical Loading Dock Levelers

Vertical dock levelers, as the name indicates, stand up in a vertical position when not in use and offer a complete seal when upright. This makes vertical levelers ideal for loading and unloading areas whose internal temperatures need to be controlled, as they can reduce cooling costs and prevent product from spoiling. Vertical levelers operate using a hydraulic system.

For facilities that require temperature control or where security is the top priority, the sealing component makes vertical loading dock levelers an excellent out-of-the-box option.

Roll-Off Stop Lip Dock Levelers

These loading dock levelers are manufactured with a ‘Stop Lip’ that stands up at the edge of the dock when the dock is parked. This extra safety measure can help prevent forklifts, machinery and goods from falling off the dock when the door is open with no trailer secured to the door opening.

Roll-off stop lips are ideal for facilities that will often see forklifts operating close to the edge of the leveler. These loading dock levelers eliminate concerns of the forklift rolling off and causing ongoing section damage when the dock door is open.

Edge of Dock Levelers

Edge of dock levelers come in both hydraulic and mechanical versions and are used for low-volume facilities with up to 30,000 lb capacities. These types of levelers are safer alternatives to dock plates and are sometimes a more ergonomic option. They are limited in use as they are only suitable for standard loading dock heights with highway trailers.

Choosing the Right Loading Dock Leveler For Your Application

selecting dock leveler criteria

With so many different types of levelers to choose from and so many different variables in what’s available on the market, choosing the right one for your facility can be challenging. At Lenworth, we take extreme pride in visiting facilities, diagnosing use cases and providing you with the right option for your application.

As always, if your facility is in need of a dock leveler solution or any type of facility improvement, contact Lenworth today and we can provide you with a solution for doing things the right way.

As the VP of Sales & Marketing, Spencer is an energetic and company-oriented manager that places an emphasis on continuous organizational improvement. Spencer's acute focus on building a customer-centric business drives his team to consistently go above and beyond customers' expectations. At Lenworth, Spencer places the customer as the focal point of all decisions.

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