Portable cargo loading ramps might look alike, and even feature similar structures and materials, but there are differences in the details – all of which play a role in purchasing decisions.
Russell Smith, training manager at Integrated Warehouse Solutions, says the choices begin with a clear understanding of the loads they’ll carry, but extend beyond capacities to consider grades and budgets alike.
“It’s all driven by the application. In other words, how that ramp is going to be used on a day-to-day basis will drive you to a particular product that best works for the application in which you’re using it,” he says.
The two most common designs used by drivers, and stored in trucks, are walk and curb ramps. While walk ramps are used to transport cargo from the truck to the ground and vice versa, curb ramps cover other elevations and uneven surfaces.
Both are typically built of aluminum because the material is lighter than steel, reducing the risk of strained backs and other injuries when moving the ramps around.
Grades and capacities
The chosen grade will play its own role in ergonomics. A ramp must be long enough to negotiate a difference in height – such as the 48 to 51 inches from the ground to a trailer floor — with a slope that’s gentle enough to negotiate a pallet jack or hand truck.
“Using them is basically coming up and down the hill,” Smith says, noting grades of 14% to 19% are recommended. “The higher up you’re going, the longer your ramp will be.”
“The ramp has to be strong enough to hold the weight of whatever is rolling up and down,” Smith adds, referring to material choices and thickness that will determine how rigid a ramp will be. A ramp made of quarter-inch aluminum will support a cart loaded with soda. But a ramp that is a half-inch-thick will support 3,000 to 5,000 lb., he says.
The capacity involves more than material thickness alone. Design considerations make their own difference.
“The under structure of a ramp can be described as a sub assembly that is attached to the underside of the ramp. It is usually not seen and serves no function other than strengthening the ramp,” he says.
Depending on the manufacturer, they could be built in different ways. However, there is no specific type of material that makes the structure more durable, Smith adds.
Side curbs and locks
Other features will enhance safety.
While side curbs are not needed on a curb ramp, they are an important element for a walk ramp, affecting capacity and protecting against “runoff”.
“Let’s say you’re going down and you’re not paying attention, you start to go off the side,” Smith says. “The wheels of whatever you are pushing will hit the side curbs to prevent you from running off the ramp before you get to the ground.”
It can be easy to lose control on a walk ramp because, the steeper the incline, the faster you go, he adds.
Locks, meanwhile, will prevent ramps from sliding away from trailers to which they’re attached. Choices here can depend on an individual trailer’s design.
While some trailers have notches used to hook on a ramp, other trailers do not. So, ramps should come chains, hooks, or something else to keep the ramp from sliding away, Smith says.
Traction is also important, especially in poor weather.
Ramp manufacturers typically use two types of aluminum surfaces for this need. “Diamond plate has little bumps that provide traction,” Smith explains. “Extrusion has a totally different type of traction on it since it has ribs up and down.”
Some ramps also incorporate holes so water and snow can fall through them.
But there are also some aftermarket products that buyers can use to further enhance traction, such as epoxy-based paints with gritty materials, or traction tape.
There are trade-offs in every choice. Larger companies will tend to spend extra on a ramp that takes up less storage space in a truck, whereas smaller companies with less buying power tend to give up a little space for a less-expensive ramp, Smith observes.
“It is typically the cost of the ramp that’s going to dictate whether that end user is going to make any trade-offs,” he says.
“Make sure you get the right length, the right capacity, and whatever you need to secure to the truck, and then you’re in good shape.”
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