When it comes to efficiency in logistics, quick cargo turnaround is key. This means that cargo needs to be loaded and unloaded from transport vehicles as efficiently as possible so that warehouses and manufacturers are able to increase productivity. One way to increase loading and unloading efficiency is through side loading.  

Side Loading is a loading and unloading method, in which a truck gives access to the cargo compartment from both the left and the right side, as opposed to the rear. Side loading allows more cargo to be loaded or unloaded in the same amount of time, compared to the traditional rear-loading method. 

This is only possible if the truck is able to facilitate side loading by either folding back the side curtains, folding up its wing, or opening its side doors. Generally speaking, side loading allows faster and better access to the cargo area so that forklifts are able to unload and load more efficiently. 

In this article, we’ll be exploring the practice of side loading, what vehicles are capable of this, and what the benefits of side loading are. We will also share a step-by-step process on how this works.

How Is Side Loading Performed?

The key difference between side loading and traditional rear loading is that cargo is loaded and unloaded from the side of the truck, instead of the rear of the truck. 

This can only be done by specialized trucks. These types of trucks are known as side loading trucks (or curtain side trucks), which are equipped with side curtains, wings, or side doors.

side loading truck
Forklift Unloading Curtain Side Truck

Side loading does not require the truck to be positioned at a loading bay, as all of the cargo is accessible from each side, through forklifts. 

Rear loading trucks require forklifts to access the cargo area through a ramp (loading bay or dock), as they would otherwise not have access to the cargo. 

What Are the Benefits of Side Loading?

There are many advantages of side loading cargo, compared to the traditionally rear-loading process. In the next section, we’ll be taking a closer look at the advantages of side loading. 

Better Cargo Access

Instead of loading and unloading cargo from the rear of the truck, cargo can be accessed through either the left or right side. As a result of this, forklifts can access cargo selectively. 

Moreover, side loading also allows forklift drivers to move smoothly and safely with a full view of the cargo so that they can clearly identify which pallets to unload or where exactly to load a particular pallet. 

Faster Loading & Unloading

Because of this side access, multiple forklifts can easily maneuver to secure bulky and heavy cargo or pallets efficiently and safely to their assigned location. Due to the narrow access at the end of a truck, rear loading only allows access to a single forklift. 

However, when it comes to side loading, it’s not uncommon to have multiple forklifts load and unload cargo, due to the increased access through the side of the truck. This can improve cargo loading speed by 2 to 3 times.

No Loading Bays Required

In a situation where loading bays are not available or inaccessible, efficient loading or unloading can still be done just as long as the truck can retract its wings, or slide open its side doors or curtains. 

Rear-loading requires loading bays so that forklifts can enter the truck’s cargo compartment to unload the pallets. However, forklifts are not required to do so when side loading. This is because the entire cargo area is accessible to forklifts when unloading and loading cargo from the side of the truck. 

What Are The Requirements for Side Loading?

It’s important to take note that only certain vehicles can perform side-loading. The reason behind that is in the design of the truck and how cargo is loaded and unloaded. 

Curtain Side Truck
Side Door Truck
wing Truck
Wing Truck

In the following section, we’ll be taking a look at the type of equipment that is required for side loading. 

Side Loading Trucks

Side Loading trucks, also known as side loaders, have the ability to provide access to forklifts from each side of the truck, through three different methods: winged doors (Winged Truck), side doors (Side Door Truck), or side curtains (Curtain Side Truck). 

While winged doors are the most convenient, as the opening mechanism is automated, they are typically found on small to medium-sized trucks. On the other hand, side doors and curtains and manually opened and closed, and are found on medium to large-sized trucks. 


To access cargo from side loading trucks, forklifts are required. Forklifts can raise their forks through a sliding mechanism in the mast, which allows them to load and unload pallets. 

This also means that electric pallet trucks, which are commonly used for rear loading, cannot be used for side loading, due to the lack of ramps and the inability for them to raise their forks. 


As the access to the truck is required on both sides, the process of side loading requires a relatively large amount of floor space. While it increases the cargo unloading and loading speed, it also requires a larger amount of space outside of the warehouse or manufacturing plant. 

When Is Side Loading a Better Option?

The main question that warehouse and operations managers ask is whether side loading yields benefits compared to traditional rear loading. There are certain advantages that side loading offers. 

However, these benefits may not apply to all scenarios. In the following section, we’ll be taking a closer look at circumstances where side loading is advantageous.  

  • When No Loading Bays Are Available – As side loading trucks can be loaded and unloaded directly through the use of forklifts, they are an excellent option for facilities that do not have any loading bays, or when there are not enough loading bays available. 
  • When Faster Turnaround Is Required – The ability of side loading trucks to allow access to multiple forklifts simultaneously increases the overall turnaround speed. Side loading can make operations more efficient by turning around cargo faster and subsequently lessening the waiting times of trucks. This typically prevents assessorial costs such as truck waiting fees and chassis detention charges.
  • When Multiple Forklifts are Available – Side loading is also a suitable way of unloading or loading cargo when multiple forklifts are available. This is because multiple forklifts are able to access cargo at the same time. 

Where Is Cargo Typically Side Loaded?

Side loading is commonly practiced on an empty space in front of the warehouse or manufacturing plant. The location needs to be open and spacious where forklifts can safely navigate freely around both sides of the side loader without obstruction.

Please note that shipping containers aren’t typically side loaded, as the container doors are located towards the rear. It’s only possible to practice this on side opening shipping containers. 

What Type of Cargo Is Side Loaded?

The great thing about this concept is that any type of cargo can be side loaded. While the most common types of cargo are palletized (as this speeds the loading and unloading process), even oversized or non-palletized cargo can be side loaded.

Here is a list of cargo that is commonly side loaded

  • Beverages
  • Consumables
  • Food products
  • Fashion products
  • Machinery
  • Equipment
  • Parts 

Side Loading Process

In this section, we’ll outline how the side loading process works. Please take note that many companies have their own side loading procedures, which are guided by occupational health and safety standards in their respective countries. 

  1. The side loading truck should be parked on an even surface within the warehouse or plant premises. This should be a designated area where the loading or unloaded activity is planned.
  2. Also make sure that the loading area can support the combined weight of the cargo, the truck, and the forklifts.
  3. The truck should engage its parking brake and all wheels should be choked, in order to avoid the truck from accidentally moving. 
  4. Use safety cones to show that operations are ongoing in the immediate area and ensure that everyone is wearing protective equipment at all times. 
  5. Before loading or unloading, ensure that the truck is clean, and has no oil leakage, loose objects, holes, or weak floors. Also, ensure that the side loading activity is carried out with proper lighting. 
  6. Once the wing truck wings, side curtains, or side doors are fully open, cargo can proceed to be loaded or unloaded. 
  7. When the cargo has been fully loaded or unloaded, the sides of the truck can be closed and secured. 
  8. Before the truck departs, ensure to secure the truck doors, remove the safety cones and tire chocks, disengage the parking brake and check that the surroundings are clear.  

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Andrew Lin

Co-Founder & Writer
at freightcourse

About the Author

Andrew is a multi-business owner with over 12 years of experience in the fields of logistics, trucking, manufacturing, operations, training, and education.

Being the co-founder of freightcourse has given him the ability to pursue his desire to educate others on manufacturing and supply chain topics.