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Linde World of Material Handling (Courtesy of Linde Material Handling)

Visitors to the German exhibit are given a peek at the future of warehousing (Photo courtesy of Linde Material Handling)

By 2030, warehouses worldwide will have feature products that “talk” to the driverless forklifts that transport them, vehicles that generate more energy than they use, and integrated self-reliant facilities that operate autonomously with practically zero human workers.

That’s what the future is going to look like according to a new 3-D holographic display in a convention center near Frankfurt, Germany, set up by the European forklift manufacturer Linde Material Handling, a subsidiary of the KION Group.

A Look into the Future

As thousands of industry professionals gather in Hanover for the annual CeMAT Expo, Linde has opted to create its own competing event called “The World of Material Handling.” The centerpiece of the Linde event is the futuristic look at what materials handling will be like less than 20 years from now.

https://youtu.be/aefSaiCY6MY

Linde engineers have teamed with futurists to predict how current technological developments and industry trends will influence the way products are moved and handled in the coming decades. Among the most astonishing predictions is the way businesses will use Big Data to improve product flow, according to Massimiliano Sammartano, Linde’s VP of sales, service, marketing, and operations.

“Goods will be able to communicate with the equipment that is being used to transport them,” Sammartano said in a news release announcing the event. “In doing so, this will help manage and control the entire flow of goods.”

Self-Reliant Forklifts

Not only will many forklifts and other materials handling vehicles be driverless, but they also will be able to maintain and service themselves, reducing or even eliminating downtime.

Forklifts won’t look the way they do today. Some will adapt to the driver and to the specific demands of the task, morphing into different configurations and shapes as needed.

Generate More Power than Used

How forklifts and other industrial vehicles are powered also is likely to evolve. Tomorrow’s trucks won’t just consume less energy, they will also be able to generate more power than they use, with the surplus power being transferred to other parts of the facility to provide energy for such things as running computers, lighting, and other systems.

Visitors to the 39,370-square-foot exhibit will experience this futuristic materials handling environment virtually thanks to a three-dimensional holographic display that immerses them into the company’s vision of the future.

“The spatial perception effects created by the 3D hologram give the presentation a very impressive and life-like feel,” Sammartano said. “You are completely immersed in the world of tomorrow and are right in the center of it all.”

The exhibit runs from May 9 to 25.

 

 

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Locus Robotics' order picking robot. (Courtesy: Locus Robotics)

Locus Robotics’ order picking robot.
(Courtesy: Locus Robotics)

No doubt you have heard the phrase, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” And no doubt you understand the point of the quote is that difficult situations lead to ingenious solutions. Some have attributed the quote to Plato, who wrote in The Republic, “Necessity, who is the mother of invention.”

Regardless who first said it; the concept is what has been keeping the human race in a perpetual evolution.

One company that took the concept to heart is Quiet Logistics, a third-party provider of fulfillment services to major fashion and apparel companies headquartered in Wilmington, Massachusetts.

The company was one of the first in the logistics trade to use robots provided by Kiva. Kiva is the well-known robot manufacturer who revolutionized the warehouse business when it came up with robots that could pick orders from stock. Amazon, the giant e-commerce retailer, acquired Kiva in March 2012 to manufacture and supply robots to Amazon’s fulfillment centers worldwide. Some time later Amazon announced that it was taking Kiva off the market and that the company would no longer support its installed systems.

All of a sudden Quiet Logistics found itself in a bind. Who were they going to get to replace Kiva and supply it with a robot-based order picking system?

Company executives searched far and wide and asked some robot manufacturing companies to help. However, the companies did not have experience in the discipline of distribution. Moreover, the executives of Quiet Logistics figured that if they found a company, Amazon might buy it.

Moreover, the staff of Quiet Logistics noted that they had incorporated Kiva robots into their warehouse in 2009. So the company had knowledge about robots. During the years it learned the shortcomings of the Kiva System and had some ideas on how to improve it. For example, the Kiva robots were heavy, so people couldn’t work in the same area and, because of their weight, they couldn’t be run on a mezzanine.

Furthermore, if they wanted to add a robot, a representative from Kiva would have to come in and integrate it with Kiva’s proprietary software and the inventory data was stored in the robots. The data was not available to the company’s warehouse management system.

In addition, Kiva designed its system more than 10 years ago. Since then, many of the sensors have been improved and are less expensive.

So Quiet Logistics executives decided to create their own robot system.  The plan was to develop robots that could work with the systems Quiet Logistics already had.  The company wanted to be able to share assets and infrastructure between the system they had and the robots that were to be created.

Quiet Logistics purchased a $300 kit robot and began the project. Over time they hired a team that included some former Kiva employees and brought Olin College in Needham, Massachusetts, as well as design experts from California into the project.

Today Quiet Logistics has its system, which includes five working robots. All of the shortcomings of the Kiva System have been dealt with. The robots are light and can work with people. Adding a robot to the system is plug and play and is similar to adding a new barcode scanner or voice headset to an automatic identification system.  Just turn on the robot and it adds itself to the system. The company’s warehouse management system stores the inventory data and assigns robots to jobs in the same manner it does with human employees.

Small, mobile robots carrying a tote picks orders for a single or multiple order from a packing station and goes to a picking location. There the robot turns on blinking lights on its base to alert a human order selector that an order is ready to be picked. All the details of the order appear on the robot’s iPad. The selector picks the product and scans it using a scanner underneath the iPad, drops it into the tote and the warehouse management system then directs the robot to the next task. The task could be to go to another pick station or if the order for that robot is complete, to a packing station. At the packing station a human packer unloads the tote and the robot receives its next assignment.

Called Locus, Quiet Logistics is now selling the system through a new company named Locus Robotics.

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CMA CGM Benjamin Frankling (Photo courtesy of CMA CGM)

CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin (Photo courtesy of CMA CGM)

Less than five months after it began making runs between Asia and the US, the largest cargo ship ever to make port in North America has been redirected to the Asia-to-Europe port.

One reason France’s CMA CGM SA cargo shipping company’s shifting the mammoth CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin was due to US ports being unable to easily accommodate such mega-sized cargo container carriers, according to some industry observers.

Too Much Cargo Capacity

Another reason for redirecting the shift was a slump in the shipping industry that has caused the shipping line’s earnings to drop in recent months.

When the Behmajin Franklin first docked at the Port of Los Angeles in December, CMA CGM’s founder and chief executive Jacques Saade announced that six similar mega-sized vessels would be added to the company’s Asia-to-West Coast routes. Those plans apparently have been scrapped.

Size of the Empire State Building 

The Benjamin Franklin is the size of the Empire State Building set on its side. It has a capacity of nearly 18,000 cargo containers, about a third larger than any other container ship currently unloading at US ports.

But that kind of capacity apparently isn’t needed on the trans-Pacific route, where a cargo container glut has caused freight rates to drop to near-record lows.

Unlike European ports, terminal equipment and land-side infrastructure on West Coast ports aren’t equipped to handle the world’s largest container vessels. The few times the Benjamin  Franklin did make port in the US, it wasn’t loaded to capacity.

Explosion in Cargo Ship Size

Outside of the US, the cargo container ship industry is undergoing something of an arms race as shipbuilding companies set out to prove whose can build the biggest ship. The advent of these mega ships has meant that vessels can now carry nearly twice as many cargo containers as the largest ships build just five years ago.

Part of this increase has to do with the increased popularity of global shipping. Overseas manufacturers are discovering that they can cut costs through economies of scale by shipping their products to foreign markets on these super-sized cargo container ships.

Even in the US, the industry is preparing for the future. Recent widening and expansion projects at both the Panama and Suez canals now mean that these nearly 100-year-old man-made shipping routes can now accommodate these types of larger ships. Whereas before super-sized ships were limited largely to West Coast ports in the US, now they can make port at facilities up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

 

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Here is a special sneak preview at some of the stories coming soon on the Bahrns blog:

  • Just five months ago, West Coast port officials were ceremoniously welcoming the world’s largest cargo container ship. Now the giant vessels are no longer being welcomed at US ports. We’ll tell you what happened and how it could affect your business …
  • Quiet logistics systems are revolutionizing the material handling industry regarding filling orders, maintaining stock which allows managers to focus elsewhere …
  • Driver-less forklifts and other futuristic technology are on display at a 3D holographic virtual reality display behind hosted by Linde Material Handling. We’ll give you a personal guided tour of the warehouse of 2030 …

All this and much, much more is coming soon on the Bahrns blog … so stay tuned!

 

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If the US economy hopes to remain competitive globally, it needs to spend an additional $1.4 trillion on infrastructure improvements between now and 2025, and another $5.2 trillion by 2040, according to a report issued last week by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The report, called “Failure to Act: Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap for America’s Economic Future”, contends that the US will fall behind China and other countries unless local, state and federal governments drastically increase the amount they spend on railways, highways, bridges and other critical infrastructure projects.

Shrinking Economy, Job Losses

If the additional spending doesn’t happen, the US economy could lose nearly $4 trillion and 2.5 million jobs in the next decade, and $14.2 trillion and 5.8 million jobs by 2040, according to the group.

“The cost of deteriorating infrastructure takes a toll on families’ disposable household income and impacts the general quality and quantity of jobs in the US economy,” the report’s authors wrote in its Executive Summary. “From 2016 to 2025, each household will lose $3,400 each year in disposable income due to infrastructure deficiencies.”

Supply Chain Affected

Because the highways, trains, airports, bridges and other infrastructure the nation’s supply chain relies on are in such a sorry state, businesses have to spend substantially more to get their products to consumers. That expense is passed along in the form of higher prices, according to the report. And when people have to spend more for basic goods and services, they have less money left over to spend on things like better TVs, fancier cars, and bigger houses.

The US economy is sort of like a house of cards, according to the report. When there’s a weakness in one sector, it can have a profound effect on the entire structure. For example, when businesses themselves also have to spend more for the basic raw materials they use to build their products, it can cause a structural inefficiency in the system.

“As a consequence, US businesses will be more inefficient,” the report stated. “As costs rise, businesses productivity falls, causing GDP to drop, cutting employment, and ultimately personal income.”

Tangible Consequences

There also are practical consequences to the US’s crumbling infrastructure. Drivers have to spend more time sitting in traffic jams, which leads to higher shipping costs and reduced productivity for US workers.

Then there are competitive issues to consider. The US’s leading trade competitor, China, recently announced plans to invest more than $700 billion in infrastructure products over the next three years.

While the US Congress recently passed a new five-year, $305 billion highway spending bill, it doesn’t come close to matching China’s infrastructure spending.

In 2013, the group issued an “infrastructure report card” that gave the US a grade of “D+”.

 

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A Way To Handle Excess Inventory

18 May 2016

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How do you manage excess inventory? (Courtesy: Kathy Turner1 at flickr.com)

How do you manage excess inventory?
(Courtesy: Kathy Turner1 at flickr.com)

Warehouse inventory managers are well aware of excessive inventory issues. Someone was too excited over the prospect of selling a particular product so he or she ended up ordering too many of them. Although there may be more reasons for excessive inventory, whatever the reasons the inventory manager needs to come up with ways to handle the surplus.

Inventory managers may commonly use nine methods to relieve the inventory overage, yet these methods may cause more problems. Common ways excess inventory is handled and the problems they cause include:

·      Doing nothing. Procrastination doesn’t relieve the problem. You may think you have time to settle the problem, but while you wait the amount of slow-moving products is multiplying. Doing nothing can result in a bottleneck that will affect the efficiency of the warehouse’s operation. Moreover, the company will be paying more taxes on the excess stock.
·      Lease more space. Viola! The problem is solved. But what about the slow seasons of the year when very little product orders are being made. The result could be the leasing of empty space. And consider this. Leasing space from another storage and logistics warehouse company means money flowing out of your warehouse to the benefit of another warehouse.
·      Liquidate it. Sounds like a good idea. Just mark the price down and sell it. However, the products you sell for a discount are finding their way to secondary markets that offer them to compete with your company’s release of new products.
·      Continue to sell it. If it’s not selling what makes you think you can sell it later? Don’t keep stale, outdated products. You may need the storage space they occupy for newer, more saleable products.
·      Give it away locally. Giving away product to the neighborhood may boost your company’s reputation in that neighborhood. However, it will reduce sales and get people to think that if they wait long enough you will give away products again.
·      Sell it to employees. It might help employee moral if you offer products to them on a discount. However, this is only a temporary fix to a continuing problem.
·      Give it away to employees. If you give products away to your employees, then some energetic workers looking for a quick buck can turn around and sell the giveaways through eBay, Amazon, or other similar retailer.
·      Sell it to your top customers. It may provide a quick fix, but your clients could decide to wait for your next discount dump due to another period of excess inventory and not buy products from you at full price.
·      Throw it out. You will be throwing out the money you paid to buy the product along with it.

Here’s another way to dump excess product. A little known section of the tax code called IRC Section 170(e)(3) permits Regular C Corporations to donate excess inventory and receive an up to twice-cost federal tax deduction. Give these products to gifts-in-kind organizations.

The law forbids the receiver of the donated products from reselling, bartering or trading them. Instead, the product must be used in a way that is consistent with the charities’ mission. So there is no way the product will end up on the open market competing against your new products.

Companies have been known to use this law to giveaway office supplies, classroom materials, clothes, maintenance items, tools and hardware, toys and games, computer software, sporting goods, books, tapes, CDs, arts and crafts, personal care items, holiday and party items, janitorial supplies and more.

The law can also be used to rid you of underselling SKUs or discontinued items. Not bad and you get a break on federal taxes and that’s even better.

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Wal-Mart's drone. (Courtesy: Wal-Mart)

Wal-Mart’s drone.
(Courtesy: Wal-Mart)

Does it seem like there are a lot more drones buzzing around overhead lately? Well, get ready because there’s about to be a lot more.

Thanks to improved technology and lower prices, pilot-less drones were one of the most popular gifts last holiday season. Go to YouTube or any other video-sharing site and you are bound to find thousands of videos made by people fitting drones with Go! cameras and flying them over rock concerts, sporting events, national parks and more.

Businesses Using Drones

Now industry is finally catching on to the popularity of drones. Innovative companies are coming up with practical applications for the devices.

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, already has announced plans to use drones to deliver products to customer’s doorsteps — possibly within 30 minutes or less of when they order them.

Now Drone Scan, a South African start-up company, is developing robotic drones that can autonomously conduct product inventory in warehouses, distribution centers, and other storage spaces even when no human workers are present.

Drone Scan is a start-up company that fits drones with bar code scanners. The devices also have lasers that are connected to mapping software that captures the dimensions of the warehouse to be inventoried.

This data is then used to calculate the drone’s position and automatically navigate it throughout the space as the bar code scanner captures data about products quantities and locations. Even products stored on higher shelves can be accessed simply so that an accurate inventory can be compiled.

Automated Inventory

Best of all, according to Drone Scan, the entire process can be done completely automatically. So workers can leave work at the end of their shift and return the next day to find the entire warehouse accurately inventoried. The inventory data can even be accessed remotely from PCs, laptops, tablets or even smartphones.

The drones themselves will fly without a human controlling them. Instead, they will access navigational data stored in a central computer. Plus, when their batteries start to run low, then can automatically guide themselves to recharging stations.

This new twist on emerging technology could end up saving businesses big money by reducing the amount of labor dollars spent conducting inventories.

Inspired by Fishing Trip

Drone Scan’s co-founder, Jasper Pons, said he came up with the idea while using a homemade drone to map fishing sites on the Msunduzi River, in South Africa. He simply replaced the Go! camera with a bar code scanner and the company was up and running.

Currently, the technology is being tested as a pilot project with an unnamed European company that has more than 400 warehouses worldwide. But it is expected to be available to businesses worldwide by 2020, if not sooner, said Pons.

 

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Here’s a special sneak preview of some of the stories coming soon on the Bahrns blog:

  • Imagine this: You leave work for the night and when you come back the next morning, all of your inventory is done for you. Elves? No, drones. We’ll tell you how it works …
  • Drones are being used for aerial photos and video, delivering packages and now they are being utilized for warehouse inventory tasks. We’ll tell you how …
  • If the US doesn’t spend trillions to improve bridges, highways, railroads and other infrastructure, there could be dire consequences for the national economy, according to a group of civil engineers. We’ll tell you why …

All this and much, much more can be found coming soon on the Bahrns blog … so stay tuned!

 

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Graphic courtesy of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Graphic courtesy of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Each year, more than 22 million workers in the US are exposed to loud noise levels in their workplace that pose a serious occupational hazard, which is one of the reasons hearing loss caused by high noise exposure is the most common work-related illness among workers, according to a new report.

The study — which was issued last month by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as part of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report — looked at 1.4 million audiograms performed on noise-exposed workers in the US between 2003 and 2012. It found that 13 percent of the workers suffered hearing loss.

The severity of the loss ranged from mild to complete, according to the study.

Worst Industries for Excessive Noise

Of the nine major industries studied by NIOSH, the mining, construction and manufacturing industries had the highest prevalence of workers with hearing damage caused by their jobs.

Federal law requires that companies that expose workers to excessively loud noise implement Hearing Conservation Programs, including the monitoring of noise levels, free annual hearing exams, and free hearing protection.

Excessive loud noise in the workplace is defined as an average of more than 85 decibels during a standard eight-hour shift. Noise levels higher than this average can result in occupational hearing loss.

How to Reduce Harmful Noise Levels in the Workplace

Programs also must include training and the evaluation of workplace condition to identify opportunities to reduce noise, such as changing tools, equipment and schedules so that workers are exposed to fewer loud noises.

Engineering controls include such things as maintaining and lubricating machinery and equipment, placing barriers like sound walls or curtains between workers and the noise source, and enclosing or isolating the noise source.

Administrative controls include actions like operating noisy machines during a shift when the fewest workers are exposed, limiting the amount of time a worker spends near a noise source, and providing quiet areas where workers can get relief from excessively loud noises.

Increase Distance from Loudest Noises

One of the most effective, yet simple and inexpensive, ways to control noise exposure is to increase the distance between workers and the noise source. In an open space, each time the space between workers and the noise source is doubled, the volume of the noise is decreased by 6 decibels.

Hearing protection device — including earmuffs and ear plugs — are also effective at controlling workers’ exposure to loud noises. They should especially be used by workers whose hearing tests have already shown work-related damaged due to excessive loud noises.

 

 

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All businesses, not just the warehouse business, are always looking for ways to save money. An inspection of their operations can help good logistics managers to determine where a business operation can be more cost effective.

Places where a warehouse can reduce costs include:

·      Logistics Facilities and Fixed Equipment
·      Labor Costs
·      Stock Keeping
·      Tools and Non-Fixed Equipment

Saving money on logistics facilities and fixed equipment requires making decisions when you are in the process of developing your facility, before moving in. Ways to achieve this is to seek advice from consultants who have methods of incorporating cost-effective ideas in the design stages of the warehouse. Some things to consider when attempting to save money include good insulation, flexible storage equipment and high quality flooring. All this can lead to less damage of the facility and lower maintenance costs in the long run.

Saving money on logistics facilities and fixed equipment requires making decisions when you are developing your facility, before you move in. (Courtesy: Wally Gobetz at flickr.com)

Saving money on logistics facilities and fixed equipment requires making decisions when you are developing your facility, before you move in.
(Courtesy: Wally Gobetz at flickr.com)

Labor costs are always one of the first elements to consider when discovering ways to save money. Of course, installing warehouse automation systems can provide a cost-effective way to deal with storage and order picking issues and can result in the reduction of staff needed to get work done.

Although automation can lead to lots of savings in the long run, it will take a fairly large initial investment. So warehouse managers may prefer less expensive methods in reducing costs. You don’t have to go hog wild on spending on automation. You can select the less costly forms of automation including time saving tools like scanning devices, voice picking systems and warehouse management software. Seeking cost savings means that you must stay on top of the issue at all times. That could help you make adjustments that result in more cost effective operation. An example of this is to review picking routes periodically to determine if shorter walking distances can be utilized.

It may sound like a contradiction to the desire of providing high service, but many involved in the warehouse business advise that you keep your stock as low as possible. There have been studies that show that you can reduce stock without adversely affecting delivery performance. The little voice in your head that says keeping stock levels high is a sure fire way of avoiding stock shortages later. However, high stock levels can result in more pallet movements, unnecessary handling and too much space set aside for storage. Warehouse management software can help a warehouse manage an inventory more efficiently.

Tools and non-fixed equipment can offer the largest number of options in the ever-continuing struggle to reduce operational costs. However, to use this effectively warehouse managers must have a good understanding of the tools and equipment that are available in the market. You can learn about new tools and equipment that can help shave costs by talking with logistics managers at other warehouses. Carefully keeping up with the trade magazines and attending logistics exhibitions can also keep you up-to-date on what things are available that can make your business more efficient.

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