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hazardous materials

Photo courtesy of the US Marines via Wikimedia Commons (in the public domain)

Shipping materials that can cause harm to humans or the environment if they are spilled during transport requires an informed knowledge about national and international laws and regulations.

If something should happen and your company is responsible for a haz mat spill because the proper protocols weren’t followed, ignorance is no defense.

Fortunately, there are now a number of containers that have been certified to be in compliance with the US Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, which regulates the domestic and international shipment of dangerous goods that could cause harm to people or property if mishandled. These containers include bulk shipping containers that are completely secure during transport.

What Is a Hazardous Material?

A hazardous material is anything that can cause harm to people, living organisms, property or the environment. The definition includes such things as biohazards, allergens, asphyxiants, pathogens, corrosives, flammables, toxins and radioactive materials.

Some of the companies that common deal with the transportation of hazardous materials include the healthcare, laundry, pharmaceutical, and food industries.

In light of recent incidents and a heightened awareness of the potential threats that could come from the supply chain, local, state and even the federal governments are cracking down on the enforcement of the HMTA. In the US, the code is enforced by the US Department of Transportation, which has adopted the United Nation’s marking system for classifying hazardous materials.

Responsibility Doesn’t End at Your Dock

Jack Smylie, national sales manager for Meese Orbitron Dunne Co. — a leading maker of containers for shipping hazardous materials — said that if anything should happen to the hazardous materials once it leaves your property and enters the supply chain, your company could still be held accountable.

“Regulated, hazardous and materials for export require UN/DOT compliant packaging,” Smylie told Modern Materials Handling. “For most companies handling hazardous materials within a closed loop, their choices are steel or plastic containers. Because their lighter weight reduces transportation costs — when compared to steel — we’ve seen a big trend in the implementation of reusable plastic bulk containers for this type of transport.”

One of the company’s products is a latch-based fastening system that can be integrated into some of its other bulk forklift containers. The rotationally molded polyethylene unit includes four military-grade side release buckles that are attached via nylon straps. These are used to lock the lid onto the container. If the shipper would like to mount more buckles on the rigging, they can.

“The buckles keep the cover securely in place, even if the container is turned upside down, to ensure that the contents don’t escape,” said Smylie. “Because the fines associated with a spill and its cleanup can be extremely costly, there’s been a lot of interest from shippers in a variety of categories.”

The containers have been certified to met UN/DOT standards by a third party. To help users maintain compliance with these regulations, information about the proper use of the containers is permanently molded onto the side of each unit.



Here’s a special sneak peek at some of the stories you will find this week on the Bahrns blog:

  • The largest ship ever built recently chugged out of a shipyard in South Korea. We’ll give you an exclusive tour of this mega-sized cargo container now sailing the high seas … and tell you why many more are on the way!
  • If you are shipping hazardous materials, not only do you need to take extra precautions … you also need to know all the laws regulating these shipments so you don’t get into trouble.
  • Trucking remains one of the best ways to ship products in the supply chain, but with rising fuel costs and a continuing shortage of drivers, will it stay that way for long?

All this, plus a new survey on women in manufacturing, an innovative new anti-explosion valve, and a trucking acquisition that could shake up the industry. All this and much, much more can be found this week on the Bahrns blog … so stay tuned!

BRG Sports Rantoul

Photo by: Dave Hinton/Rantoul Press

Every time an employee has to stop and actually touch a package at BRG Sports — the manufacturer of football helmets, child safety seats and other plastic products — it costs the company time, money and efficiency.

So when the company was designing its new 813,000 square food combination manufacturing facility and distribution center in Rantoul, Illinois, its goal was to eliminate as many of these “touch points” as possible in order to streamline efficiency.

When it is finally completed next year, the BRG Sports complex will have consolidated eight different DC and four brands under one roof. The company currently manages 23,000 SKUs and ships about 10,000 pallets per month.

Finding a Solution for a Complex Environment

Because it makes everything from Riddell football helmets to Bell cycling headgear to Giro bike racks and bicycle child carriers, the company caters to everybody from big box retailers to smaller, specialty sporting goods stores and even neighborhood organizations and school athletic departments.

The challenge was to design a warehouse management system (WMS) that could coordinate between 44,000 and 60,000 pallet locations, a full two miles of conveyors, and delivery systems that can support up to 60 cartons per minute in mixed-case and 100 cartons per minute case/split case modules … all while minimizing employee touch points.

The solution was a warehouse control system designed by Numina Group that enables parallel pick, pack and ship operations across brands, channels and order profiles. The WCS times the release of work and synchonizes activities so the proper cartons for each order arrive at their designated shipping area exactly when they are needed in the least amount of time and with the fewest amount of employee travel.

Hands-Free, No-Touch Delivery Systems 

The system utilizes very narrow aisle storage in order to optimize space, as well as hands-free, multi-modal data collection tools to direct picking activities. These include voice and ring scanning.

The WCS also uses automated materials handling equipment such as conveyors, sortation equipment, and automated print-and-apply and packing systems to get the job done.

Fortunately, the company had one thing going for it: Because it was building an entirely new facility, it could design from the ground up, said Lewis Hornsby, vice president of global logistics and fulfillment.

“We didn’t want to automate our existing processes,” Hornsby told Modern Materials Handling. “Instead, we wanted to use automation to streamline our processes.”

Now, about 80% of all orders are completely automated, with no touches from human employees. That means fewer mistakes, faster operations, and improved efficiency.

“Although we ship multiple brands in split and full cases, to the automation, an order is an order and a box is a box,” Hornsby said.

When the Rantoul facility first came online in October, BRG Sports started closing facilities in other locations in order to integrate their operations under one roof.

“We had a significant number of people doing manual processes while we spoon-fed the automation,” Hornsby said. The result has been improvements in customer service and more synergies between brands and product lines.

A future phase calls for the facility to have the ability to pick product directly from assembly lines to the packing station and shipping dock in response to real-time demand.

“We’re not there yet,” Hornsby said. “But the design and automated conveyor is in place to do that.”



A pink Bobcat excavator has been donated to a manufacturing jobs hiring firm in the UK as a means of raising breast cancer awareness.

The Bobcat E14 compact excavator — which was painted pink, the color associated with breast cancer awareness — was donated jointly by Promac Solutions Ltd and Doosan Construction Equipment to L Lynch Plant Hire Ltd, a firm that helps match manufacturing workers with jobs.

For the next year, the vehicle will be towed on a specially made pink transport trailer to hiring fairs, trade shows and other events in order to promote awareness and solicit donations for breast cancer charities.

At the end of the year, the excavator will be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to breast cancer research.

Using construction equipment to promote breast cancer awareness serves a dual purpose, according to Mark Kennedy, the hiring firm’s director.

“While just over one in ten of the UK construction workforce is female, women make up only 1% of the manual trades, and the amount which make up machine operators like grabs or excavators doesn’t even register,” Kennedy told the UK materials handling website HUB. “Our industry needs to do more and work harder to dispel the myth that women are not for construction related jobs. Our future success depends on good people — whether they are female or male.”




As another indicator of the strength of the US economy, railroad and intermodal volume in September both showed significant gains, according to a report issued by the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Septembers’s carload volumes were the seventh straight month that they have been higher than the previous month, something that hasn’t happened since the beginning of 2011, according to the AAR report. And intermodal volume also was high in September. In fact, the second, third and fourth weeks of the month were the highest-volume weeks for intermodal in the history of US railroads, according to AAR senior VP John T. Gray.

“As has generally been the case in recent months, US freight rail traffic in September was consistent with an economy that’s growing at a steady pace,” Gray said. “We think that will probably continue for the foreseeable future.”

Of the 20 major commodities moved via rail car and intermodal trailers, petroleum and petroleum products was up 28.1%; stone, sand and gravel was up 12.6%; and coal was down 1.7%.

During the week ending September 27, 301,863 carloads were moved on US rails, a 1.6% annual decrease. Weekly intermodal volume was 275,071, a 1.8% increase.


Enterprise Resource Planning

Courtesy David Herrera via Wikimedia Commons

Despite a slight drop from the previous, month, the Purchasing Managers’ Indexes (PMI) in September remained optimistically high and continued growth in US manufacturing is forecasted at least through the end of this year, according to a new report fromthe Institute for Supply Management (ISM).

In September, the PMI fell 2.4% to 56.6, compared to 59 in August. But as long as the PMI is above 50, continued growth is predicted. 

The PMI are economic indicators derived from monthly surveys of private sector companies. The two principal producers of PMIs are Markit Group, which conducts PMIs for over 30 countries worldwide, and ISM, which conducts PMIs for the US.

September Caps a Strong Growth Spurt

September’s PMI of 56.6 is 1% above the 12-month average of 55.6. According to the ISM report, the manufacturing sector has been expanding for the past 16 consecutive months, and overall economic growth has been since for the past 64 months. 

Although market growth remained stable, September was the first month during 2014 that the PMI did not show month-over-month growth. But that’s nothing to be concerned about, according to Bradley Holcomb, chair of ISM’s Manufacturing Business Survey Committee.

“The 59.0 in  August was an incredible high … so September’s 56.6 is a good number,” Holcomb said. “Based on the strong quarterly PMI averages, there is continuing progression and upward momentum as we approach the fourth quarter.”

The PMI is just one of four key metrics tracked by the ISM. The other were new orders, which decreased 6.7% to during September to 60.0; Production, which rose 0.1% to 64.6; and Employment, which fell 3.5% to 54.6.

Any employment index above 50.6 is consistent with an increase in the Bureau of Labor Statistics manufacturing employment data, according to the ISM report.

Inventory Depletion to Play Central Role

The drop in production reflected the working off of the backlog orders as much as labor and resources were available, Holcomb said. Even with a decline in backlog orders, the production figure was still impressive, he said.

“If production wer to drop into the high 50s, we would be happy with that,” Holcomb said. “But based on the data, a significant drop-off is not likely at this point. Backlog of orders has been up and down over the last few months and is really a resource to maintain level production, which is seeing high numbers.

Prices in September rose 1.5% to 59.5, whereas inventories fell 0.5% to 51.5. Supplier deliveries fell 1.7% to 52.2.

These trends are expected to continue through the end of the year,according to Holcomb.

US Doing Better than Rest of the World

Michael Montgomery, US economist at IHS Global Insight, said the PMI’s US numbers were encouraging, especially when compared to the rest of the world.

“Activity is humming in North America, stalled in Europe and most of Asia, an dreary with minor declines in most of the rest of the world,” Montgomery wrote in a research not to the ISM report. “The US and  Canada are a big market for gods, but final demand is not thriving in either, just doing acceptably well. That leaves inventories as the likely stimulus to the spurt and that is not a foundation for permanent strength. It’s just enough punch for a growth spurt.”

While September dragged slightly, Q3 was the strongest quarter of the year for manufacturing, according to the report.


Ballard Power Systems — the producer of fuel cell stacks based in Vancouver, Canada — announced that it will continue to be the exclusive supplier of fuel stack cells for Plug Power.  The two companies have renewed their existing agreement through 2017, with the option for one-year extensions after that, according to a Ballard news release.

Plug Power — the Latham, New York, based provider of fuel cells for forklifts — is among the leading supplier of fuel cells for forklifts. And the company’s CEO, Andrew Marsh, recently told Bloomberg News that aid the company plans on expanding into other markets, including airport support vehicles and refrigerated truck.

Plug Power’s move comes as the US Department of Energy expects to award $30 million in research grants to expand the use of fuel cells, which are more environmentally friendly than other vehicle fuels such as gasoline, diesel and propane.

Marsh said this year the company expects to report its first profit since it went public in 1999, attributing the success to growing sales in its fuel cell-powered forklifts. The company wants to create an industrial ecosystem powered by fuel cells, with forklifts being just the first type of vehicle to use the low emissions energy source. Forklifts are only a niche to sustain the company, which now intends to expand into new areas where fuel cells can compete with electricity from fossil fuels.


The manufacture of materials handling equipment in Europe fell 6.8% to just under $70.75 billion during 2013, according to a report issued this month by the European Materials Handling Federation (FEM).

The decrease in production was attributed to a reduction in demand and stagnating exports, according to a report summary published on the website Logistics Manager.

While production of equipment lost 5%, repair and replacement dropped 13%, according to FEM. Domestic demand for materials handling equipment fell by 12%. Exports from Europe, which were $28.93 billion in 2013, are starting to account for nearly as much as domestic demand, the report stated.

The $70.75 billion production value is the same as it was in 2005.

Imports grew by 6.5%. Competitors outside of Europe were gaining a larger market share, but the trade balance is still seen as stable and still largely positive, according to Olivier Janin, the group’s secretary general.

“The share of exports in our production value means that our manufacturers compete more and more on external markets,” Janin said. “Their competitiveness is therefore crucial and a big part of it comes from their ability to innovate. European policies ought not to limit but to foster such an ability so as to safeguard industrial manufacturing in Europe.”



Here’s a special sneak preview of some of the stories you will find this week on the Bahrns blog:

  • At an Illinois manufacturer of football helmets and other sports equipment, the more workers “touch” products as they pass through the production line, the slower and more costly the process. Now the firm has created a new facility that is essentially “touchless”. We’ll give you a tour …
  • How strong is US manufacturing? During the last three weeks of September, manufacturers were reporting record high confidence levels … and the trend is expected to continue straight through into next year.
  • An increasing number of companies say they are concerned about their energy expenses. We’ll tell you what steps some of them are taking to control it.

Plus, a pink Bobcat excavator, record volumes on the railroads, Europe’s manufacturing woes, and a new deal for the leading forklift fuel cell maker. All this and much, much more can be found this week on the Bahrns blog … so stay tuned!


Industrial RobotsAs energy costs continue to escalate, more than half of US companies are looking for new ways to invest in energy saving technologies, according to a recent survey commissioned by Schneider Electric.

The survey, which was conducted by the firm Redshift Research during Schneider Electric’s 2013 Xperience Efficiency events held in Washington, D.C., and Dallas, Texas, also found that 63% of public and private sector energy leaders already have invested in efficient energy programs during the previous 12 months and plan to double down on their investment during the coming year.

Energy Efficiency Investments Up 12%

The survey included 301 people whose companies earned at least $50 million annually in revenue and who had a decision-making role in facility, operations, technology, supply chain, or energy efficiency management. Energy efficiency investments increased 12% while projected investments increased 13%.

That sort of concern about counteracting rising energy costs is not surprising, said Laurent Vernerey, Schneider Electric’s president and CEO.

“Increased investment suggests business leaders are seeing a return,” Vernerey said. “In fact, more than half (51%) of respondents said they realize at least a 25% return on investment on efficiency initiatives. This type of return will drive more investment in efficiency applied across the enterprise — beyond energy consumption — as organizations find that they must become operationally efficient to remain competitive and profitable in today’s environment.”

The survey found that 60% of respondents said they have at least one person in their organization who is the designated point person for energy management.

Where the Money Is Being Spent

“With these figures in mind, the move toward more intelligent energy management and increased economic sustainability seems promising, as 24% of respondents expect building automation to gain traction in the next five years, followed by efficient lighting (21%), data center efficiency (16%), renewables (9%) and smart meters (9%),” the survey results summary states. “These types of initiative allow organizations to reduce their energy costs, which 64% of respondents reported is the leading driver of energy management decision in their organizations.”

Schneider Electric warned, however, that about 33% of US private and public enterprises continue to do nothing to conserve energy. That could explain why the US finished ninth globally in a recent energy efficiency ranking among the world’s 12 largest economies.

“Global energy demand is expected to double by 2050, but by implementing energy management approaches like building automation, efficient lighting and data center efficiency today, we can curb the troubling trend of skyrocketing energy usage,” states the summary. “Right now, businesses, governments and homeowners alike can take practical, simple and effective actions to improve efficiency on a personal, local and global level.”

Energy Efficiency Comes at a Cost

Respondents also noted that increased efficiency also comes with its own set of challenges, including more complex technology management (55%), security (54%), and conflict between Information Technology and operations staff (47%).

Schneider Electric’s survey also identified modernization as something that will be crucial to industry in the coming years. After IT and operational technology convergence, 51%of respondents said infrastructure modernization was a priority, while 48% said public infrastructure upgrades would positively impact their businesses. The most important among these were electrical systems (56%), traffic and transportation systems (53%) and telecommunications (48%).