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Outdoor canopyDepending on where you live, this year has seen one of the mildest winters on record (in the Midwest) or one of the snowiest (in the Northeast and Southeast). Yet everywhere in the US, spring is right around the corner.

In just a few weeks, temperatures will rise, the sun will return, and the weather will become more tolerable.

That means it’s time for many businesses to start thinking about updating and improving outdoor areas like parking lots, exterior storage areas, employee break zones, and others.

Repaving and Reconfiguring 

Spring is the best time for repaving, resurfacing, or reconfiguring traffic flow in parking lots, roads, and other vehicle areas. Even a fresh coat of sealer or repainting parking lot lanes can help make old areas look new in the springtime.

Installing traffic control products like speed bumps, barricades, traffic cones, parking stops, and others can help improve the flow of traffic and increase workplace safety.

Outdoor Storage

For many businesses, cold weather months offer the challenge of reduced storage space. Lots of warehouses and docks are bursting at the seams with all the excess products and pallets that are lying around.

Warmer weather allows many of these items to be moved outdoors, freeing up much needed interior space and giving everybody a little more breathing room.

Outdoor storage equipment, canopies, and even garages can provide additional spaces for storing materials and products safely while enhancing productivity and profits of practically any operation.

Beautify Your Property

Spring also is the time for planting flowers and other beautification projects.

Improving the way your property looks offers a number of important benefits. First, it can create a better impression for customers, clients, vendors, and other visitors to your business.

Outdoor tools and equipment that improve the way your property looks can offer a boost to your business’s professional reputation and enhance your standing within the community.

But beautification projects have a psychological benefit for the people who work at your business as well. When they see that you are willing to spend money to improve their work conditions, it can improve worker loyalty, reduce turnover, and even improve productivity.

A Place to Relax

When the weather improves, everybody wants to spend more time outdoors. When your workers enjoy warm, sunny weather, they will return to work refreshed, reinvigorated, and ready to do a great job.

Installing new outdoor furniture in the springtime is a great way to improve morale and show your workers that you care about their well-being.

 

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A Pick to Light module. (Courtesy: http://www.wearethepractitioners.com/library/the-contributors-voice/2013/04/03/wms-and-picking)

A Pick to Light module.
(Courtesy: http://www.wearethepractitioners.com/library/the-contributors-voice/2013/04/03/wms-and-picking)

The rise in online shopping has put dock and warehouse managers under the gun to improve operations.

Mega-retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon and package delivery services like UPS and FedEx can afford to spend billions on research and development of faster, more efficient ways to get products to consumers faster and more accurately.

The result is consumers who now expect to get their orders not in weeks or months, but in days or even hours after they submit their orders.

And it’s not just residential consumers either. Now the trend towards faster, better, and more efficient delivery systems is extending to businesses as well.

In the meantime, many small- or medium-sized business warehouse or dock managers are being challenged to develop ways to improve workflow and throughput without the benefit of the bottomless resources of multi-billion global corporations.

Throw Out the Rule Book

The problem that many operations have is their past. “We’ve always done it this way” is not going to cut it in the 21st  Century, when competition with fast, efficient, web-based businesses is ferocious.

“We’ve always done it this way” is not going to cut it in the 21st  Century, when competition with fast, efficient, web-based businesses is ferocious.

The first thing you can do to streamline picking and distribution operations is to forget everything you have done in the past. New solutions call for fresh ideas.

Have a Game Plan

Another challenge to efficiency is existing overhead.

If your business already has invested over the years in elaborate shelving, materials handling equipment, and other costly warehouse and dock equipment, it’s not going to be easy to write-off those expenses and buy brand new, state of the art technology like automated guided vehicles, digital warehouse management systems, and other big ticket items.

But you don’t have to do everything all at once. Instead, develop a long-range strategy to upgrade your picking, packaging, and delivery systems over time. Then build these updates into your budget so you don’t have to take the whole hit at once.

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Businesses that have been in operation are always difficult to change, especially when compared to smaller, newer, and more flexible competitors.

One analogy frequently cited is that big companies are like big ships. They can’t change course easily and require time and patience for major changes to occur. Smaller, cutting edge companies are more like speed boats that can speed up, slow down, and make sharp turns more easily.

Yet even established businesses can benefit from youthful thinking. Executives who encourage managers to be creative and give them the freedom to make decisions on their own often can see faster, better results.

 

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hose reel

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hoses and cords are commonly used in many different types of operations. Whether they are water hoses, air hoses to power mechanical equipment, or even electrical cables, hoses and cords provide a valuable service.

Yet hoses and cords also create a potential safety hazard, especially when sprawled across high traffic areas. They are a serious trip hazard. Plus, when they are run over by forklifts and other heavy equipment, they can easily fray, become worn, or burst.

Hose and cable reels help improve workplace safety. They also can save your business a lot of money.

Avoiding Accidents

A single trip and fall accident can cost a business big money in medical bills or workmen’s compensation claims. But if the accident victim can prove that the business left the hoses or cables lying around negligently, it also could result in a lawsuit.

Hose and cable reels can improve workplace safety by reducing the risk of trip and fall accidents. They also can minimize liability by creating a safer, more secure workplace.

Another consideration is leakage. When hoses are left out, they can become easily damaged by equipment or other hazards. If hoses carrying gas or live electrical cables are split open, they can create a serious safety hazard.

Hose and cable reels help prevent leakage of gas, water, oil, and other workplace hazards by allowing hoses to be stored safely when not in use, or only extending just enough hose or cable to get the specific job done before retracting back after work is finished.

Improving the Environment

Using hose and cable reels to store these items when they are not in use can also make your workplace less cluttered.

When workers, vendors, and visitors to your worksite see hoses and cables unwound or, even worse, knotted up, they are going to think you don’t care about the conditions of your business. A messy workplace is also a less productive workplace.

Some hose and cable reels are spring-loaded, so they can automatically retract hoses and cables when they aren’t being used. Others need to be manually cranked or reloaded with cables or hoses. Both types help clean up work areas, providing a neater and safer environment.

Reducing Wear

Another benefit of hose and cable reels is that they reduce wear and tear on your equipment, allowing for longer use and minimizing replacement costs.

In these instances, hose and cable reels can actually pay for themselves in a relatively short time.

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smartphone

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Keeping employees happy while they work is one of the easiest ways to improve productivity, enhance job satisfaction, and reduce costly turnover.

Employers are constantly looking for new ways to make the workplace better for their workers while at the same time managing the costs of these the worker benefits that achieve this goal.

Today, one of the cheapest, fastest, and easiest ways to instantly improve work conditions for employees is by allowing them to use their smartphones openly in the workplace, or even facilitating workers to use their devices by providing charging stations.

Fighting Against a Rising Tide

The thought of allowing workers to use their personal smartphones and other devices on the job automatically makes many managers defensive. But the “battle of the smartphones” is not one management is likely to win, at least not in the long run.

In many businesses today, managers and supervisors today spend more time policing their employees’ use of smartphones than they do other more important supervisory tasks. Some companies even ban smartphones altogether, requiring workers to leave them in their lockers or locked up in their cars.

But what are they really accomplishing? First of all, people are going to use their smartphones. They’re going to sneak them in, use them in secret, and generally push the limit as far as they can. That’s human nature. It’s just too easy and too tempting not to check that Facebook account or look at the text that just came through.

Think about your own smartphone use: It’s just too easy and too tempting not to check that Facebook account or look at the text that just came through.

Second, the reality is that smartphones are now a permanent part of just about everybody’s lives, both inside and outside of work.

So rather than fighting against rapidly improving, highly-addictive technology that makes it easier than ever for people to remain connected to their family, friends, and the internet itself, effective organizations might benefit by looking for new and innovative ways to empower workers to use the same technology for the organization’s benefit.

Using Smartphones to Your Benefit

There’s little value in playing “Gotcha!” with workers and their smartphones. Supervisors are expending a lot of time and energy trying to prevent workers from doing what they are inevitably going to do anyway: Look at their smartphones. It’s a lot like herding cats.

But what if rather than taking the hard line, reasonable, mutually agreed upon limits were placed on smartphone usage, such as allowing them to be used in the workplace during breaks, at mealtimes, and before and after shifts.

Or what if workers were actually rewarded for using their smartphones and other devices to find new ways to improve operations, reduce costs, and increase customer service? That’s a win/win/win for most employers!

So easing up on the smartphone police and even providing a place for workers to recharge their phones without fear of being busted is something many businesses probably should consider in the not so distant future.

 

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Stretch FilmStretch wrap is one of the most widely used packaging products on docks, in warehouses, at manufacturing facilities, and other places where products and packages are prepared for shipment.

Plastic film is convenient for holding boxes and products together on a pallet, or preventing them from shifting or becoming damaged as they make their way through the supply chain.

But while most people are familiar with stretch wrap, they may not know that there actually are many different types of plastic packaging film, each of which has its own specific purpose and uses.

Types of Stretch Wrap

The most popular types of plastic stretch wrap include UV stretch wrap, vented pallet wrap, anti-static stretch film, and colored stretch film.

Most can be grouped into two categories: Cast stretch wrap and blown stretch wrap.

Cast stretch wrap is made using a cast extrusion process in which a thermoplastic material is melted and extruded through a flat die onto a chill roll, where it is quenched and then resolidified. This produces a more affordable type of stretch wrap with increased clarity.

Blown stretch wrap is made using a blown extrusion process in which the plastic melt is extruded through a vertical annular slit die to form a thin walled tube. Air is then blown through a hole in the center of the die to blow up the tube like a balloon. Then on the top of the tube an air ring blows onto the film to cool it down.

This produces a stretch wrap with a higher load and stretch capacity, as well as a higher degree of memory once stretched out.

Thicknesses of Stretch Wrap

Within these sub-categories, each type of stretch wrap comes in different widths and thicknesses for use in various applications.

One of the thinnest types of stretch wrap is 37 gauge, which is ideal for bundling two light uniform objects together.

Other thicknesses include 47 gauge, 60 gauge, 63 gauge, all the way up to 150 gauge, which is used when stretch wrap requires superior strength and puncture resistant properties, such as for wrapping steel, metal, and other heavy duty items.

Stretch wrap can be applied in a number of different ways. For larger, repetitive jobs, there are turntable stretch wrap machines that automatically wrap multiple loads per hour.

For simpler applications, some stretch wraps come inside packaging that includes applicators, such as cutting edges and rollers. The simplest type of stretch wrap, and one of the most widely used, simply uses a dowel or rod such as a broom handle to apply it to the packages or products that require wrapping.

 

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Photo by Visitor7 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Photo by Visitor7 (via Wikimedia Commons)

More than most other products, food needs to be handled with special care and attention as it makes its way through the supply chain. From the moment it is produced to the time it is consumed, food needs to be carefully controlled in order to minimize the risk of illness to consumers.

Local, state, and federal agencies are devoted to monitoring and regulating the safe handling of food from manufacturers to stores and restaurants. The amount and complexity of regulations related to food handling can be staggering. But when it comes down to it, most food handling rules are based on common sense.

First In, First Out

Nearly every type of food produced is perishable. Some types of foods simply have shorter shelf lives than others.

Dried herbs and spices, for example, can be safely stored at room temperature for months or even years before their quality begins to decline, while dairy products, meat, and produce may last safely for only a few hours before they become potentially dangerous.

Regardless of the rate of their perishableness, nearly all food products benefit from “First In, First Out” — or FIFO – handling and storage protocols. FIFO rotation of food inventory promotes freshness because the first product loaded into storage is also the first product picked for distribution or preparation.

Line of Sight

Another important safety requirement is to visually monitor food quality whenever possible. For example, restaurant chefs will often cut open boxes of fresh produce as soon as they are delivered so that they can visually inspect for quality.

Highly perishable foods such as fish and meats are frequently moved from the cases in which they were delivered to clean, drainable storage containers so that chefs can maintain a continual visual inspection of perishable products.

The quality of many foods can be assessed visually. You can visually see when many foods are deteriorating, such as bruising in fresh fruits and vegetables, and discoloration of older meats, poultry, and fish.

Monitoring Control Points

Controlling and recording food handling conditions, such as refrigerator or freezer temperatures, is another effective way of ensuring food quality. Most commercial refrigerators and freezers produced today include automatic alarms that indicate when temperatures fall above or below safe levels for the foods they contain.

Similarly, temperature and quality of food products are also frequently monitored during transportation in trucks, trains, and other vehicles to ensure optimal conditions at all times.

Properly handling food products helps reduce risk and spoilage while enhancing safety and freshness.

 

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Actor/comedian Dana Carvey (Photo via ProMat 2017)

Actor/comedian Dana Carvey (Photo via ProMat 2017)

“Well, isn’t that special?!”

That was one of the most popular catchphrases of the 1990s. Now the comedian behind the “Church Lady”, “Garth” from “Wayne’s World”, and other popular characters is scheduled to address this year’s ProMAT materials handling conference.

That was one of the most popular catchphrases of the 1990s. Now Dana Carvey, the comedian behind the “Church Lady”, “Garth” from “Wayne’s World”, and other popular characters, is scheduled to address this year’s ProMat materials handling conference.

Thousands of materials handling industry professionals will converge on ProMAT 2017 when the annual trade show is held April 3 through 6 at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center.

Carvey will perform at the MHI Industry Night function scheduled for the evening of Wednesday, April 5. He is perhaps most famous for his time on NBC-TV’s Saturday Night Live, where he created some of television’s most memorable characters, including “Hans” from Hanz &  Franz. But he also has starred in such films as “The Master of Disguise” and as a voice actor in “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Hotel Transylvania 2″.

LA Laker Legend

NBA Legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson (Photo via ProMat 2017)

NBA Legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson (Photo via ProMat 2017)

Also appearing at ProMat 2017 will be former NBA star and successful entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who is scheduled to give a keynote address on April 5.

Johnson is perhaps best known for his years with the LA Lakers, a two-time NBA Hall of Famer, as well as being an Olympic gold medalist on the 1992 USA “Dream Team”.

But since leaving basketball, Johnson has been a successful businessman, launching his Urban America brand of streetwear — valued at an estimated $1 billion — as well as formerly being part owner of the Magic Johnson Theatres chain.

Johnson speech is entitled, “The Power of Magic: Know Your Customer and Where They Are Going”.

Other Notable Speakers

Also giving a keynote address during the conference is Markus Lorenz, partner and managing director of The Boston Consulting Group, who will speak April 4 on “How Intelligent Machines Are Transforming Supply Chains”.

On April 3, a panel discussion on “Building Supply Chain Sustainability for Competitive Advantage: Lessons Learned from Leaders in Innovative Facility Design” will be led by Andrew Winston, sustainability expert and author of “Green to Gold”.

And on April 5, MHI CEO George W. Prest and Scott Sopher, principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP, will offer a preview of the MHI annual industry report for 2017.

The trade show will feature more than 850 vendors as well as 100 show floor seminars, including new “town hall” style sessions on autonomous vehicles and sustainable facility solutions, according to the ProMat news release.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to spend $1 trillion to improve the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Within a week of being sworn in, President Trump has compiled a list of the 50 most critical infrastructure projects he plans to tackle, three of which are major projects within Illinois — two in Chicago and one downstate.

The list was released to the National Governor’s Association by the Trump transition team, which is seeking input from state leadership before finalization.

While the proposed projects total only $137.5 billion in spending, they are thought to be just the beginning of the administration’s far-reaching plan to rebuild the country’s crumbling highways, airports, dams, bridges, and other infrastructure.

Fast-Tracking Infrastructure Projects

While the list, entitled “Emergency and National Security Projects” is preliminary and subject to change, it includes cost estimates and job impact numbers. Half the money for the projects was expected to come from private investment.

The 50 projects identified for fast-tracking is similar to a list of priority infrastructure projects distributed to the governor’s association in December, with a few notable exceptions. The Alaska Pipeline and LNG Project on Obama’s list was replaced with a Texas Central Railway project by Trump, and a Fort Mojave Solar Project in California was replaced with a Howard Street Tunnel project in Baltimore.

Both lists note three Illinois Projects as critical:

  • Updating the aging Red and Purple elevated/subway lines on Chicago Transit  Authority’s commuter rail system
  • Redeveloping Chicago’s Union Station commuter train facility
  • Rebuilding two locks along the Illinois River, one at LaGrange and one in Peoria

Governors Invited to Make Submissions

The list of infrastructure projects originally began with the nation’s 50 state governors, all of whom were invited to submit “big shovel” projects within their states that they would like to see prioritized.

In order to be considered, the projects had to meet specific criteria:

  • They had to improve national security or resolve a public safety “emergency”
  • They had to be “shovel-ready”, with a minimum of 30% of design and engineering work already completed
  • They had to be direct job creators
  • They needed to have a proven potential for improving US manufacturing capabilities

The most expensive Illinois project on the list is rebuilding the Illinois River locks, which would cost an estimated $1.8 billion and create 1,800 direct jobs.

Updating the CTA’s Red and Purple lines would cost an estimated $2.1 billion and would create 2,100 direct jobs, according to the list.

Redeveloping Chicago’s Union Station has a price tag of $1 billion and would create 1,000 direct jobs.

Soon after Trump’s list was sent to the governors, Senate Democrats unveiled their own $1 trillion infrastructure list, which they said would create more than 15 million jobs.

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4504292121_da15085745_zIf you haven’t had to buy new office furniture in a while, you might want to prepare yourself for a case of sticker shock.

The expense of top quality desks, ergonomic chairs, prefabricated workstations, and other office furniture can add up very quickly, especially if you are furnishing a large office.

And that’s before you even take into account the computers, smartphones, WiFi, and all the other technical gear most employers are expected to provide their office workers.

Some employers balk at writing the check for office equipment and other overhead. But they shouldn’t. Providing high-quality office furniture is a good investment in your employees and will likely pay huge dividends later.

Worker Satisfaction

One immediate benefit from providing your employees with a comfortable, productive office workspace is improved employee retention. While few employees are likely to quit on the spot unless you provide them a good desk,

While few employees are likely to quit on the spot unless you provide them a good desk and comfortable chair, they may be more open to offers from competitors if it seems like you don’t care about their comfort and security.

And with employee turnover on the rise in almost every industry, it benefits employers to do anything they can to hold onto their best workers. When people leave your organization, all the money you invested in training and seasoning them goes with them — not to mention the added expense of training a new person to replace them.

Productivity and Attitude

Outdated, inefficient, and uncomfortable office furniture will invariably negatively impact worker morale. It also can lead to discontented workers poisoning your business’s reputation with co-workers and outsiders alike.

Investing in top-quality office furniture that is engineered to minimize distraction and maximize productivity can have the opposite effect. It shows that 1.) You genuinely care about your employee’s comfort and happiness, and 2.) You are willing to spend money on the people who actually interact with clients, vendors, and others rather than exclusively on manufacturing processes or line items that don’t directly touch your human workers.

The long-term benefits of investing in high-quality office furniture generally far outweigh the short-term costs.

Like all overhead, office furniture can be amortized. You may even be able to claim a tax credit.

But the immediate benefits of improved employee morale, increased productivity, and lower turnover of experienced workers often make investing in new office furniture a no-brainer.

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Fire ExtinguisherThrow water on a grease fire and it will get bigger. Use a fire hose on an electrical fire and you could put everybody in the vicinity in danger of an electrical shock.

Knowing how to extinguish different types of workplace fires does more than just cut down on property damage. It also could prevent small fires from turning into major disasters.

Here are the proper ways to distinguish several different types of fires you may encounter in the workplace.

Electrical Fires

If a fire erupts in an electrical breaker box or a piece of electrical equipment starts burning, the first thing you want to do is cut the power source, if possible.

For breaker boxes, try to cut the main power supply. For appliances and other electrical equipment, pull the plug. Then try to smother the fire using a blanket or a Type C fire extinguisher, which is rated for electrical fires.

Cooking Fires

One of the most common locations for workplace fires is the community kitchen. If a pot or pan catches fire, shut off the stove or oven then smother the flames with a lid. Don’t turn on the exhaust system because this can pull the flames up into the hood.

If there isn’t one available, you can use salt or baking soda to smother small oil fires. Or you can use a Type B fire extinguisher.

The last thing you want to do is to throw water on an oil fire. The flash point of water is lower than that of most oils, so this can cause the water itself to erupt in flames.

Ventilate the area only after you are sure all the flames are put out.

Gas Fires

If a gas fuel source such as propane or natural gas catches fire, shut off the gas supply. You can try to smother the flames with a rug, blanket, or class B extinguisher, or cool with water.

In some cases, it is better to let gas fires burn rather than try to extinguish the fire because this can cause the gas to fill the room or building, creating a higher explosion hazard.

For larger fires that can’t easily be controlled, evacuate people from the building and call the fire department. Your local firefighters are trained on how to combat any type of fire, explosion, or gas leak.

Remember that the lives and safety of your employees are always more important than property. You can replace things, but you can’t replace a lost human life.

 

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