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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.


Hydraulic jack (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Hydraulic jack (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

When you need to lift a car to work underneath it or move a heavy piece of industrial equipment, you wouldn’t risk injuring yourself by trying to hoist it with your bare hands.

You probably would use a specialized lifting tool such as a hydraulic jack to safely lift and move heavy object. But how can hydraulic jacks allow users lift everything from crates to trucks to even houses?

The answer is right there in the tool’s name: Hydraulics.

How Hydraulic Jacks Work

Hydraulic jacks rely on force that is generated by pressure. While there are all types of hydraulic jacks, nearly all of them work on the same principle.

A hydraulic jack has two cylinders, one larger one and one smaller one, that are connected. As force is applied to one cylinder, due to this connection an equal pressure is generated inside both cylinders.

But because one cylinder has a larger area, the force produced by this cylinder also will be higher, even though the overall pressure produced in the two cylinders remains the same.

To lift heavy loads, a pump plunger will move a liquid through the two cylinders. Despite the hydraulic jack’s name, this liquid usually is oil, not water.

When the plunger is initially drawn back, it opens a suction valve ball which draws oil into the pump chamber. As the plunger is pushed forward, the oil then moves through an eternal discharge check valve into the cylinder chamber.

As the suction valve closes, pressure builds within the chamber, producing the force that can be used by the pump to lift heavy weights.

Bottle Jacks and Floor Jacks

The two most common types of hydraulic jacks used in industry are bottle jacks and floor jacks.

Bottle jacks resemble the type of car jack most people used to have in the trunk of their car. Shaped like milk bottles, bottle jacks can lift anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds, depending on their size and rated lifting capacity.

Bottle jacks are still widely used for lifting vehicles, but their use is increasingly spreading to other industries. For example, many hospitals will now use a type of bottle jack to move and lift heavy medical equipment.

Floor jacks use a shaft that pushes on a crank that connects to a horizontal lifting pad. Floor jacks generally have a higher range of vertical lift than bottle jacks.


A Hybrid Pick System

18 Jan 2017

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HYBRID_ControllerIn previous articles we have described the Pick to Light and Pick to Voice systems. One company, Wynright Corporation, a provider of material handling systems with corporate headquarters in Elk Grove, Illinois, has come up with a Hybrid Picking System that combines Pick to Light and Pick to Voice.

The company claims that the system offers a number of benefits including:

·      Less search and faster picking
·      Twice as fast as paper system
·      Pickers don’t have to memorize anything
·      The Light System exhibits pick quantities and voice provides instructions
·      Reduces foot traffic provides increased pick density
·      Maintains inventory accuracy
·      17% increase in productivity and 21% reduction in errors
·      Scalable and flexible
·      Handles 100 to more than 15,000 SKUs
·      Configurable zone control
·      Algorithms offer fast and efficient order selection, grouping, and processing in real time.
·      Easy to configure, install and maintain
·      Faster fulfillment
·      Improved cash flow
·      Low installation costs
·      Runs on Windows, OS, Oracle DBMS, and CANbus network
·      Comprehensive analytics and reporting

Hybrid system hardware include headset and pick module. (Courtesy: Wynright Corp.)

Hybrid system hardware include headset and zone controller.
(Courtesy: Wynright Corp.)

The Hybrid Picking System visually indicates the products to be picked and also offers voice instructions to help complete the pick. According to Wynright, the Hybrid System can be integrated into an existing light or voice picking system.

The lighting display on the module at the shelf from which the product is to be picked displays what and how many items to pick. Once the pick is complete, picker presses “OK” on module to verify completion of the task.

Hardware includes headset; color-coded lamp to identify zones; module to indicate shelf where pick takes place, and what and how many items to pick; and a zone controller that displays when the order is completed.


American Inventor Thomas Edison (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

American Inventor Thomas Edison (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

American inventor Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the light bulb, the phonograph record, the motion picture camera, and many other technologies we take for granted today. When they were first unveiled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Edison’s innovations were revolutionary, far-sighted, and permanently changed the way most people live.

Could the team of inventors currently working at Amazon’s research laboratories be doing the same thing for the 21st Century?

Recent Patent Applications

In December 2013, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos shocked the world when he announced on “60 Minutes” that the massive online retailer was considering the use of pilotless drones to deliver packages to customers within 30 minutes of their placing their order.

Now, Amazon’s drone delivery program has been successfully tested and is ready to become a reality just as soon as the company can work out regulatory details with the Federal Aeronautics Administration.

But Bezos and his band of innovators aren’t out of surprises yet.

In just the past month, Amazon has submitted patent applications for a number of futuristic and fantastic inventions, including floating airships that could serve as roaming distribution centers and an elaborate underground tunneling system that could deliver packages to your basement.

Blimps That Delivery Packages

According to recent leaks from Amazon’s creative research and development headquarters in Seattle, the company is working on a top-secret program that would use blimps to deliver packages to customers within seconds after they order products online.

The airships could be used at sporting events, for example, to drop items such as team jerseys or snacks to fans watching their favorite team play live. Or they could hover above major metropolitan areas and drop drones that could deliver goods from distances as high as 45,000 feet.

Underground Tunnel System

As if that wasn’t bizarre enough, last week Amazon applied for a patent for an intricate underground tunneling system that would use conveyor belts, pneumatic tubes, and other devices to deliver packages directly to the basements and cellars of its customers’ homes.

The rationale behind the plan is that it could dramatically reduce traffic jams and congestion in urban areas by eliminating the need for delivery vans and trucks.

While both of these ideas seem far-fetched, so did the company’s drone delivery program when Bezos first unveiled it less than three years ago and it is reportedly has been tested and is ready to go as soon as Amazon gets the okay from government regulators.




winterRight around this time of year, business owners typically get a bad case of “sticker shock” when their winter utility bills start to arrive.

Heating massive factories, warehouses, and other facilities can easily roll into the four or even five figures, depending on the size of the facility and the temperature on the thermostat.

In most cases, however, it doesn’t have to be that way. Most businesses can realize substantial utility cost savings by implementing a few simple cost-cutting solutions.

Switch to More Efficient HVAC Equipment

If you don’t remember when the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment was installed in your facility, it could be time to replace it.

HVAC technology has improved greatly just in the past decade. So if your business is still using an antiquated, inefficient heating system to maintain a constant temperature, you may be spending too much and getting too little for your money.

Investing in HVAC isn’t cheap, but it’s one of the few capital improvements that can show its value in the form of lower power bills and a warmer, more productive work environment.

Insulation Pays Dividends

Another smart investment is insulation. If your plant or warehouse is poorly insulated, a lot of the heat you are paying for could be leaking right out of the roof, through the windows, under door frames, and even through the walls.

Insulation is relatively affordable, easy to install, and can offer significant savings on your heating bills.

Glazing your windows and skylights during the coldest months also can save money. Hot air rises. So the hot air being generated by your furnace or steam plant could be going straight up and out of your facility.

Don’t Heat Every Area

Storage areas that aren’t used regularly and don’t house products or other items that can freeze may be able to be shut off from the heat source.

Why pay to heat spaces in your warehouse that don’t absolutely need it?

You also can install separate thermostats in various regions of your warehouse so you can cut your costs in low-traffic areas while keeping areas where people are more likely be warm and toasty.

Encourage Workers to Dress Appropriately

The best way to combat cool temperatures is to wear warm clothing. Encourage your employees to wear jackets, sweaters, sweatshirts, fingerless gloves, wool hats, and other cold weather gear when working in your business.

While they may feel self-conscious at first, if everybody is doing it then the winter weather dress will soon become the norm.



Ring scanner. Courtesy:

Ring scanner.
Courtesy: ThinkableStudios at

Wearable products are becoming the rage in consumer electronics. These devices include watches that measure heartbeat as the wearer jogs; devices that help parents track the location of their children or assist people with better posture, etc.

Wearables have been used for decades to assist warehouse personnel receive and pass on information. These devices include ring scanners, arm-mount gadgets, voice headsets, and terminals.  As these gadgets have become common in the day-to-day operation they have also evolved to perform better and provide even more efficient operation. That is due to the increased use of Android operating systems. The software has made wearables more flexible and that is assisting with productivity.

Not only are the traditional devices evolving, new gadgets are being offered including smart glasses and smart watches. More and more workers involved in warehouse-related activity including picking, replenishing and packing are more productive because they don’t have to stop working to use the devices. Workflow continues.

ABI Research, a business analyst and consulting firm, with offices in New York, Arizona, and Texas in the United States and in the United Kingdom and Singapore, has performed a study on wearables and concluded that their use will grow at a 35% compound annual rate through 2021 and that 151 million units will be shipped in that year. That’s up from about 35 million units shipped this year.

The consulting firm also noted that warehousing and manufacturing will be two of the more important markets for wearables.

One company that is supplying smart glasses to warehouses is Vuzix. It has partnered with SAP, who has created a smart glass app called SAP AR Warehouse Picker specifically for warehouse applications. It is expected that the use of smart glasses in warehouse operations will boom once warehouse integration firms that make warehouse-related software also begin to create their own apps for

Smart glasses. (Courtesy: Vuzix)

Smart glasses.
(Courtesy: Vuzix)

smart glasses.

The use of smart glasses in warehouses should also improve with the enhancement of real-time location technology including Bluetooth beacons. These devices communicate with gadgets that support Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), such as smart glasses and wearable computers. Warehouses now use Wi-Fi to communicate.

One company that offers a viable alternative to Wi-Fi for communication purposes is Accuware. The company is offering a visual positioning system that finds mobile device locations in three dimensions. The technology uses bar codes or beacons as markers that a camera can read to reveal the location of wearables like smart glasses. Forklifts and mobile picking robots could use this technology as it improves.

It is evident that wearable technology continues to improve, which means more efficiency and productivity for warehouses in the not to distant future.

Photo by Mjs92984 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Photo by Mjs92984 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Sears, which practically invented the department store and mail order business, has been struggling to compete with the rise of online retailers like Amazon and others. But last week, in a last gasp effort to keep the company going, the 100+-year-old retailer was forced to divest itself its Craftsman line of tools.

Sears Holding Company, which also owns the Kmart discount chain, announced Jan. 5 that its Craftsman brand would be sold to tool competitor Stanley for a reported $775 million. The deal, which has been rumored to be in the works since last year, allows Sears to continue selling Craftsman products royalty-free for the next 15 years.

In all, the deal could give a much-needed cash infusion of about $1 billion, according to industry analysts.

Store Closings Announced

In addition, Sears announced that it will close an additional 108 of its lowest-performing Kmart stores and 42 Sears stores, including three in Illinois.

The company also will try to raise an additional $1 billion by taking a $500 million loan, putting up $800 billion in real estate as collateral, as well as taking a standby letter of credit worth an additional $500 million.

So far, the company hasn’t sold off its two other hugely popular brands: Kenmore appliances and Die Hard-branded automotive batteries, shoes, and other products.

Sears is hoping its big bet will pay off in the long run as the company figures out how to navigate the changing waters of the retail business in the 21st Century, according to Sears CEO and chairman Edward Lampert.

“We are taking strong, decisive actions today to stabilize the company and improve our financial flexibility in what remains a challenging retail environment,” Lampert said in a news release announcing the latest moves. “We are committed to improving short-term operating performance in order to achieve our long-term transformation.”

Changing Dynamics

As cutting edge companies like Amazon figure out innovative new ways to get products to customers faster — including pilotless drones that can deliver packages to people’s doorsteps with 30 minutes of their clicking on the “Buy Now” button — Sears has been slow to adapt to retail’s shift towards automation and interconnectivity.

Recently, however, Sears has responded by offering its loyal customers discounts and rewards through its “Shop Your Way” membership program, which integrates online shopping with in-store purchases.

“Going forward, Sears will be more focused on our Shop Your Way membership platform, a network with tens of millions of active members, and our Integrated Retail strategy in order to be a more nimble, innovative and relevant retailer that is better able to provide value and convenience to our customers,” Lampert said. “We are confident that concentrating these key initiatives will lay the foundation for growth over the long-term.”



folding chairYou need to hold an all-staff meeting to explain new policies being rolled out for the new year. Or your Human Resources needs to brief your employees on your new benefits package. Or you want to reward your workers for doing a great job this year by hosting a social event in the workplace.

Where is everybody going to sit?

The fact is that most small business owners want to communicate better with their employees. But their lack of physical equipment — such as a large enough space to meet or something as simple as chairs and tables — stands in their way.

When reviewing your capital improvements project list of the coming year, one item that probably isn’t on there is a couple dozen folding chairs. But maybe they should be.

Here’s why:

Employee Comfort Boosts Productivity

If you require your employees to attend mandatory meetings, you are pretty much obligated to make them comfortable. You can’t expect your workers to stand up during an hour-long presentation. Even a shorter meeting will ruffle a few feathers if there is no place to sit.

But when you provide clean, comfortable folding chairs, your workers will be much more receptive to what you have to say. Plus, their job satisfaction will improve … or at least not be negatively impacted.

Folding Chairs Last a Long Time

Folding chairs are generally a one-time purchase for most companies. That’s because they are durable enough to last many years without having to be replaced, especially if you only use them occasionally and take care to store them properly.

Which leads to …

Easy, Out of the Way Storage

Folding chairs can be stacked, stored on rolling racks, or otherwise kept neatly and securely out of the way until you need them next.

Store folding chairs in an out of the way corner of your dock or warehouse, in a storage closet, or even outdoors under a tarp if you are pressed for space.

Ready to Use

Another benefit of folding chairs is that they are simple to use, require no assembly, and are always ready for use. Simply unfold them, arrange them into neat rows with plenty of leg room, and you can host all-staff meetings, in-house social events, or gatherings of any size.

Folding chairs are one of those things that you don’t realize you use so often until you have them. The affordable, convenient, and versatile folding chairs available at make it easier to  meet with your people to improve your operation.



In a previous blog, we discussed the advantages and disadvantages of a Pick to Light System.

In this article we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a Pick to Voice or Voice-Directed Picking System.

A Pick to Voice a.k.a. Voice Directed Picking System relies on verbal communication between a Warehouse Management System to and from workers who are out on the warehouse floor picking orders.

Picker using a Pick to Voice System. (Courtesy: Schaefer Systems International)

Picker using a Pick to Voice System.
(Courtesy: Schaefer Systems International)

These workers wear a headset with a microphone that permits them to receive and respond to the communication and a wireless computer that disseminates the communication back and forth to the warehouse management system that has speech recognition and speech synthesis capability.

The system permits pickers to work hands and eyes free without the need to read orders written out on paper. The system requires the picker to say the last two or three digits of the item being picked to confirm that the proper one is being selected.

Warehouse managers who resist the use of Pick to Voice Systems point to a number of problems they believe inhibits its safety, efficiency and productivity. This includes:

·      The use of headsets will not permit pickers to hear an approaching forklift.
·      Pickers will not like talking to a computer.
·      Some of the warehouse workers do not speak English.
·      The system is too expensive.
·      The warehouse already has a Warehouse Management System and does not want to use two inventory/order systems.
·      The picker won’t hear or understand the command.
·      There is no way that Pick to Voice results in faster picking than a paper or radio frequency system.
·      Too much background noise in the warehouse will make it difficult for workers to hear the commands.

However, the system can overcome each of these objections.

·      The worker cannot hear an approaching forklift. Since the headset is worn on only one ear, the other ear is free to hear approaching forklifts. Moreover, Pick to Voice Systems comply with OSHA requirements.
·      Pickers won’t like talking to a computer. Although it may be true that workers will initially resist the idea of talking to a computer, once the picker has worked with the system for a period of time, they will find it easy to use.
·      Some workers do not speak English.  There are interfaces available that permit the system to speak in a variety of languages.
·      The system is too expensive. The cost of Pick to Voice Systems has decreased during the last several years. In fact, it is equivalent in cost to a radio frequency based scanner system. Return of investment on such a system is about one year or less.
·      The warehouse only has a Warehouse Management System and there is no need for a second inventory/order system. Actually a Pick to Voice System is designed to integrate with a WMS.
·      The picker won’t hear or understand the command. A Pick to Voice System permits the picker to ask for the command to be repeated. Moreover, the system requires a picker to say the last two or three digits of the product being picked thus confirming that the proper one was selected.
·      There is no way that Pick to Voice is faster than a paper or radio frequency system.  The Pick to Voice System frees up both hands and eyes of the picker permitting him to concentrate on the pick and then get to the next location faster.
·      There is too much background noise in the warehouse. The technology has evolved to such a point that the hardware includes noise-canceling microphones. Moreover, software is now more sensitive to both noise bursts and background noise and the technology permit voice recognition rates greater than 99%.

In addition, Pick to Voice Systems assist warehouse managers to track the productivity of individual pickers. This ability permits managers to identify problems and then take steps to overcome them.


furniture dollyFurniture dollies are one of the simplest pieces of materials handling equipment you can own. They are basically just four wheels and a platform.

But there is more to choosing the right furniture dolly than meets the eye. First of all, you want to make sure the furniture dolly you buy is strong enough to carry the heaviest thing you are going to load onto it.

Quite simply: If you load something too heavy onto a furniture dolly that wasn’t designed to carry that weight, it’s going to break. Or it will at least be very difficult — or even potentially dangerous — to move. The last thing you want is to have a load that weighs hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds, to tip over in mid-movement.

Here, then, are the most important things to consider before you purchase a new furniture dolly.

Platform Material

Most furniture dollies feature platforms made out of wood. Specifically, they are wood 2X4s that are bolted together into a rectangular pattern.

The point of contact with the load is generally carpeted, or made of plastic or rubber. The type you need depends on what you will be using the furniture dolly for most of the time. If you are literally going to use it to move furniture, then you probably want a carpeted surface to help protect against scratches and scrapes.

But if you are actually going to use your furniture dolly to move equipment, heavy packages, or anything except furniture, you might want to opt for a rubber or plastic surface, which provides a better grip.

Caster Quality

The biggest difference between a high-quality furniture dolly and a cheaper one usually can be seen in the casters.

The best furniture dollies have top-quality casters that are engineered to support heavy loads without cracking, bending, or snapping off.

Low-quality furniture dollies, on the other hand, will have casters made from the cheapest possible material — probably plastic — that likely will prove unreliable when you need them the most.

Caster Attachments

Finally, you want to consider how the casters are attached to the furniture dolly itself. Are they bolted into place using thick, secure hardware? Or do they feature plastic poles that snap into place? Obviously, the former are likely to be more durable than the latter.

Even though it may cost you a little more upfront, purchasing a better quality furniture dolly can save you time, money, and headaches later on.