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Photo courtesy of FIPA Inc.

Managers at the German staircase company Krieger Treppen GmbH had a problem. Workers were unable to lift the wooden planks weighing up to 353 pounds in order to carve them into staircase steps.

So the company turned to the North Carolina-based FIPA Inc. to design, build and install a custom material handling solution that allowed employees to easily lift and maneuver the heavy and often bulky wooden planks. The equipment relieves workers from strenuous physical labor, increases operational efficiently, and improves productivity at the staircase manufacturing facility.

Too Heavy for Workers to Lift

When the large, heavy, rough-hewn wooden planks would arrive at the factory from nearly sawmills, they could be offloaded using industrial equipment. But once they were ready to be placed on individual workstations where they could be carved and shaped to order, lifting the heavy planks was beyond the abilities of most workers.

Managers were left with a decision: Either hire former Olympic weightlifters and circus strongmen to do the heavy lifting or find a more practical solution.

American Ingenuity at Work

FIPA engineers created the device by customizing one of its FIPALIFT tube lifters, combining it with a custom crossbeam that easily adjusts to accommodate different sized plank, along with four moveable suction cups that hold the plank in place using specialized sealing foam.

The suction cups allow workers to grip the planks securely, even when there are rough, uneven or even fissured surfaces on the plans.

Now a single worker can lift, carry and maneuver planks weighing up to 353 pounds — a job that formerly required two or more workers to struggle with a single plank every time one needed to be used, according to FIPA president Rainer Mehrer.

“The loading and unloading of the often unwieldy wooden materials fed into such machines is typically still conducted by hand, which is both inefficient and dangerous, or executed by expensive robotic lifting equipment that is inaccessible to most small- and medium-sized companies,” Mehrer said in a company news release.

Other Industrial Applications

FIFA customized one of its mass-produced equipment products to fit the German staircase maker’s specific requirements. Now company managers are looking for ways to do the same thing for other companies in need of personalized solutions.

FIPALIFT tube lifters can be customized using a variety of vacuum and gripper equipment, as well as tricked out with various accessories, adapters and other gear that allow them to be used to lift and maneuver a variety of materials, including glass, packaging, plastic, and metal, in addition to wood.

Meanwhile, the German staircase makers are pleased with the solution FIPA provided for their workers.

“We felt with their broad range of vacuum, gripper, crane, and lifting systems, in conjunction with their talented in-house design and installation team, FIPA could provide an effective solution to a difficult challenge at a competitive price,” said Guido Krieger, of Kreger Treppen. “The system has significantly reduced the physical demands on our employees while increasing efficiency and, as a result, both production and profit.”


(Courtesy: Dematic Pty. Ltd.)

(Courtesy: Dematic Pty. Ltd.)

Over the next five years, nearly 9 out of every 10 distribution centers and warehouse are expected to incorporate voice directed mobile technology to their operations, according to to a survey released recently. And that’s if they aren’t using this technology already.

The survey, commissioned by the technology giant Honeywell in conjunction with research group YouGov, polled hundreds of material handling decision makers in the US and Europe. It found that the industry consensus is that voice-directed mobile technology — such as wearable smart devices — are going to be an integral part of practically every operation in the future.

Keeping Up with Industry Demands

Right now, there’s essential an arms race among retailers — both online and in the real world — when it comes to making it simpler for consumers to order products and delivering them in as little time as possible.

This has created not only an increased demand for products but higher consumer expectations for faster and more accurate delivery, according to Bruce Stubbs, Honeywell’s director of industry marketing.

“Consumers want their purchases delivered as quickly as possible, which puts extreme pressure on distribution center operators to deliver the right products to the right place at the right time,” Stubbs said in a news release announcing the survey results. “Connected workers using mobile solutions with data capture technology such as those delivered by Honeywell offer higher accuracy and productivity and have a positive impact on the bottom line.”

Rise of Mobile Technology

Each year, distribution centers lose an average of $400,000 due to picking errors. That’s serious money.

By investing even a percentage of that amount in such thing as mobile computers, printers, and scanners featuring more reliable data capture technology, warehouse and distribution operators can reduce mistakes, streamline operations, and increase productivity.

Workers using wireless headsets that connect them with dispatchers and managers who provide direction can improve both picking accuracy and speed.

Benefits to Omnichannel Distribution

According to the survey, about two-thirds of distribution centers already have converted to omnichannel distribution, which is when a single warehouse or distribution handles delivery to stores as well as directly to consumers. Data capture and tracking systems make it easier to fulfill orders from both retailers and consumers buying the company’s products online.

About a quarter of all distribution center worker worldwide don’t speak or understand the local language, according to the survey. So many companies are looking for technology solutions that can account for multiple languages and facilitate rapid onboarding and training of new non-native speaking workers.

Other survey findings include:

  • 84% of information technology managers agreed that data capture technology has made a positive impact on their omnichannel distribution strategy.
  • Warehouse and distribution centers in France have the highest percentage of sales coming from e-commerce consumers (54%).
  • The highest percentage of respondents who said they plan on converting to voice solutions within the next five years came from Germany (94%), followed by the US (87%), the UK (82%), and France (78%).



Chemical storage buildings. (Courtesy: U.S. Chemical Storage at

Chemical storage buildings. (Courtesy: U.S. Chemical Storage at

Some warehouses in the United States have been given the assignment to store chemicals that can be considered hazardous if not properly handled. This includes chemicals that are nonthreatening, but have the potential to become hazardous under specific conditions.

Obviously, warehouse personnel should take steps to assure that these materials are stored properly, that they do not spill or leak from containers, and that they are warehoused in areas where worker exposure is minimized.

Hazardous materials fall under the authority of the Environmental protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets regulations concerning their handling, and the U.S. Department of Transportation sets rules concerning how this material is transported.

Warehouses that store these materials should take steps to:

·      Minimize Exposure.
·      Assure that the risk related with each is judged and understood and that information concerning the chemicals is communicated to employees.
·      Be certain that control measures are in place. This includes how to eliminate the hazard through engineering controls, personal protective equipment, and administrative procedures.
·      Assure that employees are trained on how to handle the material and have knowledge of all regulatory requirements.

Warehouses are expected to:

·      Periodically perform an inventory of the chemicals.
·      Label all containers of hazardous chemicals
·      Provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to workers.
·      Offer employee chemical hazard training and documentation.
·      Review and update programs concerning the handling hazardous chemicals periodically.

Certain procedures concerning the storage of the materials are also expected including:

·      Not storing chemicals on floors or benches so that they can’t be knocked over.
·      Having lips or restraining devices to assure that hazardous chemicals are stored securely.
·      Segregation of chemicals in accordance to chemical class and compatibility before creating a more convenient method of storage.
·      Proper storage of flammable and combustible materials in accordance to regulations.
·      Segregating toxic chemicals from other chemicals and store in closed cabinets. The cabinets should be labeled: “TOXIC CHEMICALS”
·      Maintaining chemicals in accordance to manufacturer’s requirements.
·      Labeling containers in accordance to OSHA standards.
·      Keeping containers closed.
·      The use of secondary containment when transporting liquid chemicals short distances.
·      Designing rooms in which chemicals are to be stored to include equipment including construction materials, lighting, ventilation, fire extinguishers, and housekeeping procedures.

Warehouses that store compressed gas should do so in accordance to the Compressed Gas Association Pamphlets. This includes:

·      Properly labeling cylinders
·      Storing the cylinders upright and away from heat sources.
·      Securing cylinders to assure that they can’t fall.
·      Not blocking exits, aisles, or egresses with cylinders.
·      Separating cylinders based on their content.
·      Separating incompatible materials like oxygen and propane, chlorine and helium, etc.
·      Labeling full, partially full, and empty cylinders as to their status.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between “hazardous materials” and “hazardous waste.”

Hazardous materials are raw materials or products purchased from suppliers that are stored and used at facilities.

Hazardous waste is a legal term defining certain materials that have been generated as waste from processing performed at a facility.


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

  • 9 out of 10 distribution centers plan on switching to voice-controlled mobile technology to increase efficiency during the next five years, according to a new survey. We’ll tell you the benefits of this popular new option …
  • Hazardous materials can range from non-threatening to potentially deadly. The warehouses in which they are stored must follow strictest of protocols and Robert let’s us know a little bit about them …
  • Engineering students at the University of Tennessee can now get hands-on experience in creating efficient lean warehouses thanks to a gift from an Ohio storage product company. We’ll tell you what it was and how it’s being used …

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

Akro MIls

Storage equipment donated to the University of Tennessee’s engineering college (Photo courtesy of Akro-Mils)

Engineering students at the University of Tennessee are getting a hands-on education on streamlining inventory and reducing delivery times thanks to a generous donation from one of the country’s leading maker of storage bins.

Akro-Mils — the Akron, Ohio, based manufacturer of storage and organization products — recently donated $4,700 worth of products to the university’s Knoxville College of Engineering so that students could learn innovative, new ways to organize and optimize inventory in practical, real-world environment.

Hands-On Learning

The students, who are enrolled in a course at the Reliability and Maintainability Center, are studying “lean techniques”, according to an Akron-Mills news release announcing the donation. These include ways to use maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) organizations to shorten delivery times and optimize product quality while keeping inventory, floor space, and labor to the lowest possible levels.

When university officials asked the company for the donation, executives were more than happy to send a variety of products, including AkroBins, attached lid containers, ShelfMax bins, wire shelving, enclosed steel shelving, AkroDrawers, steel portable tables, and even a ProCart that can be used for moving materials from one area of the classroom “warehouse” to another.

Real World Applications

The techniques students learn using the donated equipment can be implemented into the real world once they graduate the program and enter the real world workplace, according to Dr. Klaus M. Blache, research professor in the engineering school and director of the R&M Center.

“Being able to walk into a setting that is like what our students will see in their careers truly enhances the learning experience,” Blache said. “Knowledge only has value when you can put it to use. Being able to show examples of best practices is worth a thousand words!”


How to Survive the Company Holiday Party

20 Nov 2015

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Overdoing it at a company-sponsored holiday party usually leads to regrets. (Photo courtesy of Monika via Wikimedia Commons)

Overdoing it at a company-sponsored holiday party usually leads to regrets. (Photo courtesy of Monika via Wikimedia Commons)

Company parties offer the opportunity for people who spend most of the work days together to finally get together, relax, and socialize a little. They can be either a welcome respite to the day-to-day grind … or the chance for somebody to make such a spectacle of themselves that everybody else will be talking about them for the rest of the year.

Don’t Be ‘That Guy’

Practically every holiday party, there’s usually at least one person who takes the celebrating a little too far and ends up embarrassing themselves in front of the co-workers. Not only is making bad choices at the annual company holiday party humiliating, it also can be costly.

Saying the wrong thing, insulting another employee — or worse yet, your boss — or criticizing the company or a co-worker can result in your sitting in the Human Resources hot seat the following Monday morning. Bad behavior at a company-sponsored social event can even cost you your job.

Holiday Parties Are Still ‘Work’

Rather than considering the company holiday party as an opportunity to drink with your co-workers, a better approach is to think of it as just another work function, much like attending a meeting or conference.

While you can socialize and have fun, keep in mind that you are still in your place of employment — even if the party is held off-site. So all the rules and regulations that apply during normal business hours are still in effect.

Even worse, all eyes will be on you if you misbehave or say the wrong thing. And thanks to the prevalence of smartphones, it probably will be videotaped and shared as well!

Drink Socially or Not at All

If alcohol is being served, it’s a good idea to limit yourself to one drink. If you don’t think you can stop after one due to social pressure or a lack of self-control, don’t drink at all.

Here’s a trick that can help you blend in during social occasions where other people are drinking but you don’t want to drink: Go to the bar and order a “tonic rocks with a twist of lime”. This will be served in a rocks glass that looks exactly like a cocktail, but actually is just tonic water over ice with a lime wedge tossed into it.

If shots are being poured, your best strategy is to not walk but run in the other direction. If they are inescapable and you can’t beg off, rather than drinking it, throw the shot over your shoulder or into a nearby potted plant as everybody else is drinking theirs.

Not ‘Sexy Time’

When the liquor is flowing at holiday parties, it’s not unusual for libidos to be loosened as well. Attractions that have been simmering on the back burn all year long can suddenly boil over.

Holiday office parties are the absolute wrong time and place to express your romantic interest in one of your co-workers (especially if either of you is married or committed to somebody else). Instead, be polite, friendly … and chaste.

Surviving an office holiday party unscathed isn’t always easy. There’s often a lot of pressure to let loose and have a great time. But at least you can go back to work the following Monday with your head held high.

Shoppers in Laramie Wyoming, scramble for Black Friday doorbuster deals (Photo by Powhusku via Wikimedia Commons)

Shoppers in Laramie Wyoming, scramble for Black Friday doorbuster deals (Photo by Powhusku via Wikimedia Commons)

Consumers are becoming more wary of Black Friday shopping in which crazed customers scramble for a handful of low-priced “doorbusters”, according to to a new survey.

And according to a new survey, many shoppers are warning retailers that they better have their act together this year … or else!

Doorbusters Still Important, But … 

While more than half of consumers participating in this year’s annual JDA Consumer Survey said doorbuster deals are a major factor in determining where they will shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday — the day after Thanksgiving and the following Monday, respectively — a growing number of shoppers are showing an unwillingness to put up with the shenanigans that have plagued previous holiday shopping seasons.

Based on interviews with more than 1,000 US shoppers, the survey — which was conducted by the JDA Software Group — found that an increasing number of consumers are looking toward the Internet as a way to escape the mayhem of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.


Last year, many shoppers responded by simply staying home. This year, in an effort to regain the momentum that Black Friday brings to the holiday shopping season, some companies such as Wal-Mart have responded by offering their doorbuster deals online as well as in stores.

No Room for Online Error

Shoppers also said they won’t have a lot of patience for online retailers who mess up their order or experience delivery delays. More than half of all consumers interviewed said they won’t give these businesses a second chance.

And about 33% said they prioritized convenience when placing an online order. Retailers who can’t meet their expectations can expect to be left behind, according to Wayne Usie, JDA’s senior VP for retail.

“The biggest challenge for retailers today is finding the balance between keeping customers content while maintaining profitability to meet their needs in an increasingly omni-channel world,” Usie said in a news release announcing the survey results. “It’s no longer sustainable for businesses to sacrifice profit margins in an effort to deliver customer satisfaction and meet demands. Instead, businesses need to take on a more holistic view of their logistics and fulfillment strategy to make better-informed decisions that will not only provide a consistent omni-channel experience to customers but more importantly, turn a profit.”

Consumers Have Long Memories

Most customers who have had a problem with an online company in the past will be unwilling to do business with them in the future. Late delivery is the most common complaint, with 45% of respondents saying they have experienced it within the past 12 months.

Of these, nearly half (48%) said they would be unlikely to shop with that online retailer, especially during the busiest periods such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. So companies that dropped the ball last year may not even be in the ballgame this holiday season, according to the survey.

In-Store Pickup Rising in Popularity

One solution many consumers have flocked to is purchasing their products online then arranging to pick them up at a nearby store location.

But this option is not without its problems, according to the survey. About 40% of respondents said they experienced employee-related issues when they used this service, mostly store employees being unable to find their order efficiently or their orders being lost in the system.

But the problems don’t end when consumers get their products. The survey found that 62% of online shoppers were frustrated that they had to pay return postage and packaging for products they needed to return.

And more than 50% said that they consider easy returns “very important” when making online purchases while only 10% said it didn’t affect their decision.


A Green Warehouse

17 Nov 2015

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Solar panels can provide all the electricity a warehouse would need. (Courtesy: Mervin Lei at

Solar panels can provide all the electricity a warehouse would need.
(Courtesy: Mervin Lei at

How green is your warehouse? Of course, I am not talking about painting the exterior or interior walls, floor or other sections of your warehouse

Sky lights can offer free light from the sun to illuminate areas inside a warehouse. (Courtesy: Mark Owen at

Sky lights can offer free light from the sun to illuminate areas inside a warehouse.
(Courtesy: Mark Owen at

green. What I am referring to is energy savings.

Many new warehouses have been built with a variety of features that offer energy savings that can result in cost savings. If you work at a warehouse that was built too long ago to have such features, then there still is something you can do to become green.

Federal government departments including the Small Business Administration and the Department of Energy are offering a variety of tax credits or other incentives to encourage businesses to make energy savings enhancements to buildings. Some improvements can be costly and will take time and heavy-duty work to achieve. But there are a number of initiatives you can take that are simple to execute.

Here is a list of actions you can take that could save your business a decent amount of coin and could provide you with a tax credit or other tax incentive.

·      Use LED lighting. Although it is true that the initial cost of this type of lighting is more than other lighting solutions you may be using, LED lights offer less power usage of as much as 80 percent and could last 10 years longer than conventional lighting solutions. This could add up to substantial savings in energy costs.
·      Sky lights.  Light coming from the sun is free, you know and using the proper type of thermal glass to serve as sky lights can also help in maintaining climate control, which can also providing savings. Skylights will provide you with better lighting than conventional bulbs and, again, the light is free.
·      Roof enhancements. There are a variety of new technologies that can be used on the roof of your warehouse that assists in keeping the interior cool. Called cool roof technology, these improvements reflect heat rather than absorb it and reduce the overall interior temperature of the building.
·      Power shutdown switches. These gadgets will shut power off to offices and warehouse storage areas while equipment such as refrigerators and other items continue to get power.
·      Solar panels. Panels can be placed on the roof or ground beside the warehouse and can provide all the electricity the warehouse would need.
·      Solar water heaters. This uses the sun to heat water. Types of solar water heaters include ICS or batch collectors, flat plat collectors, unglazed or formed collectors and evacuated tube collectors.
·      Clean air filters. Replacing air filters every four months in vehicles can improve fuel consumption by as much as 7 percent.
·      Add a sleep mode to equipment.  Using sleep modes on conveyors or other power equipment reduces power consumption during down times and helps to slow down the wear and tear of power equipment over time.
·      Thermal heat storage. Using thermal heat storage can is a cost effective way to maintain constant temperature inside the warehouse.
·      Use cartridge refill service. These services replace the ink in used cartridges so that you don’t have to buy new ones. This saves money and reduces waste.
·      Double glazed windows. This can help maintain a cool temperature inside the warehouse and results in lower heating bills.
·      Motion sensor lights. Using these sensors on lights used to illuminate seldom-used rooms means that the lights are on only when there is someone in the room.


photo_08aMore than half of all consumers would be willing to pay 5% or more for the products that they order online if it means they can be delivered using environmentally-friendly trucks and delivery vans, according to the results of a new study.

And 76% of consumers polled said they would be willing to wait at least one extra day for their orders if it meant they could be delivered by vehicles using sustainable resources.

Changing Mindsets

The survey — which was conducted by Loyola University’s Business School in conjunction with BearingPooint and West Monroe Partners — could represent a turning point in consumers’ attitudes toward the products they order through such online stores. Up until now, many web-based retailers have focused their efforts on finding ways to deliver their products to consumers faster, rather than more environmentally efficiently.

Amazon even announced that it would like to offer same day delivery and use pilot-less drones to make deliveries to customers’ homes by air.

But this study, and others like it, could cause executives to reconsider their delivery processes, opting for cleaner rather than faster.

Business Attitudes Evolving

In fact, the same study found that a majority of North American supply chain executives currently are making sustainable delivery systems a strategic priority for their businesses.

According to the study, 36% of executives surveyed said  they plan to incorporate sustainability into their operations in the near future. And 2% said they plan to do so within the next 12 to 36 months.

But the reasons behind this new thinking aren’t entirely altruistic, according to the survey. Many of the business executives interviewed for the surveys said they were considering making the change to more environmentally friendly delivery systems in order to boost their brand image and make their businesses look more appealing to consumers.

Reasons Behind the New Approach

While companies may not be willing to take on the higher costs of sustainable delivery systems on their own, if they can view it as a competitive necessity in a marketplace where consumers prefer environmentally conscious companies, they can justify the additional costs, according to Yves Leclerc, managing director with West Monroe Partners.

“Most supply chain teams are struggling to manage the complexities of globalization, the war for talent, and the increasing demands,” Leclerc said in a news release announcing the study’s results. “So allocating budget and resources towards sustainability doesn’t seem feasible unless companies can put together a business case for the return on investment.”

Europe Ahead of the Curve?

Compared to their counterparts in Europe, North American executives are still not entirely buying into the whole sustainability issue, according to the survey.

A similar survey in Europe found that 59% of companies have prioritized sustainability — which is not surprising given that the European Union recently implemented draconian environmental emissions requirements for all vehicles, including delivery vans and trucks.

And while European executives cite also cite brand image as the most important motivator, innovation was far less important than it was to North American survey participants. European executives placed the highest important on the economic impact of sustainability while their American counterparts said that environmental impact was more important overall.





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

  • Black Friday is next week, but this year consumers are expected to be less patient with retailers both in stores and online. We’ll tell you why and share the other results of a new survey that could put businesses on notice this holiday season …
  • If the van or truck used to deliver products you order online was environmentally safer, would you be willing to pay a little more? We’ll look at the surprising results of a new report on consumer attitudes toward sustainability …
  • It’s almost time for the annual company holiday party. Are you prepared to survive it unscathed? We’ll give you tips and secret techniques to make sure this year you’re NOT the life of the party …

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