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Photo courtesy of Nesjrien (Via Wikimedia Commons)

Halloween offers a fun, affordable and safe way for companies to strengthen the bonds they have with their employees. Allowing employees to wear their Halloween costumes to work is an easy way to boost employee morale and improve worker job satisfaction.

There are benefits and disadvantages to allowing Halloween dress-up in the workplace. On the upside, workers enjoy the change of pace and can express their creativity and share Halloween fun with their co-workers, even if it’s only one day per year.

One the downside, however, it’s often easy for workers to get carried away when designing their costumes. In many cases, unless there are strict guidelines regulating what employees can and cannot wear to work on Halloween, it’s likely that some workers will show up in costumes that are too revealing, overly suggestive, or even offensive.

Make the Rules Clear

As most managers can tell you, employees love to push the envelope and see what they can get away with. If costumes are going to be allowed, management must clearly communicate the rules to everybody ahead of time and monitor employees so that those wearing costumes inappropriate for the workplace can be sent home to change.

In an industrial environment, one of the biggest concerns is safety. Costumes that restrict a worker’s ability to move or see, or that make it more difficult for other workers to see them, also need to be either modified or rejected. Masks are generally not a good idea. Also inappropriate are costumes that have parts hanging off of them that could get caught in moving parts or equipment.

Costumes that include any type of weapon — especially guns — also aren’t appropriate for the workplace. Security or police may not be able to immediately tell the difference between a toy gun and a real one, putting the worker in potential danger. And while play axes, swords and other weaponry may make the outfit unique, invariably someone will eventually use the weapons to do something stupid. The best option is to simply ban them altogether.

Sponsor a Costume Contest

One way to make Halloween dress-up more enjoyable for everybody is to sponsor a costume contest and allow everybody to vote on their favorite. While the prize doesn’t have to be elaborate — a gift card to a local restaurant or for gasoline is inexpensive but will be appreciated — the goodwill and team-building created by the contest can help improve employee loyalty and job satisfaction.

Some companies will require employees wishing to wear a costume to work on Halloween to make a small donation to a local charity, such as $5 or less. This helps limit the number of people wearing costumes — and the amount of policing management has to do –while still raising money for a good cause.

Make Halloween Festive

Decorating the break area with inexpensive Halloween decorations is another affordable way to improve employee morale and improve job satisfaction. If your company has a commissary, you might consider buying or making special holiday cookies or other treats to make the day memorable and special for your workers.

Halloween can provide a fun and safe opportunity for you to develop stronger bonds with your workers.If you are too busy to organize your company’s Halloween activities yourself, consider assigning the task to a manager or assistant or commission a committee to plan your event for you.

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Levi James Wone was having a big night.

On August 10, Wone, 23, was enjoying his favorite cocktail, a premixed can of rum and Coke. Then he enjoyed another. And another. And another. Eventually, he had consumed 20 cans of the alcoholic drinks.

That’s when he decided it would be a good idea to steal a forklift.

According to court records, after drinking all that booze, Wone broke into the Lismore Tractor and Machinery Centre, located in North Lismore, New South Wales, Australia, and stole a Yale forklift, according to a report in Australia’s Northern Star.

He then rammed his newly nicked vehicle through the business’ front gates and drove the vehicle down a nearby busy street, albeit at a low rate of speed.

When a man pulled up to Wone in a car and asked what in bloody hell he was doing, Wone ditched the vehicle and took off running. Eventually he was captured by police who arrested him and took him to the local lockup. When they searched Wone’s pockets, they found three grams of cannabis.

Wone was charged with seven counts, including driving while disqualified, mid-range drink driving, entering enclosed lands, and possession of a prohibited drug.

When he appeared in Lismore Local Court on October 20, he was placed on 18 months probation and was disqualified from driving any type of vehicle for a period of two years. He also was fined $300.

 

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UPS, one of the largest freight transportation and logistics carriers in the US, announced that it will raise its rates an average of 4.9% effective December 29, 2014.

The increases will affect UPS Ground, Air, International and UPS Freight carrier services for movements between the US, Canada and Puerto Rico.

The move comes on the heels of UPS’s announcement last June that it is planning to apply dimensional weight pricing for all of its UPS Ground services and UPS Standard to Canada packages. That move also takes effect December 29. The carrier already uses dimensional pricing — or “dim pricing” — on its domestic and international air service, UPS Standard to Mexico ground service, UPS Ground Packages, and UPS Standard to Canada packages that are larger then three cubic feet.

Jerry Hempstead, an Orlando-based consultant of the freight industry, said UPS was expected to announce a price increase, just not this early.

“In the past they announced in November (November 22, 2013, for 2014; November 19 2012, for 2013; and November 8, 2011, for 2012,” Hempstead told Logistics Management. “It appears UPS is taking lessons from their competitor, FedEx, whom announced its 2015 rates prior to their investors quarterly call which leads to questions on the call and to a degree helps to pump the stock. UPS has their quarterly investors call this Friday.A little bit of a turn in the announcement is that traditionally FedEx allowed UPS to set the prices for ground parcel shipping and just matched their tariff after UPS went public.”

 

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cooling tower

Photo by Wolkenkratzer (Via Wikimedia Commons)

The 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was a real wake up call for the nuclear industry worldwide. Now the US Department of Energy is sponsoring the testing of new air filters that could be the last line of defense between the general population and the type of reactor meltdown that occurred during that disaster.

DOE officials joined representatives from  the nuclear power industry at the Mississippi State University recently to observe testing of next-generation nuclear-grade high-efficiency particulate air filtration systems, known as HEPA filtration systems.

Concerns about Existing Filters

Earlier HEPA filtration systems currently are being used at energy facilities in Washington State, South Carolina, Idaho and elsewhere. But nuclear experts began to become concerned about the effectiveness of these systems should a combination of catastrophic events occur, such as the earthquake and tsunami that resulted in the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at Fukushima.

The DOE has now expanded funding at MSU’s Institute for Clean Energy Technology to further study the issue and the recent testing will help researchers determine how to make these filters withstand unexpected harsh conditions, such as a fire or a high humidity event such as a steam line failure, according to Charles Waggoner, director of the ICET and a research professor at the university.

“The testing we’re doing is very significant and we are the only place in the world with infrastructure and personnel capable of doing this work,” Waggoner told Mississippi Business Journal.

The HEPA filtration system prevent radioactive contamination from being released into the air. The systems currently in use at the DOE Hanforsd site in Washington  State, the Savannah River site in South Carolina and elsewhere — known as “separatorless” systems — are 97.97% efficient. But that might not be good enough in the event of an unexpected event, like the type of damage to a facility caused by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami at Fukushima.

Department of Energy Responsible for Quality Control

Subir Sen, a HEPA filter technical specialist for the DOE’s Office of Environment, Health, Safety and Security, said his department has been charged with creating new standards for the filters and assuring quality control.

“We also manage the additional testing that the filters used in nuclear facilities for DOE undergo through an independent filter test facility,” Sen said. Each filter used in a nuclear facility in the US must undergo rigorous testing before being put into operation.

“When test results were published by Dr. Waggoner which showed that separatorless filters may not perform under certain conditions, we became interested,” Sen said. “We are following through with this test to find out how they perform and if any recommendations need to be made within our standards.”

Also observing the testing in Mississippi were representatives from Bechtel National Incl., Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, and Washington State’s Department of Health, as well as leaders from throughout the nuclear energy industry.

Testing for Multiple Catastrophic Events

For the first time anywhere, ICET researchers are testing the next generation facilities against a variety of extreme conditions at the same time.

One observer of the testing —  Scott MacMurray, a project engineer with the Savannah River National Laboratory, in Aiken, South Carolina — said the work being done at the Mississippi State is being closely watched by the nuclear industry.

“Lots of different groups have sent a representative because it’s such an important program,” MacMuray said. “All the different parties are interested in the results of the testing.”

 

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Five high schools and a career center have been selected to participate this year’s Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education (PRIME) program sponsored by the SME’s Education Foundation.

The program creates connections between manufacturing, high school students, educators and industry leaders to grow and train the next generation workforce, according to Josh Cramer, senior educational program officer for the SME Education Foundation.

“In just a few years, the PRIME model has proven its value and success,” Cramer said in an SME news release. “To date, roughly three-quarters of PRIME graduates enter the manufacturing field or pursue manufacturing or STEM-related post-secondary education and training. This validates the belief that engaging high school students and providing them with hands-on access to manufacturing curriculum and tools can drive interest in pursuing degrees to support the industry.”

The schools that were selected are:

  • Capital High School, Helena, Montana.
  • Jeffersontown High School, Louisville, Kentucky.
  • John Glenn High School, Norwalk, California.
  • Middleton High School, Tampa, Florida.
  • Rocklin High School, Rocklin, California.
  • Tri Rivers Career Center, Marion, Ohio.

The schools will receive funding for equipment, software and professional development as well as manufacturing camps, extracurricular activities and scholarship opportunities.

Launched in 1991, the PRIME program provides access to real-life manufacturing education and tools.

 

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Vanderlande — $1 billion Atlanta-based manufacturer of airport baggage handlers and other materials handling movers — announced that it recently purchased Smatec GmbH, a German company that makes pocket sorters and other warehouse automation equipment.

The first Smatec product to be offered by Vanderlande is a modular state-of-the-art sorter that can be used wither as a “Bombay” sorter for single items or a tilt-tray sorter for items such as shoe boxes, according to to a Verlande news release.

The purchase of the German company allows Vanderlande to move into new product lines, according to Govert Hamers, the company’s CEO.

“The acquisition of Smatec fits perfectly within Vanderlande’s business development strategy and supports the ambitious plan to increase our presence in key warehouse automation market segments,” Hamers said. “The Bombay sorter is a good example of the new opportunities that this takeover brings to our impressive and expanding portfolio of integrated systems.

Smatec’s founder and owner, Ralf Schneuing, will continue to lend his knowledge and expertise to Vanderlande as part of the purchase agreement. After the planned introduction of the flat sorter, the company’s research and development activities will be focused on developing products for the fashion market, leading to a complete portfolio of hanging sorter solutions.

 

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

  • This Friday is Halloween. Should you let your workers dress up in the favorite costumes? We’ll give you the benefits and the drawbacks.
  • The effects of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused three nuclear reactors to meltdown in Japan are still being felt. Now US Department of Energy has commissioned a project in Mississippi to reduce the risk of a similar accident happening here.
  • With the holidays just around the corner, a natural foods manufacturer is turning to automation to improve its fulfillment operations.

All this plus a rate increase from the UPS, the acquisition of a German assembly line company, and what happens when you drink 20 rum and Cokes then steal a forklift. All this and much, much more can be found this week on the Bahrns blog … so stay tuned!

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Enterprise Resource Planning

Courtesy David Herrera via Wikimedia Commons

For most people, the holidays mean spending time with family and friends, creating new memories and enjoying good cheer.

For many e-commerce companies that deal with products that are most popular during the holidays, however, it can mean an enormous short-term surge in business volume. Figuring out an efficient way to deal with such a dramatic ramp up in business can either make or break a company.

Leading up to the 2012 holiday season, the management team at KeHe — the Naperville, Illinois, based distributor of specialty foods, health foods, vitamins and other healthy products — realized that its complex system of filling orders in nine different warehouses was not working efficiently. Workers were required to sort through piles of goods in order to find specific products, manually build boxes, insert inflatable cushioning, print out invoices, tape boxes closed and attach shipping labels for practically every order.

Too Much Inefficiency

For a company that services 33,000 customers in the North and Central America and in the Caribbean and that has more than 38,000 separate SKUs — and which was growing busier each holiday season — executives quickly realized there had to be a better way.

On top of all that, the company had a very aggressive fulfillment goal, according to Richard Sanderson, KeHe’s executive director of operations.

Something had to give.

“Nearly five percent of our overall business originates through our retail partners’ online channels, and we expect that number to grow in the coming years,” Sanderson told Material Handling Product News. “Our manual pick-and-pack fulfillment systems made it challenging to achieve our customer commitment to fill retail orders within 24 hours and have them delivered within two to three days.”

An Automated Packaging System

During the 2013 Pack Expo, company officials huddled with a number of packaging solutions companies before finally settling on Sealed Air, a packaging automation company based in Elmwood Park, New Jersey.

The company ordered an end-of-line automated system that formats, adjusts and lids packages according to height rather than weight or volume. This solution allowed KeHe to reduce excess space within the package while still providing the kind of stable and secure shipping required for the many glass fragile containers the company ships on a daily basis.

“The system easily integrated into our existing hardware and software systems and did so in a reduced footprint,” Sanderson said. “The systems were online within two days and fully functional well in advance of the holiday season.”

Holidays Less Hectic

Now, rather than pulling SKUs and filling boxes manually, workers simply need to pull items from a pick and place them on a conveyor that leads into the new automated packaging system. Not only are employees under less pressure to fulfill orders — especially during the busy pre-holiday season — but the system has allowed available work space to be expanded by more than 30%.

Plus, packaging labor has been reduced from two shifts per day to one while eliminating overtime.

Now holidays at KeHe are a lot less hectic. Thanks to the new automated packaging system, the company can meet holiday peaks with less labor, less material and with more space.

 

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tractor trailer

Photo courtesy of Greg Goebel via Wikimedia Commons

While the trucking industry continues to be plagued by increased federal regulation and a shortage in trained drivers, market conditions for trucking carriers remains positive, according to the most recent Trucking Conditions Index (TCI).

The TCI — which measures such metrics as capacity, fuel costs, bankruptcies, cost of capital and freight — is compiled each month by FT, a leading freight transportation forecasting company. Any TCI above zero indicates an adequate business environment for trucking, while a figure above 10 means carriers can expect good conditions.

In August. the most recent month for which data was available, the TCI was 9.10, one of the highest points for 2014. In July, the  TCI was 8.49.

Capacity Reaching Its Limit

While trucking conditions may be somewhere between adequate and good, there are still lingering problems for the industry. Fuel prices continue to climb and, perhaps more significantly, capacity continues to approach its maximum.

Current truck utilization levels are approaching all-time record levels, according to Jonathan Starks, director of FTR’s transportation analysis. As the US economy continues to improve and more freight is being shipped via trucks, it could result in strained capacity and even higher rates among carriers.

“With overall capacity remaining tight and continued cost pressure at fleets, we can expect to see freight rates moving higher into 2015,” Starks said in a news release. “Spot rates are edging lower — from a very high level — but contract rates are still showing signs of acceleration. Growth in the use of outsourced capacity (ie. broker and spot markets) is joining wage increases as a main driver of cost increases. Fleets are using more outsourced capacity, a segment which regulatory impacts are especially strong.”

Driver Shortage Leads to Higher Wages

Recruiting and retaining truck drivers has become a big issue in the trucking industry in recent years. Yet the demand for freight services remains high. This dilemma is one of the reasons freight costs are increasing.

Bob Costello, chief economist at the American Trucking Association, said the situation is becoming dire.

“Today, the industry has in the range of 30,000 to 35,000 unfilled truck driver jobs,” Costello told Logistics Management. “As the industry starts to haul more because demand goes up, we’ll need to add more drivers — nearly 100,000 annually over the next decade — in order to keep pace.”

US Xpress announced that it was instituting an average 13% increase in base mileage pay for over-the-road solo truck drivers, effective August 25. The company’s chief operating officer, Eric Fuller, said that the move was a direct result of the company’s need to recruit and retain qualified drivers.

“Listening to feedback over the years, we know driver pay is a very important aspect for our drivers and drivers in the industry,” Fuller said.

New Federal Regulations

Changing federal regulations on trucking is also affecting the industry. Hours-of-service rules now require drivers to have a minimum of 34 hours off-duty before they can restart their next work week. Plus those “restarts” are now limited to one per week.

The new rules also require a minimum of two periods of off-duty between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on consecutive days, which is causing a scheduling and logistical nightmare for TL operators.

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Two UK-based companies have collaborated on a new explosion prevention product that could transform the safety of the process industry.

Fike UK and MID Valves worked together to produce the first certified explosion isolation valve that will be used on a biomass plant as part of phase one of the Immingham Rail Freight Terminal, located in Stalinborough, Grimsby, in the UK.

At first the companies planned to have separate explosion valves, but eventually decided to try to create one single reinforced process valve that could help protect explosions from occurring in biomass silos at the facility, according to Keith Avila, Fike UK’s general manager.

“Using this new valve, in conjunction with Fike’s chemical isolation system, has provided a fast-acting explosion-proof slide valve of a scale that has never been seen before,” Avila told the materials handling website HUB. With experts from both companies working on the project, they were able to come up with the solution in just six months.

“Achieving this in such a short time is almost unheard of in our industry,” Avila said. “The specifications required were extremely challenging and required some extremely clever engineering input to deliver this solution.”

With opening dimensions of 1.0 by 1.2 meters, the valve closes in less than 300 milliseconds in the event of an explosion and can withstand an instant 0.5 bar increase in explosion parameters. Plus, they can be used as a normal process valve with a slow opening and closing function while also being economically stripped and rebuilt ready to use again after an explosion.

 

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