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Supply Chain Technology

Illustration courtesy of Creative Commons (Public Domain)

Having the right forecasting tools and other supply technologies is the best path to profitability, according to a survey if industry executives conducted recently by Bloomberg Business Research Services.

Because customers are demanding more and an increasing number of businesses are looking at global markets, the demand for accurate forecasting and planning software has become critical for the success of most companies, according to a report, entitled “Supply Chain Innovation Driving Operational Improvements”, which was based on the survey’s results.

“We Need Accurate Information Faster”

BBRS asked chief executive officers, company presidents and other high level corporate leaders what they saw as the best ways to cut costs, improve product quality and increase profitability. The response was nearly unanimous: To make the best decisions for their businesses, leaders today need the most accurate and timely information available.

In fact, many respondents said that existing tools aren’t fast enough or accurate enough to give them the key data they need and that more money needs to be invested in innovation to speed up the flow of information.

“Demand-driven supply forecasting/planning leads all supply chain tools in level of importance and level of adoption,” the report stated in its executive summary. “Clearly, getting this task right is seen as key to supply chain management.”

Among the tools corporate decision makers currently use are warehouse management systems, multi-level inventory optimization, demand signal repository, salesand operations planning, and leveraging point of sale data.

Shifting to Mobile Access

Access to supply chain and tools is also now shifting to mobile devices. About 51% of the respondents said they expect their employees to have access to demand and supply chain forecasting/planning data via mobile devices by the end of this year.

One of the executives who participated in the survey — Jim Keppler, vice president of integrated supply chain and quality for North America at Whirlpool Corp. — said that the days of depending on data that is weeks or months old or even “guesstimating” based on previous experience, market trends and intuition are over.

“Our ability to forecast is critical,” Keppler said. “The accuracy throughout is important. Our goal is to have our appliances in the right time for the right cost.”

At Whirlpool, integrated systems tie together manufacturing plants and the supply chain all over North America, providing end-to-end visibility that enables real-time in-the-pipeline delivery systems.

Costs Shifted from Fixed to Variable 

Since the company migrated to an integrated supply chain model three years ago, it has been able to shift between 3% to 4% of fixed costs to variable costs, according to Keppler.

“We focused on inventory reduction, while still being able to serve the customer,” he said. “As we’ve taken inventory out of the system, we have been able to consolidate warehouses and reduce total warehouse space.”

The resulting traceability has given Whirlpool a 360-degree view of its customers, so when salespeople are calling on clients, they have easy access to the same product and order fulfillment information as everybody else in the company.

That ability to react to real-time supply chain data has made Whirlpool more productive and more profitable.



Ken Bowyer, a crane operator for ALL Crane Rental of Florida, based in Tampa, has been named champion of the 2014 National Crane Rodeo. The event was held during the ConExpo/CONAGG 2014 trade show in Las Vegas.

Bowyer said his favorite Stetson cowboy hat brought him the luck he needed during the event, even though he didn’t wear it while operating the Liebherr 1220-5.2 all-terrain crane because it impeded his vision.

“I wore it before the championship, but not inside the cab,” Bowyer told Modern Materials Handling. “I didn’t want anything impeding my vision, even if it did bring me luck. I’m very passionate about this industry. Crane operators have a lot of responsibility and professionalism. The rodeo competition is just one way of drawing attention to a growing field.”

In addition to an inscribed belt buckle that declares him the rodeo champion, Bowyer also was presented with a check for $2,000 and a miniature model of the crane he drove while winning the event.


Avery Products — the Brea, California, based manufacturer of labels, name badges, business cards, dividers and other products — recently unveiled a new free app that can be used with Google Docs to make a variety of popular Avery labels and name badges.

Called the Avery Label Merge, the new add-on lets you do everything from printing address labels for a mailing to making name badges of events. It uses Avery templates and  Google Sheets to create spreadsheets with your address list or the names of event attendees. This content can then be inserted and formatted for Avery products by opening Avery Label Merge add on in Google Docs.

When you pick a label or name badge template and choose your spreadsheet, the information will automatically be imported and placed into the new document which then be printed right onto an Avery product from your inkjet or laser printer.

Here’s a link where you can find the Avery Label Merge and try it out yourself.


Photo courtesy Wikmedia Commons (Public Domain)

If your business works with any type of chemicals — from industrial solvents to cleaning supplies — you are legally obligated to provide access to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each and every chemical at all times.

The reason for this is simple: In the event of an accident or exposure to a chemical, workers need to be able to know exactly what chemical they are dealing with and what to do. MSDS sheets provide detailed information about the nature of the chemical, including its chemical and physical properties. It also tells you about the potential health, safety, fire and environmental hazards of the chemical product.

The MSDS sheet also includes information about how to work safely with the chemical and what to do if there is a spill or accidental exposure.

It’s the Law

Keeping MSDS sheets on hand is not just a good idea. It’s also the law. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Hazard Communication  Standard requires chemical manufacturers and distributors to issue MSDS with the first shipment of any potentially hazardous chemical product.

It’s up to the companies receiving the chemicals to collect these sheets and store them in a three-ring MSDS binder that can be accessed by any employee at any time in the event of an emergency. They also can be used by emergency personnel — such as firemen or paramedics — who may have to treat injured employees or deal with a hazardous chemical spill.

Maintaining Multiple MSDS Binders

For larger companies, multiple MSDS binders are often stored at various locations throughout a facility so there can be quick, easy access if an accident occurs. The last thing you want is for your workers to have to run to the other side of your factory or warehouse when seconds count.

MSDS sheets are often stored in wire folders that are hung at shoulder level above the floor. This is so they aren’t knocked over or damaged during the everyday operations of the business.

In some cases, the MSDS binders are attached to the wire folder by a cable. This is so they can’t become lost or misplaced easily.

There also lockable weather-resistant cases you can install to help protect the MSDS binders from damage. They are often made of polystyrene, aluminum or other durable materials.

Valuable, Life-Saving Information

The MSDS sheet for each chemical contains valuable information that can be essential when dealing with a critical emergency, including:

  • The products name
  • The chemicals it includes
  • Information about the manufacturer, including its address, phone number and an emergency number to call in the event of an accident
  • Hazardous ingredients/Identity information
  • OSHA’s Permissable Exposure Limit for each hazardous chemical contained in the product
  • Physical and chemical characteristics, such as its boiling point, vapor pressure and density, melting point and evaporation rate
  • Data about the chemical’s fire and explosion hazard, reactivity and potential health hazards
  • Precautions about its safe handling and use
  • Control measures, such as ventilation, what type of respirator, filter and personal protective equipment to use when dealing with the chemical

Some states require MSDS sheets to list all chemicals contained in the product, even if they are not hazardous. Since chemicals are often known by different names, the most common trade names are usually referenced.

MSDS sheets can be requested from the distributor who is providing the products. There are also free resources, including MSDS, available online.



Managers at Asmus Farm Supply, in Rake, Iowa, had a problem. The heating and cooling bills for their 40-foot-high warehouse were unbearable. But just as unbearable were the oppressive heat and cold that their employees had to endure.

The solution? Asmus installed two high-volume, low-speed fans that recirculated heated air back down the floor level, creating and maintaining consistent temperature levels throughout the warehouse.

Keeping temperatures at a constant, comfortable level was a challenge with trucks backing into and out of the facility all day. But it also was critical to maintaining quality for the hundreds of different seed types that are handled at the facility, said Troy Armstrong, Asmus’ maintenance manager. The fans — which were purchased from Big Ass Fans, which is based in Lexington, Kentucky — made all the difference in the world.

“The overall temperatures are much more consistent in winter and summer,” Armstrong told Modern Materials Handling. “Before the fans, we were using 5% to 6% of our 18,000 gallon liquid propane tank every week. Now we’re only using 2% a week.”



For Seegrid Corp. — the Pittsburgh-based manufacturer of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) for warehouses, factories and other industrial applications — 2013 was a record-breaking year. But that is just the latest in a series of sales growths that the company has experienced, according to Amanda Merrell, Seegrid’s marketing director.

“AGVs are becoming the solution of choice for companies seeking to boost productivity, reduce cost and improve the overall safety on the floor,” Merrell said in a news release. “With AGV technology advancements providing increased flexibility and simplicity, I am confident the AGVS industry will continue to expand.”

Last year, Seegrid’s sales hit $140 million, an increase of more than 39% over 2012. The company installed 1,047 vehicles in 182 systems.


Air Quality in your Warehouse

15 Apr 2014

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Warehouses can be dirty, grimy buildings, with all sorts of pollutants and particles floating around. While we realize this, many people – laborers and management alike – still do not fully comprehend the adverse effects of poor air quality, particularly in large warehouses.

Effects of Poor Indoor Air Quality

The effects of poor indoor air quality can be seen on your workers – often poor quality can cause increased cases of asthma and other illnesses. Poor air quality can led to chronic illnesses, causing repetitive days lost. Even worse, it can cause distraction or disturbances on your manufacturing floor – these could lead to accidents, which would be much worse.

Poor air quality can also cause low morale – workers who feel ill at work, distracted, or who feel they are getting sick more often than normal will dread coming in to the place that they feel is making them this way.

Shutter Mounted Exhaust Fan

Shutter Mounted Exhaust Fan

Causes of Poor Indoor Air Quality

There are lots of causes of poor indoor air quality, but not all of them are severe, or found in industrial and commercial settings.

  • Smoke and exhaust – Secondhand smoke, smoke from machinery, and exhaust from equipment will all put pollutants into the air and lower the quality of the air.
  • Mold – Mold mildew will release spores into the air, spores that will cause allergic reactions in many folks.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds – This covers a wide variety of chemicals found in manufacturing processes, construction, and other labor. Paint and paint strippers, gasoline, adhesives, pesticides, and more are covered in this category – anything that emits noxious or dangerous chemical gases.
  • Carbon dioxide – Humans themselves can emit gases that will cause indoor air quality to become worse. When we exhale, we put carbon dioxide back into the environment. An excess of carbon dioxide will cause drowsiness, headaches, and lack of concentration, all of which is dangerous in manufacturing facilities and warehouses.
  • Bacteria – Airborne bacteria circulates quite easily in a contained environment, which means if one person gets sick, you can run the risk of the bacteria spreading.

What You Can Do to Improve Indoor Air Quality in your Warehouse

  1. Make sure your warehouse is operating at positive air pressure: To keep pollutants out, the HVAC system is often set so that there is a minute air pressure difference between the inside of the building and the outside. This ensures that, when doors are opened, the air flows out, preventing airborne articles from entering the building.
  2. Use demand controlled ventilation: Using sensors, your HVAC system ensures that air is being replaced to provide balance. As it is, most ventilation replaces air at a consistent rate – meaning that increases is in the number of workers or amounts of pollutants being put into the air are not being accounted for in the replacing of air to keep oxygen levels up.
  3. Proper cleaning: Much of the risk of particulates from mold, bacteria, dander, and dust can be reduced or eliminate simply by consistent cleaning. Properly cleaning and disinfecting areas where mold has been spotted is the most important aspect of eliminating these common pollutants.
  4. Change power sources: Many pieces of equipment that run on gasoline, kerosene or propane can be converted to battery power or electric. Forklifts are prime for being switched over, as they can charge overnight.
  5. Powerful exhaust fans: These are particularly helpful at pushing out large amounts of pollutants and particulates on demand. Shuttered fans keep the outside out when the fans are not in use.
  6. Air filters: To stop particulates from re-entering the work area, you’ll need to make sure to use high-quality filters to remove as many pollutants as possible, and to change these filters regularly. Poor-quality or dirty filters will cause pollutants and particulates to be recirculated.

So check your air quality periodically, and consider taking steps to make your warehouse or manufacturing facility safe and healthy. It’s not something you can check once and be satisfied – things will change over time. Your workers and your lungs will thank you!


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

  • We use stepladders to make hard to reach jobs easier. But they also can be extremely dangerous if used incorrectly. We’ll tell you what you need to know to use them safely.
  • Quick: Where is your MSDS three-ring binder located? If you can’t answer immediately, it could be the difference between life and death. We’ll show you what you need to know to be in compliance with the law … and help save lives at the same time!
  • Industry executives say getting accurate information quickly is their number one need to successful run their businesses. We’ll tell you why you need to get on the information bandwagon and what it could mean for your business’s profitability.

Plus, a new free Google app for printing mailing labels, how huge fans saved an Iowa farm supply thousands of dollars, and the winner of the 2014 crane rodeo … all that and more can be found this week on the Bahrns blog!


Avoiding Falls: Using Stepladders Safely

14 Apr 2014

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Type 1A Fiberglass ladder

Type 1A Fiberglass ladder is rated for extra heavy duty use with a load capacity of 300 pounds. Fiberglass will not conduct electricity.

Stepladders are commonly found in practically any work environment. They provide a handy, efficient way to reach elevated work areas quickly and conveniently. But they also are potentially dangerous and can result in injury and even death if used incorrectly.

Training workers to follow good safety practices while using stepladders is the easiest way to reduce or eliminate dangers from fall, electrocutions and other potential ladder-related hazards.

Standard Stepladder Features

The standard stepladder is portable and self-supporting. It has an A-shaped frame and usually has two front side rails and two rear side rails. Most stepladders have steps that are mounted between the front side rails. How many steps a stepladder has depends on its height. On the rear side rails, most ladders have bracing that provide support and stability.

The first thing any worker should do before using a stepladder is to inspect it for damage or instability. If there are any broken rungs or rails, bent or split side rails, missing or damaged safety devices, or other structural damage, the ladder should not be used. Check the steps for grease, dirt or other substances that could cause a slip or fall.

Be aware of paint or stickers — except manufacturer safety warnings or labels — that could hide possible defects.

Stepladder Load Ratings

The next thing to consider is the stepladder’s load capacity. Not all stepladders are made alike. There is actually a stepladder rating system that standardizes the load capacity of any particular stepladder:

Type III – Light duty designed for household use. Maximum load capacity is 200 pounds.

Type II – Medium duty designed for commercial use. Maximum load capacity is 225 pounds.

Type 1 – Heavy duty designed for industrial use. Maximum load capacity is 250 pounds.

Type 1A – Extra heavy duty designed for industrial use. Maximum load capacity is 300 pounds.

Type 1AA – Special duty designed for rugged use. Maximum load capacity is 375 pounds.

If the body weight of the person using the stepladder — combined with any materials or equipment that are being used while on the ladder — exceed the maximum load capacity, it could cause the ladder to fail, which may result in a fall and/or injury.

Be Aware of the Work Environment

Before using a stepladder, workers should always inspect the area in which the ladder will be used. Don’t use the ladder if there are any overhead power lines or exposed electrical cables even if the ladder is not made out of metal.

When climbing a ladder, make sure to use three-point contact — two hands and a foot, two feet and hand — when moving up or down the stepladder. Keep your body in the center of the ladder and always face the ladder’s rungs while climbing up or down.

If necessary, use a barricade to keep pedestrians and traffic away from the area where you will be using the ladder. Make sure the ladder is on a stable and level surface before climbing it.

The spreaders of the stepladder should always be in the locked position before use. Never use a stepladder for a purpose other than that for which it was designed, such as using a folded stepladder as a single ladder.

A piece of equipment as innocuous as a stepladder can pose a potential danger when it is not used safely or wisely. Make sure all employees are adequately trained on the proper use of stepladders and other equipment in order to minimized injuries and danger in your workplace.



Seegrid , the Pittsburgh-based manufacturer of driverless industrial vehicles, will participate in next month’s enormous CeMat 2014 trade show in Hanover, Germany. During the expo, which is scheduled for May 19 to 23, Seegrid will unveil new products for the European market that will allow companies to build efficiency and ensure agility in a dynamic marketplace, according to a company news release.