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Photo courtesy US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Public Domain)

Photo courtesy US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Public Domain)

Despite one of the worst winters in recent history, the operators of the nation’s largest ports are predicting increased import volumes as we head into the spring, according to a new report.

The Port Tracker report compiled by the National Retail Federation predicts that imports at the nation’s largest ports will increase 6.1% to 1.38 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in April. Contrast this with February, when port traffic was down 8.4% from the previous month. February 2014 traffic beat February 2013 by 1.4%, however.

While the March 2014 numbers have not yet been finalized, according to the NRF they are expected to be 15% higher than March 2013. May and June also were expected to be higher, up 3.8% and 5.5%, respectively, over the previous year.

As we head into the summer months, port traffic will continue to increase. July traffic is predicted to increase 3.1% and August will rise 1.2%, the report predicted.

Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy for the NRF, said the harsh winter will soon be forgotten and the nation’s ports will be as busy as they have ever been.

“With winter over, retailers are stocking up in anticipation of a busy spring and summer,” Gold told Logistics Management. “Consumers can expect plentiful supplies of merchandise. A busy time is expected over the next few months, so retailers are keeping a close eye on the labor situation at West Coast ports to ensure that cargo continues to move smoothly.”

The contract with the West Coast dockworkers expires June 30 and negotiations have not yet begun, but industry observers anticipate both sides to sit down at the end of May.

“Companies are already exploring contingency plans in case of a disruption,” Gold said.

And then there’s the expansion of the Panama Canal, which is scheduled to be completed later this year. Once work to widen and deepen the canal is complete, East Coast ports will be able to accommodate the super-sized “Panamax” cargo container ships that currently can only dock at deep-water ports on the West Coast.

In compiling its predictions, the NRF surveyed port officials at some of the largest US ports, including Los Angeles/Long Beach, Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Charleston, Savannah, Seattle, New York/New Jersey, and Oakland.

The report predicted the number of cargo containers the ports can handle, not the value of the cargo they contain, so the numbers don’t directly correlate to retail sales or employment statistics. However, the number of cargo containers handled by the nation’s ports provides a rough barometer of what retailers can expect in the coming months.

Ben Hackett — founder of Hackett Associates, a leading cargo industry consulting firm — said the rough winter had a definite impact on the national economy, but now that it’s over the economic indicators are improving.

“Our forecast continues to reflect the economic rebound and we remain convinced that 2014 will have sustainable growth,” Hacket said in a written statement. “For the year as a whole, we project an increase of 3.9% in containerized imports from the ports we cover, with a total of 19.3 million TEU. Of this, the West Coast represents a 3.7% increase over 2013 with 11.6 million TEU and the East Coast a 4.4% increase over 2013 with 7 million TEU. The remainder is in the Gulf.”



More than 23,000 people attended this year’s MODEX materials handling trade show, setting an all-time record, according to a news release from expo organizers. The event was held March 17 to 20 at the Georgia World  Congress Center, in Atlanta, and featured more than 800 exhibitors. More than 100 countries and six companies were represented at the event, which is the largest international expo of its kind in North America.

George Prest, CEO of MHI, the company that organizes the annual event, said attendees were treated to the latest in what the manufacturing and supply chain has to offer.

“Attendees were impressed with the wide range of material handling, logistics and supply chain equipment and systems solutions and education offered at MODEX and exhibitors were very impressed with the quantity and quality of attendees.”



The Swedish automaker Volvo has created an inflatable child safety seat that is fully portable, weighs less than 11 pounds, and can be fully inflated in just 40 seconds. According to news reports, the new seat is made from a special drop-stitch fabric that is commonly used in the construction of boats. The material has the ability to withstand a very high internal pressure and is sold enough to absorb the impact of a collision. Unlike traditional child safety seat, the new inflatable version faces the rear of the vehicle so that less strain is put on child’s neck in the event of a collision.

Replenishing your Talent Pool

22 Apr 2014

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Materials handling and logistics is an ever-changing field, and those who have been part of it for a while understand that. That being said, folks who have been in the industry for a while are now starting to look to the future, and may be moving on. You need to have a strategy to replace the talent you will be losing in the near future, or you will be left wanting when the time comes.protective eye gear

Identify Talent Within

All too often, business hurry to bring in ready-made employees from outside of the company for immediate fixes. This can be great in the short-term, but it can’t replace home-grown talent that is committed to the company. Identifying the talent can be difficult, but not impossible. There are certain traits to look for:

  • Multi-level communication – An employee that can communicate well up and down the chain of command, as well as horizontally with peers, is valuable. A low-level employee who is looked upon by his co-workers to communicate up the chain of command, for instance, would be an employee worth watching.
  • Learning capability – Identify an employee who is curious, willing to learn, and has the ability to process the information
  • Problem solving – Employees who can solve problems without management intervention, and who can be counted on to work on their own.

If you find an employee with some or all of these traits, you can then begin to groom them towards higher-level work. Encouraging them through training or academics can help to mold them into talent that can benefit the company in the long run.

Recruit Talent from Outside

While growing talent from within the company is the best route to go, you can’t rely on it for your sole source of next-generation employees. You’ll need to bring in people from outside of the company. However, evaluating the talent can be difficult. You have to look for the same traits you would look for in identifying internal talent, while looking at some other aspects of the hiring process:

  • Ability to adapt: A candidate that cannot adapt to your organization, and prove adaptability from previous experiences, will be a waste of training.
  • Maturity: An exterior candidate will need to be able to work professionally with both older and younger co-workers, while maintaining authority. This requires a balance of authority and ability to relate.
  • Stability: As with any industry, hiring rapid job-changers is a major risk – they can just as easily take the training you give them and head elsewhere.

Professional Development

Once you have identified the candidate, either internal or external, you need to continue to develop them over time to bring them up to speed with the company, and then to put them ahead of the curve. There are a number of routes you can take to develop the talent:

  • Professional Organizations; Organizations such as MHI, concentrated on developing logistics and materials handling talent, offer programs to identify and develop young member of the industry who want to grow and improve.
  • Academia: There are plenty of colleges that offer courses, if not degrees, in the area of materials handling and logistics. Consider these programs, but use them carefully, ensuring future gain for the company.

Differences in New Talent and Old

The times are a-changin’, and you’ll see this in the new talent you may hire or train. Some of these traits may seem a bit different to old-school workers, but you’ll see these crop up in the latest generation of workers. Don’t be afraid – many of these traits can be used for improvement and, while they can be slightly disconcerting to an older work force, they can be beneficial in the long term.

  • Confidence: Younger talent tends to have more confidence than may be deserved. However, this confidence can be used to push them along paths they may not otherwise take.
  • Goal-oriented: Where some older workers looked at jobs, newer workers may look at careers, and long-term paths.
  • Inclusivity: The newer generation tries to include everyone, at all times, looking past boundaries such as skill level.

By recognizing and using these ways to identify talent, develop talent, and cope with the new generation of talent, you should be able to replenish your talent pool and develop new employees for future success. Remember that, regardless of the systems and programs in lace, not having the proper talent can make it difficult for your business to succeed as time passses.


energy saving tipsStone Brewing Company — which has been brewing craft beers in its Escondido, California, production facility for more than 16 years — recently installed an intelligent LED high-bay lighting system in an addition to the plant that cut its lighting costs by 79%.

The addition’s original design plans called for the installation of traditional T8 florescent lighting, but company owners thought there might be an opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint and reduce utility costs at the same time, according to Joshua Lichtman, Stone Brewing’s associate project manager.

“We were surprised by the range of energy savings among the technologies as well as the differing levels of quality, integration and control,” Lichtman said. “The new system uses occupancy and daylight sensors to automatically delivery light when and where it is needed, based on parameters we’ve set and control.”

Intelligent LED Lighting System

Among the new lighting systems features are LEDs with add-on sensors and intelligent LEDs with integrated controls. These help make the facility’s lights operate more efficiently while still providing plenty of light to keep operations flowing smoothly.

For example, when the sun is shining — as it usually is in Southern California — the building’s windows and skylights provide 100% of the lighting and the intelligent LEDs are dimmed completely. If cloud cover moves in or it becomes evening, the lighting system can automatically respond by providing more light so workers never notice the difference.

Instant Access to Key Data

The system that was installed also includes tools that provide metered data managers can use to keep tabs on how efficiently the lighting is performing. They have immediate access so such information as kilowatts per hour, occupancy patterns and how much money they are saving due to daylight harvesting.

The lighting system also has integrated software tat helps configure its timeout settings to reflect real-time usage patterns. Managers can program the software so that it provides different lighting volumes at different times, such as “cleaning”, “brewery tours”, or “production” hours. These lighting levels can be automatically set for days or weeks ahead of time.

Pays for Itself in Less than Two Years

Stone Brewing has saved an estimated 86% of the annual energy costs it would have spend had it installed the T8 florescent lights it originally planned on using, including avoiding re-lamping, re-ballasting and mercury disposal costs. This savings means that the new system will effectively pay for itself in just 1.77 years.

Michael Feinstein, vice president of sales and marketing for Digital Lumens, the company that installed the LED lighting, said Stone Brewing is just the latest in many companies that are recognizing the value of energy-efficient lighting.

“Intelligence-driven efficiency is enabling facilities traditionally burdened by high lighting-related energy costs to slash usage up to 90% over HID and HIF alternatives while gaining better, higher quality lighting to facilitate their business operations,” Feinstein said in a news release.”The remarkable success of Intelligent LED lighting in a wide range of industrial applications –from manufacturing and warehousing to brewing and bottling — is fueling rapidly increasing adoption rates within the commercial and industrial sectors.

Stone Brewing makes a variety of craft beers and is the 10th largest craft brewer in the US, even though it has no paid advertising or discounting.




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

  • Winter is (slowly) making way for Spring and the nation’s port operators are optimistic that economic conditions are improving and that port traffic will increase. We’ll tell you why that’s good news for both manufacturers and retailers.
  • A growing number of retailers are depending on picking processes for fulfillment. But how can you make your picking go even faster and more profitably? We’ll explain why.
  • Plus, one craft beer maker in California thinks it has found the solution to maintaining a constant temperature at its brewery and helping the environment at the same time.

Also, we’ll tell you about an inflatable child safety seat, rail problems that are affecting coal deliveries, National Robotics Week, and much, much more. And it’s all this week on the Bahrns blog!



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.