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A reach stacker in use at a intermodal yard (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and in the public domain)

As negotiations between the owners of West Coast ports and the longshoreman’s union enter into their second calendar year, port operations are experiencing from delays from San Diego to Seattle.

And now that mega-cargo container ships are beginning to appear for the first time along some US docks, wait times are lengthening and tensions are being ratcheted up even higher.

Federal Mediators Step In

The contract between the Pacific Maritime Association — which represents the operators of West Coast ports — and the International Longshore and  Warehouse Union expired July 1. And even though talks between the two sides have been ongoing since May 12, little progress has been made as neither side has been willing to budge.

Now the US Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has stepped in with the hopes of finding a way to untangle the stalled contract negotiations.

Last week, the PMA released a statement charging that worker slowdowns at West Coast facilities is resulting in “gridlock”.

“It appears the union’s motivation is to continue slowdowns in an attempt to gain leverage in the bargaining,” the PMA stated. “The ILWU slowdowns and the resulting operational environment are no longer sustainable.”

Labor Blames Management for Delays

Union officials counter-charged that the owners were responsible for the productivity problems. ILWU president Bob McEllrath blasted the PMA’s “illogical plan to eliminate night shifts at many ports.”

“Longshore workers are ready, willing and able to clear the backlog created by the industry’s poor decisions,” McEllrath said in a news release. “The employer is making nonsensical moves like cutting back on shifts at a critical time, creating gridlock in a cynical attempt to turn public opinion against the workers. This creates an incendiary atmosphere during negotiations and does nothing to get us closer to an agreement.”

‘Add Three Weeks’

Meanwhile, cargo owners are being advised to add three weeks to trans-Pacific import lead times in order to compensate for delays at the port facilities.

Dan Gardner, president of Trade Facilitators, a transportation industry consulting firm, said the gridlock caused by labor conflict and by the arrival of super-sized cargo container ships in West Coast ports for the first time are causing delays that aren’t going away anytime soon. He added that operators have no choice but to “recognize port delays for what they are: A permanent part of the ocean transport landscape that will not go away.”

“Simply stated, it takes a lot longer to off load a 14,000 TEU vessel than it does an 8,000 TEU ship,” Gardner said. “And they consume a lot more space, cranes, chassis, trucks, drivers and on-dock/near-dock rail capacity when they finally do get a berth.”

In recent years, many Asian shippers have begun using the mega-sized cargo container carriers because they can carry more goods at a lower cost than traditional cargo container ships. But Gardner contends that West Coast ports aren’t ready to accept them — especially with the lingering labor problems.

“One doesn’t need a PhD in Queuing Theory to know that when logs of big ships show at the same time, delays will ensue,” he said.




Despite the steepest decline in fuel prices in nearly six years,  FedEx announced last week that it would be increasing the diesel and jet fuel surcharges for its customers effective Feb. 2.

Most shippers who use FedEx’s air and ground services will be facing fuel charges that are between 3.5% and 5% higher next month, according to Shipware, an industry consulting firm. Shippers with contracts that contain specific language governing surcharges may not be required to pay more.

As of Jan. 5, the national average for a gallon of gasoline stood at $3.13. Diesel prices were between $3.07 and $3.19 per gallon. And jet fuel was selling for an average of $2.30 per gallon, according to date from the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA).

So if gas prices are so low, why is FedEx increasing its gas surcharge?

Alan B. Graf Jr., FedEx’s chief financial officer, explained that although FedEx has benefitted from the decline in fuel prices, the gains have been mostly neutralized by revenue reductions from lower fuel surcharges, according to a transcript of his remarks during a company conference call with analysts in mid-December.

Graff stated that there is a six-to eight-week lag time between FedEx’s fuel payments and the surcharges imposed to recoup those costs. So the company was stuck paying higher fuel prices in September before it could adjust its surcharges accordingly in November.

FedEx’s announcement comes just weeks after it changed the way it calculated shipping rates for many of the packages it handles. Both FedEx and UPS now use dim pricing, which is based on three-dimensional scanners that measure the size and shape of a package. This data is then used to calculate how much the shipper should charge based on how much space the package will take up in the vehicle. That allows shippers to charge more and still be able to maximize the space in cargo holds.



“Materials Handled!”

That’s the new slogan Akron, Ohio, based organization and storage products maker Akro-Mils has chosen as its new motto. The new slogan was unveiled in the company’s new 2015 products catalog that was released earlier this month.

“This new slogan, which demonstrates that the toughest jobs are made easy with Akro-Mils’ industry-leading selection of products, will be visible in the company’s marketing efforts, including web, print advertising, company literature and more,” the company stated in a news release announcing the new slogan.

The catalog features all of the company’s organization and storage products, including shelves, bins, totes and containers.


File:FEMA - 13790 - Photograph by Mark Wolfe taken on 07-11-2005 in Alabama.jpg

Photo via Wikimedia Commons (in the public domain)

For the first time in two decades, the US Department of Transportation plans to accept applications from Mexican long-haul trucking companies for authority to operate in the US.

The announcement comes in the wake of a three year pilot program in which small amount of Mexican truck fleets were allowed to cross over the border and use US highways freely.

While the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) allowed trucks from both Mexico and Canada to travel freely in  the US, under pressure from organized labor and law enforcement groups up until last week the transportation department effectively banned Mexican trucks from freely crossing the border.

Mexicans Respond with Tariff

Mexican authorities retaliated by placing a $2 billion tariff on US lumber and other products that are sold in Mexico.

Now US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the reversal of the long-standing policy, offering the three-year pilot program as proof that allowing Mexican trucks to travel freely in the US was completely safe.

“Opening the door to a safe cross-border trucking system with Mexico is a major step forward in strengthening our relationship with the nation’s third largest trading partner and in meeting our obligations under NAFTA,” Foxx said in a news release. “Data from the three year pilot program and additional analysis on almost 1,000 other Mexican long-haul trucking companies that transport goods in the United States proved that Mexican carriers demonstrate a level of safety at least as high as their American and Canadian counterparts.”

Teamsters Cry Foul

The transportation department’s decision was immediately criticized by the Teamsters Union and other labor groups that complained that the reversal in policy was short-sighted and irresponsible.

Teamsters president James P. Hoffa charged that the DOT’s own inspector general has not been able to vouch for the safety of Mexican trucks allowed into the US during the trial period.

“I am outraged that the Department of Transportation has chosen to ignore the findings of the DOT Inspector General and is moving forward with a plan to open the border to Mexican trucks in the coming months,” Hoffa said in a news release released within hours of the transportation department’s announcement. “The policy change by the DOT flies in the face of common sense and ignores the statutory and regulatory requirements of a pilot program. Allowing untested Mexican trucks to travel our highways is a mistake of the highest order and it’s the driving pubic that will put at risk by the DOT’s rash action.”

Cites DOT’s Own Report

According to the Teamsters, the DOT’s Inspector General’s report concluded that the pilot program constituted too small a sample to make such sweeping regulatory changes.

“One thing was made clear in the IG’s report: The pilot program was a failure,” Hoffa said.

Despite complaints from labor, the transportation department will begin accepting applications for US operating authority this year. Once Mexican trucks are on US highways, Mexico is expected to lift its retaliatory tariff on US imports.

The Teamsters represent about 70,000 long-haul truckers and about 260,0000 UPS employees.





Castleford Engineering — a British excavating company based in Liverton — has added two new Volvo crawler excavators to its fleet of vehicles, as well as a pair of mini Volvo excavators, the company announced recently in a news release.

But these crawler excavators are unique because they are the first 30-ton excavators to be used in the UK that come equipped with a specialized two-piece boom attachment.

Steve Rule, Castleford’s managing director, said the custom crawlers were needed for specialized operations.

“Because much of our work is focused on maintaining major water courses for river authorities, we needed the combination of a sizeable excavator coupled to the maximum flexibility of the boom and arm geometry, especially for sheet piling in very confined spaces,” Rule said. “Volvo’s EC300D with the two piece boom arrangement ticks our particular box in this regard.”

The 30-ton vehicles are powered by a Volvo six-cylinder D8H Stage III 228 horsepower engine. The vehicles’ “integrated work mode control” provides high efficiency, rapid dig cycles, and lower fuel consumption while ensuring the maximum possible hydraulic horsepower available.

Hose rupture valves are fitted as standard to the boom and dipper cylinders, as well as quick-fit hydraulics and a hammering/shear device. The vehicles also have optional slop and rotator pipework.


It used to take the British industrial grain dryer manufacturer Alvan Blanch five workers, four forklifts and three hours to move just one of its pieces of equipment onto low loaders for transport.

But thanks the recent purchase of a Combilift Straddle Carrier, the procedure can now be completed in just 10 minutes by a single operator.

Grain driers are big, bulky pieces of industrial equipment that resemble long boxes, except they are tapered and their weight can vary at the front and back, making them difficult to move.

Engineers from Combilift customized the carrier used by the company so that it can lift various sizes of the units with stability.

“The inside of the 35-ton capacity  Combi-SC’s fram measures five meters, as opposed to the standard 4.3 meters,” the company stated in a news release.  ”This gives ample space for the larger driers, and the front and rear spreader beams enable the position and also the length of the chain slings to be adjusted according to the size of the units being lifted, which also caters for the differing sizes at the end. A choice of lifting points also ensures that the chains do not come into contact with the units, avoiding the risk of any damage to the paintwork of the panels.”


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

  • Beginning this summer, you may start to see more Mexican semi-trailer trucks on interstates … and some people are hopping mad about it. We’ll tell you why …
  • Labor problems at West Coast ports continue and now harbors are being backed up with super-sized cargo ships that are arriving at US docks for the first time.
  • What are the hot packaging trends to watch in 2015? We’ll tell you what they are …

All this plus a new slogan for an Ohio storage supplies maker, why a UK excavating company is expanding its fleet, and the reason FedEx is raising its fuel surcharge even though gas prices are at their lowest point in nearly six years. All this and much, much more can be found this week on the Bahrns blog … so stay tuned!

Hot Packaging Trends to Watch in 2015

19 Jan 2015

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Photo courtesy of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (via Wikimedia Commons)

A packaging trade show held in Chicago earlier this winter provided an insight into the kind of packaging trends we can expect to see in the coming year.

According to a report compiled by organizers of the PACK EXPO International and Pharma EXPO 2014 — which was held at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention facility in November — there are eight general trends to watch for 2015:

  • Flexible Packaging — The use of flexible packaging, such as standup pouches, ultrasonic sealing or more functional films and packaging formats — will continue in 2015 after showing a 3.8% growth rate last year. Companies spent $28 billion on these products to make packaging that was more functional, economical, ecological, and in some cases, antibacterial.
  • Sustainable Materials and Equipment — Sustainability includes such strategies as source reduction, recycled and renewable content, and energy savings. The report cited such developments as plant-based plastics and non-traditional fiber-based concepts like FibreForm paper, which is made of 100% fiber but can thermo-formed into practically any shape.
  • Flexibility and Overall Equipment Effectivness (OEE) — Shorter runs, operator turnover and the need to control costs will result in packaging machines and production lines that use higher levels of modularity, automation and networkability to simplify operations. Operators will seek ways to minimize downtime and maximize the performance they get out of their existing equipment.
  • Adaptable Robotics — In the coming year, robotics will continue to move from end of line pick-and-place operations to inline functionality, the report concluded. It cited one aseptic robotic system built by DENSO Robotics that features an outer coating and sealed joints that can be sterilized using hydrogen peroxide or ultraviolet light.
  • Easy-Open and -Close Packaging — There’s a growing demand for multifunctional closures, so portability and single-serve packaging will continue to be introduced. One example is a beverage can developed by Herrmann Ultrasonics that features a polypropylene “slider” tab that is ultrasonically welded to the aluminum can end and can withstand pressures of up to 100 PSI before opening and more than 50 PSI when resealed.
  • Retail-Ready Packaging — Another trend to watch out for is packaging that can double as a point-of-purchase display. These already are popular among big box and club/warehouse retailers — such as Sam’s Club, Costco and Aldi’s supermarkets — and are expected to migrate to other types of retail operations this year.
  • Serialization — In the pharmaceuticals industry, anti-counterfeiting and compliance with new legislation will drive new track-and-trace innovations. This will include such things as laser coders that can apply high-quality serialization alphanumerics and barcodes by marking the substrate directly or removing a layer of ink to expose contrasting material.
  • Advancements in Child-Proofing — Packages are becoming more flexible and less rigid. So packaging companies will develop new types of concepts for making containers child-resistant and elder-friendly. New kinds of child resistant packaging are needed because of the increase in products containing imidazolines — a family of drugs that are vasorestrictors used for treating nasal congestion — as well as legalization of marijuana in some states, poisoning incidents related to detergent “pods”, and young children gaining access to medication.

EnviroLid Reusable Pallet Lid

EnviroLid (Photo courtesty of Creative Techniques)

A Michigan materials packaging company has come up with an innovative, “green” system for securing palletized loads that doesn’t require plastic wrap or the use of bands.

Creative Techniques, which is headquartered in Michigan’s Orion Township, used structural foam plastic to create the enviroLid, a heavy duty lid that sits atop pallets of  totes or trays. The EnviroLid — which measure 45 by 48 inches — features recessed belts that are sort of like seatbelts found in cars. These belts have a metal hook that grips the pallet’s edge.

Once secured, the belts engage a ratchet mechanism — again, like a car’s seatbelt — that creates tension that secures the load between the pallet and the lid. Once removed, the spring loaded belts snap back into the lid automatically.

Here’s a video demonstration of how the enviroLid system works:

Creative Techniques’ New Pallet Belts

No More Shrink Wrap or Banding

EnviroLids are reusable, which eliminates the need for shrink wrapping and banding. That means there is no waste from pallet packaging that ends up in landfills. It also reduces labor costs because workers no longer have to wrap, unwrap and band pallets during shipping.

Rick Parker, the company’s vice president for business development, said the enviroLid can be adapted for use by practically any industry.

“The hooks can be custom designed to match any pallet, including injection molded, structural foam, thermoformed, metal or wood,” Parker said. “Benefits include better sustainability by eliminating stretchwrap or banding, plus improved safety for both personnel and product by eliminating razor knives.

The enviroLid also can be made watertight. And the lid’s underside can be used with a custom-molded insert that perfectly aligns the products stacked on the pallets for more security during transport.

First Created for Very Heavy Loads

The enviroLid was first used beginning in 2010 to secure heavy loads such as transmission and engine parts, according to Parker.

“Because those pallets contain 3,000 pound loads stacked up to four high, the lid had to be extra robust,” he said.

More recent versions use an injection-molded plastic process to handle loads of up to 2,500 pounds.

“It has the same dimension and features, but weighs 22 pounds, so a single person can handle it,” Parker said.

Comes in a Smaller Version

Another version of the enviroLid measures only 32 by 36 inches.

“Its a unique size that works well for smaller batch component deliveries to assembly lines by tuggers and pull carts,” Parker said. “With more operations looking to eliminate forklifts, this was the best size to interface with carts and pallet jacks.”

Because the enviroLid can replace plastic wrap and banding, it frees up valuable floor space in warehouses and manufacturing facilities because the equipment used for those packaging materials is no longer required.

Plus, the likelihood that loads will be damaged by razor knives when removing stretch wrap is eliminated.

The enviroLid features one-piece design, has no wells or recesses to collect water if stored outdoors, and has no seams to leak.  It has ergonomic handles on two sides and an extended perimeter lip in its corners to contain totes and boxes.

Plus, the enviroLid has a unique rib pattern on its underside so that it can get a better grip on the totes, containers and boxes it holds in place.



“Enough’s enough!”

That’s what the owners of a produce marketplace in Sydney, Australia, said after a series of forklift accidents resulted multiple injuries and at least one fatality.

Multiple forklift accidents at Sydney Markets — the largest fresh food market in the southern hemisphere — in 2012 and 2013 prompted the market’s owners to require seatbelts and rollover bars to be installed on and used by any forklift operating within the business.

Colin Gray, chief executive of the Chamber of Fruit and Vegetable Industries, said making seat belts mandatory for forklift operators will reduce injuries and deaths for market workers.

“People said you’d never get it done, but tit’s hard to find someone not wearing seatbelts,” Gray told the Australian Broadcasting Company. “When a forklift vehicle starts to tip, the natural reaction is to jump. The problem with jumping is the forklift will turn over quicker than most people can jump. So part of you will be caught under the superstructure of the forklift and you will be crushed. So a seat belt keeps the driver inside the cage of the forklift and they don’t suffer the same sort of injury.”

The market is a busy place. More than 50,000 people visit the market each Saturday to buy bulk fresh produce.