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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.


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.



Women want to be more involved with every aspect of manufacturing, according to a new survey released by Women in Manufacturing, a coalition of more than 500 women dedicated to attracting, retaining and advancing women in the manufacturing sector.

The survey, which was compiled in association with the consulting group Plante Moran, had its results published in the group’s report, entitled, “The Future of Female Talent in the Manufacturing Sector“.

More than 870 women participated in the survey, including both experienced women currently working in the manufacturing sector and young women considering their career options. Among the findings:

  • Younger women ranked compensation as the most important factor in choosing a career, while about 80% of experienced women workers said value work that is interesting and challenging.
  • About 74% of women working in manufacturing believe the sector offers multiple career paths for women and more than half said manufacturing is a “leading industry for job growth” for women.
  • About 64% of women working in manufacturing said they would recommend a career in manufacturing to younger women just choosing a career path.

Despite these finding, the survey also found that younger women are often unaware of the opportunities available to them in the manufacturing sector. Fewer than 50% of younger women surveyed said they believed manufacturing offered interesting and challenging work.


The Value of Cross Training Employees

23 Oct 2014

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There has always been talk of cross training employees in large corporations. One thing that is often missed is how valuable cross training is to small business. So what is the value behind cross training? Why is it so important that you should be interested in cross training your employees?

Teamwork and team spirit

Cross Training Guarantees Continuity of Service

All employees will take time off during the year, whether its as vacation time, sick time, or personal time off. As an employer you need to ensure that production continues, and the wheels keep turning. By having multiple people trained in multiple skills, employees can be rotated around to pick up for the person who is absent. This will allow for operations to continue without a hiccup.

Cross Training Provides Staff Development and Growth

An employee who is not growing and developing through their tenure with your company is a stagnant employee. These types of employees, while they may be productive in the process, are not developing as a resource. Development and growth can help keep employees engaged, instead of them mentally checking out and just methodically going through routines.

Cross Training Gives Employees Job Security

An employee who is trained in more than one task has more job security than an employee trained in a singular task. Should a poor year require layoffs, the employee with numerous skills will be more valuable to the company. On top of this, cross training is good for the employee in this case too, as should an employee lose their job, they will have more transferable skills when seeking a new job.

Cross Training Gives Employees a Support System

When various employees are well-trained in different aspects of work, they can turn to each other when they run into a road block. If they have problems, get stuck at some point in a process, or need additional input, they’ll have other employees they can turn to. They will also be able to solve problems without running to a supervisor or management, keeping them freed up to do their work.

Cross Training Provides New Perspectives

When employees are doing the same single skill day in and day out, they can develop tunnel vision. They may not see the business as a whole, and may not see how their job fits in to the entire process. Cross training will help them to see their value to the company’s processes, and can help them to improve how they do their job. This can lead to increased output and better quality of work once they see how them doing their job effects the rest of the company.

Cross Training Provides Flexibility for the Employers

Through cross training, you as an employer may be able to discover a hidden aptitude. You may find that an employee hired for a certain job or task is actually better a different relevant task. By cross training numerous employees, you may find out that you can move them around to provide more efficient output. This will create greater value for the company.

Cross Training Gives the Employee an Investment in the Company

An employer who cross trains their employees is demonstrating that they value the people as a resource. This will help to make the employee feel like they are valued, and that they have more of a stake in the company for the future. An employee with a stake in their company will naturally give more effort. This benefits both the employee and employer.

So consider putting some emphasis on cross training your employees, and giving them the opportunity to grow. It will work out best for everyone involved – and who knows, you may find out that your next superstar employee may have already been working for you, just in a different position.

Maersk Triple E Cargo Ships

The nose of a Maersk Triple E ship under construction in Korea (Photo courtesy of Russavia via Wikimedia Commons)

The Matz Maersk Triple E is the biggest ship ever built. It has a wide of 194 feet and a length of more than four football fields. it can carry an astounding 18,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) cargo containers. And its propellers alone weigh 70 tons each.

It is the latest in a series of 20  super-sized Triple E ships ordered by the Danish cargo shipping company Maersk that will be built at the Daewood Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering shipyard in Opko, a port in South Korea,by the year 2015. Eight more of the Triple E class ships currently are under construction at the shipyard, which is one of the three largest in the world. The two other members of the “Big Three” shipyards — Hyundai and Samsung — also are located in South Korea.

The ships will service routes along the northern-Europe to Asia route.

Too Big for the Panama Canal

Because 47 feet of the Matz Maersk lies below the water line, it is too large to fit through the Panama Canal — even after it is deepened and widened — but the super-sized Triple E class cargo container ships can squeeze through the Suez Canal, barely.

Alastair Philip Wiper, a photographer and writer, traveled to the Korean shipyard as the ship was being christened and shortly before it was scheduled to travel to Russia. His amazing photos from the journey appear in this month’s edition of Wired magazine.

On his blog, Wiper described his incredulity when arriving at the busy port.

“The shipyard, about an hour from Busan in the south of the country, employees about 46,000 people and could reasonably be described as the world’s biggest Legoland,” Wiper wrote. “Smiling workers cycle around the huge shipyard as massive, abstractly over-proportioned chunks of ships are craned around and set into place. The Triple E is just one small part of the output of the shipyard, as around 100 other vessels including oil rigs are in various stages of completion at any given time.”

One Impressive Ship

Still, the Matz Maersk made for an impressive sight, according to Wiper. He was given a tour of the ship, where he met the ship’s captain, Lars Peter Jensen, who previously had served as captain for four previous “largest ships in the world.”

Only 15 crew members actually work on the ship while it is at sea — living in a living quarters beneath the bridge that includes a small movie theater and a swimming pool.

That's One Big Ship

Computer generated image of the Maersk Triple E Class (Image courtesy of Russavia via Wikimedia Commons)

In the ships cavernous storage hold below deck, 23 rows of cargo containers can be stacked up to 11 levels deep. That’s enough room to store 864 million bananas. On the deck, stacks of up to 10 cargo containers can be stored.

The ship has two engines, each with a total power output of 30,000 kilowatts, giving the ship a top speed of 23 knots, or about 26.5 miles per hour. The engines are a new “greener” design, allowing the vessel to generate 50% less CO2 per container than the average for the Europe to Asia route. Each engine has two four-blade propellers, each with a diameter of 32 feet and weighing more than 154,000 pounds.

The ship took 252,350 gallons of paint to cover its enormous hull. It has 310 miles of electrical cable connecting the bridge to its critical systems.



An increasing number of manufacturers, warehouses and distribution centers are discovering the cost and productivity benefits of using Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) to move materials throughout their facilities. So it’s not surprising that the number of companies offering these robotic devices that don’t require humans to operate or control them is growing.

The newest player in the AGV field is AGV Solutions, based in Charlotte, North Carolina. The firm recently introduced a complete line of AGV products, including driverless forklifts and AGVS that handle specialized loads for everything from hospitals to steel mills.

Mats Herrstromer, the company’s founder and president, launched the venture in association with AGVE, a Swedish AGVE system supplier.

“AGV Solutions is a new company which has decades of experience with AGV systems technology in the North American market,” Herrstromer said in a company news release.

The company offers both standard and customized AGVs with payloads between just a few pounds and 65 tons. Some of the vehicles can lift to heights of up to 36 feet and move without the use of any type of outside navigation, such as wires, magnets or tape.The company also offers a Windows-based AGV control system for order management, traffic control and route management that features an intuitive graphical user interface.




Knight Transportation — the Phoenix-based trucking giant — has purchased Barr-Nunn Transportatio, a dry van truckload carrier based in Des Moines, Iowa, for $112.4 million, according to a company news release.

The move expands Knight’s profile in the Eastern US by allowing it to take over Barr-Nunn’s leased facilities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Between August 2013 and August 2014, Barr-Nunn generated about $119.8 million in total revenue, $26.0 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), and $14.0 million in operating income.

The company was founded in 1982 by the Sturgeon family as a dry van truckload operator. At the time of its acquisition, it had 550 tractors and 1,830 trailers and served manufacturers and users of consumer products, paper products, food products and ingredients, plastics and rubber building materials, appliances, hardware, castings, and animal feeds, among other products.

Jim Updike, Knight’s executive VP for sales and marketing, said the move allows the company to access substantial capital resources for growth.

“Barr-Nunn has a strong niche in the expedited and highly scheduled marketplace, as well as a substantial presence in most eastern markets,” Updike wrote in a letter to investors.

Barr-Nunn will continue to operate as a separate company under its existing operating authority with its customer contracts and agreements remaining in effect.



hazardous materials

Photo courtesy of the US Marines via Wikimedia Commons (in the public domain)

Shipping materials that can cause harm to humans or the environment if they are spilled during transport requires an informed knowledge about national and international laws and regulations.

If something should happen and your company is responsible for a haz mat spill because the proper protocols weren’t followed, ignorance is no defense.

Fortunately, there are now a number of containers that have been certified to be in compliance with the US Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, which regulates the domestic and international shipment of dangerous goods that could cause harm to people or property if mishandled. These containers include bulk shipping containers that are completely secure during transport.

What Is a Hazardous Material?

A hazardous material is anything that can cause harm to people, living organisms, property or the environment. The definition includes such things as biohazards, allergens, asphyxiants, pathogens, corrosives, flammables, toxins and radioactive materials.

Some of the companies that common deal with the transportation of hazardous materials include the healthcare, laundry, pharmaceutical, and food industries.

In light of recent incidents and a heightened awareness of the potential threats that could come from the supply chain, local, state and even the federal governments are cracking down on the enforcement of the HMTA. In the US, the code is enforced by the US Department of Transportation, which has adopted the United Nation’s marking system for classifying hazardous materials.

Responsibility Doesn’t End at Your Dock

Jack Smylie, national sales manager for Meese Orbitron Dunne Co. — a leading maker of containers for shipping hazardous materials — said that if anything should happen to the hazardous materials once it leaves your property and enters the supply chain, your company could still be held accountable.

“Regulated, hazardous and materials for export require UN/DOT compliant packaging,” Smylie told Modern Materials Handling. “For most companies handling hazardous materials within a closed loop, their choices are steel or plastic containers. Because their lighter weight reduces transportation costs — when compared to steel — we’ve seen a big trend in the implementation of reusable plastic bulk containers for this type of transport.”

One of the company’s products is a latch-based fastening system that can be integrated into some of its other bulk forklift containers. The rotationally molded polyethylene unit includes four military-grade side release buckles that are attached via nylon straps. These are used to lock the lid onto the container. If the shipper would like to mount more buckles on the rigging, they can.

“The buckles keep the cover securely in place, even if the container is turned upside down, to ensure that the contents don’t escape,” said Smylie. “Because the fines associated with a spill and its cleanup can be extremely costly, there’s been a lot of interest from shippers in a variety of categories.”

The containers have been certified to met UN/DOT standards by a third party. To help users maintain compliance with these regulations, information about the proper use of the containers is permanently molded onto the side of each unit.



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

  • The largest ship ever built recently chugged out of a shipyard in South Korea. We’ll give you an exclusive tour of this mega-sized cargo container now sailing the high seas … and tell you why many more are on the way!
  • If you are shipping hazardous materials, not only do you need to take extra precautions … you also need to know all the laws regulating these shipments so you don’t get into trouble.
  • Trucking remains one of the best ways to ship products in the supply chain, but with rising fuel costs and a continuing shortage of drivers, will it stay that way for long?

All this, plus a new survey on women in manufacturing, an innovative new anti-explosion valve, and a trucking acquisition that could shake up the industry. All this and much, much more can be found this week on the Bahrns blog … so stay tuned!

BRG Sports Rantoul

Photo by: Dave Hinton/Rantoul Press

Every time an employee has to stop and actually touch a package at BRG Sports — the manufacturer of football helmets, child safety seats and other plastic products — it costs the company time, money and efficiency.

So when the company was designing its new 813,000 square food combination manufacturing facility and distribution center in Rantoul, Illinois, its goal was to eliminate as many of these “touch points” as possible in order to streamline efficiency.

When it is finally completed next year, the BRG Sports complex will have consolidated eight different DC and four brands under one roof. The company currently manages 23,000 SKUs and ships about 10,000 pallets per month.

Finding a Solution for a Complex Environment

Because it makes everything from Riddell football helmets to Bell cycling headgear to Giro bike racks and bicycle child carriers, the company caters to everybody from big box retailers to smaller, specialty sporting goods stores and even neighborhood organizations and school athletic departments.

The challenge was to design a warehouse management system (WMS) that could coordinate between 44,000 and 60,000 pallet locations, a full two miles of conveyors, and delivery systems that can support up to 60 cartons per minute in mixed-case and 100 cartons per minute case/split case modules … all while minimizing employee touch points.

The solution was a warehouse control system designed by Numina Group that enables parallel pick, pack and ship operations across brands, channels and order profiles. The WCS times the release of work and synchonizes activities so the proper cartons for each order arrive at their designated shipping area exactly when they are needed in the least amount of time and with the fewest amount of employee travel.

Hands-Free, No-Touch Delivery Systems 

The system utilizes very narrow aisle storage in order to optimize space, as well as hands-free, multi-modal data collection tools to direct picking activities. These include voice and ring scanning.

The WCS also uses automated materials handling equipment such as conveyors, sortation equipment, and automated print-and-apply and packing systems to get the job done.

Fortunately, the company had one thing going for it: Because it was building an entirely new facility, it could design from the ground up, said Lewis Hornsby, vice president of global logistics and fulfillment.

“We didn’t want to automate our existing processes,” Hornsby told Modern Materials Handling. “Instead, we wanted to use automation to streamline our processes.”

Now, about 80% of all orders are completely automated, with no touches from human employees. That means fewer mistakes, faster operations, and improved efficiency.

“Although we ship multiple brands in split and full cases, to the automation, an order is an order and a box is a box,” Hornsby said.

When the Rantoul facility first came online in October, BRG Sports started closing facilities in other locations in order to integrate their operations under one roof.

“We had a significant number of people doing manual processes while we spoon-fed the automation,” Hornsby said. The result has been improvements in customer service and more synergies between brands and product lines.

A future phase calls for the facility to have the ability to pick product directly from assembly lines to the packing station and shipping dock in response to real-time demand.

“We’re not there yet,” Hornsby said. “But the design and automated conveyor is in place to do that.”