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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Using cave-in protective equipment when working in trenches deeper than five feet isn’t just a good idea. It’s the law.

That’s what the owners of A. Lamp Concrete Contractors — a construction company in Morton Grove, Illinois —  found out the hard way last week when they were fined $69,300 by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration for failing to adequately protect its workers from cave-ins during trenching operations.

The violation stems from an incident that occurred June 4 when an OSHA inspector discovered two of the company’s employees installing a water main in Morton Grove inside an 8-foot trench without cave-in protection, according to an OSHA news release.

OSHA trenching standards require all excavation deeper than 5 feet to be protected against collapse.

Heavy and Fast-Moving

Soil is extremely heavy and can be fast moving if not supported. As single cubic foot of soil weighs about 114 pounds and a cubic yard weighs about 1.5 tons, or about the same as a Volkswagen Beetle.

A worker buried under only a few feet of soil can be crushed by so much pressure that the lungs can’t expand and suffocation can occur in as little a three minutes. Soil that is wetter and heavier can crush the body in just a few seconds.

Protective systems reduce the likelihood of soil cave-ins that can fall or roll into an excavation. They also are used to support nearby structures to prevent collapse caused by the excavation.

Types of Protection

Anytime a ditch or trench is dug between 5 and 20 feet deep, construction managers and project planners must use protective measures such as shoring and sheeting, shielding, or sloping and benching, according to OSHA regulations. If an excavation is deeper than 20 feet, a registered professional engineer is required to design a protective system.

Shoring systems are designed to prevent cave-ins and usually are structures of timber, mechanical or hydraulics that support the sides of an excavation.

Sheeting is a type of shoring that keeps the soil in position and is either driven into the ground or works with a shoring system. Driving sheeting is typically used for excavations that will remain open for long periods of time.

Shielding Boxes

A shield, or trench box, is commonly used in pipe laying. It is a concrete or metal box that “shields” workers within a structure should a cave-in occur.  The box is placed in the trench and then dragged along with the progress of the work.

With both shoring and shielding, workers are only protected if they stay within the confines of the system.

Sloping and benching is a method of cutting back a trench wall at an angle so that there is little chance of collapse. This is known as an “angle of repose” and the angle of the slope depends on the type of soil being controlled. For the most common types of excavations, the walls must be sloped back on each side of the excavation 1 and 1.5 feet for every 1 foot of depth.

Sloping and benching is the least used type of cave-in protection because it requires more space, which is often impractical when working in busy area.



A first-of-its-kind panoramic camera for heavy duty trucks that may one day become standard equipment on heavy duty vehicles has been successfully tested in the UK.

The Brigade Backeye 360 Elite System will enable truck drivers to see cyclists, pedestrians, other vehicles and other potential collision dangers while maneuvering dense urban streets. It uses four ultra-wide angle camera lenses mounted around the vehicle to cover every potential blind spots.

All four images are then combined into a single image that appears on one monitor in the truck’s cab, giving the driver a “bird’s eye” view of everything around his vehicle.

The Backeye 360 uses four ASL360 cameras that were specially designed by Continental.  It’s the same camera system that currently is being used on teh team bus of the FC Bayern Munich professional soccer team.

The trial of the Brigade Backeye 360 Elite system on trucks navigating London’s city streets lasted three months.

Among the system’s fans are Andrew Gilligan, London’s cycling commissioner.

“I am pleased to see a marked progress in the use of advanced driver assistance systems on large vehicles,” Gilligan said. “Surround view systems offer a great aid to drivers in incident avoidance, making London’s roads a safer place to cycle, walk and motorcycle. Safer roads for everyone result in the driving down of the human and economic cost of serious incidents on the capital’s roads.”

Cameras that provide 360-degree views to drivers currently are available on some passenger vehicles, but this is the first time the technology has been tested on larger trucks. Because of its success in reducing collisions and avoiding injuries, it is highly likely that similar cameras will become more common in the coming years, especially as the cost of the technology comes down.


Diesel Prices at Lowest Point Since 2012

18 Dec 2014

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The average price per gallon of diesel fuel fell 7 cents to $3.535 last week, the steepest drop since the week of October 29, 2012. And the average price per gallon was at its lowest level since the week of February 14, 20111, when it was at $3.534/gallon, according to the US Department of Energy’s Information Administration.

In the past 23 weeks, the price of diesel fuel has increased only one week — the week of November 10. Annually, the average price per gallon is down 34.4 cents and prices have dropped 47.6 cents since hitting a high of $4.021/gallon during the week of March 10.

In its Short Term Energy Outlook, the energy department predicted that the average price per gallon of diesel fuel this year will be $3.82, while the average price in 2015 is expected to be $3.38.

Diesel fuel is used in the trucking industry, to power railroad locomotives and in some automobiles. Like gasoline, it is made from crude oil, which dropped to its lowest level in five years last month.

Oil prices have been going down since the decision by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced that it would not be cutting production levels despite a global downturn in the price of crude oil. That decision meant that production would remain capped at 30 million barrels per day, even though global demand was down, which in turn drove prices down even lower.



Photo courtesy of Russell Skeet via Wikimedia Commons

The BNSF railroad will spend nearly $500 million next year expanding its operations in the Northern  region, the company announced.

The railroad — which is the second largest freight railway system in the US after the Union Pacific — currently is experiencing its fastest growth in the North, where it services the agriculture, coal, crude oil and materials related crude oil exploration and production industries.

Details about where and how that money will be invested are expected to be announced early next year, according to a BNSF news release.

$6 Billion Capital Investment

The announcement came as part of the unveiling of the BNSF’s $6 billion capital expenditure plan for next year. Most of that investment — about $2.9 billion — will be used to shore up the railroad’s existing infrastructure, including the replacement and upgrading of railroad ties, rails, and ballast throughout its three transcontinental routes.

Besides the $500 million the company will spend in the North, another $1 billion will be spent on other expansion projects.

Next years capital expenditures will be about $500 million higher than what the company spent on improvements and infrastructure this year. From 2000 through the end of 2015, BNSF will have spent more than $50 billion on equipment, infrastructure and maintenance.

Growing Demand for Rail Freight

BNSF President and CEO Carl Ice said the company’s goal was to maintain train traffic fluidity and to expand capacity to meet the growing demand for rail freight.

“BNSF’s capital investment program since the beginning of 2013 through the end of 2015 is unprecedented and is clear evidence of our confidence in a growing economy and our intention to meet the demand for service that comes from all our customers,” Ice said. “We have made great progress in expanding the segments of our railroad that have most constrained by rapidly increasing demand. Once these new capital programs are completed, we expect to further restore the capacity flexibility we have historically enjoyed to manage the periodic demand surges that come from a dynamic and fast-paced environment.”

Energy Efficient Locomotives

The railway also pans on buying 320 new energy- and fuel-efficient locomotives to add to its fleet of 7,500. These may include the GE’s new energy-efficient Evolution Series locomotives that can move one tone of freight more than 480 miles on a single gallon of diesel fuel.

The GE Evolution locomotives, known in the industry as GEVOs, feature a redesigned engine that are in compliance with new Tier 4 standards requiring particulate emissions to be reduced by 70% and carbon dioxide by 76%, the largest reductions in history.

Idle-Reduction Equipment

In related news, BNSF announced that it plans to retrofit 11 of its locomotives in Washington State with new idle-reducing technologies that reduce emissions and conserve fuel. The HOTSTART auxuiliary power units (APUs) reduce idling during cold weather by keeping the locomotives engine warm and ready to restart, eliminating the need for a total shut down and reducing fuel consumption, emissions, noise and engine wear.

The 11 locomotives also will be fitted with automatic engine start/stop systems (AESSs) that shut down the locomotive when not needed. Combined with the APUs, the AESSs can potentially eliminate nearly all locomotive engine idling.

BNSF already has equipped more than 90% of its more than 7,500 locomotives with AESS devices.



A total of 108 older forklifts have been exchanged for newer ones as part of a Texas program that seeks to replace older diesel, gasoline and propane forklifts with newer, cleaner propane- and natural gas-fueled vehicles.

The Railroad Commission of Texas authorized incentive payments averaging $10,703 per replacement to about 38 companies doing business in Texas in order to meet new emissions requirements instituted by the US Environmental Protection Agency. So far, more than $1.16 million has been spent on the program.

The Texas Equipment Replacement Program (TERP) replaced 79 forklifts in Dallas/Fort Worth, 19 in Houston, 9 in San Antonio, and 1 in Austin.

The biggest users of the program included the Boise Cascade Co., of  Boise, Idaho, which received about $43,000 to replace two of its existing forklifts with newer, more environmentally friendlier models at its  Dallas building materials distribution facility.

The TERP program was launched in 2001 to help bring down the amount of smog and other pollutants in 39 Texas counties where air quality fell below federal standards.

In order to qualify for the program, businesses must commit to destroying the old forklift prior to receiving the propane initiative grant. Holes must be bored into the engine block and the frame must be cut to make sure the chassis can’t be reused. A scrap receipt must be submitted to TERP auditors.

Since payments began in 2004, the railroad commission has paid out more than $38 million to 891 companies. The average payment was $11,190.



KersTech — a drive train technology firm based in Beaverton, Oregon — is developing a new type of forklift engine that is better suited to the vehicle’s frequent starts and stops.

The TwinTorq engine combines electric and hydraulic torque technologies to extend operational run time. It improves battery energy efficiently and significantly extends a forklift’s driving range because each stop and start is considered a separate recovery event.

Lester Erlston, KersTech’s CEO, said when the prototype engine is completed next year, it will be installed in a Hyster forklift and test driven at a research and test facility in Fairview, Oregon.

“Forklift warehouse drive cycles are ideal for TwinTorq motor systems,” Erlston said. “We see tremendous opportunities for that.”

Other possible uses include city buses, parcel delivery vans, and warehouse handling equipment.

The TwinTorq is being developed at the Oregon Institute of Technology, in Klamath Falls and the research is funded in part by public and private grants totaling $459,000. Contributors include the Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State University, the trade association Drive Oregon of Portland, the independent Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Cener, and the city of Portland development commission.

Hyster-Yale also is sponsoring the research and development with a $40,000 contribution of in-kind services.




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

  • The BNSF railway will make a huge investment in infrastructure and new capital next year … to the tune of $6 billion. We’ll tell you what they will spend it on and how it could especially impact businesses in the Northern states.
  • When most people think of Mozambique, they think of the civil war that ravaged the African nation for nearly a decade. But that war’s been over for at least that long and the country is quietly building its reputation as one of the world’s richest sources of natural gas, aluminum and other resources.
  • If you are digging a ditch or trench that’s five feet or deeper, you better provide protection against cave-ins. That’s not just a good idea … it’s also the law. We’ll tell you which Illinois firm found that out the hard way.

Plus, a revolutionary new type of forklift engine, why diesel prices are dropping, and why some Texas companies are getting free forklifts. All this and more can be found this week on the Bahrns blog … so stay tuned!

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Coal Mining in Mozambique (Photo courtesy Hajo42 vial Wikimedia Commons)

Mozambique — the relatively small East African nation of about 25 million people — is mostly known in the US and around the world for the bloody civil war that crippled the country for nearly two decades.

But that conflict ended 20 years ago. Today, after a return to peace and political stability, Mozambique is preparing to assume its role as one of the world’s leading providers of natural resources such as coal and natural gas.

Enormous Wealth of Natural Resources

In 2012, mining and quarrying in Mozambique accounted for more than 1.5% of the nation’s total gross domestic product, with energy accounting for another 5%. In the past two years, output of coal and gas has increased substantially and these sectors were expected to account for nearly 10% of GDP.

Mozambique has the fourth-largest gas reserves in the world, as well as one of the largest deposits of coal, much of whi

ch is export grade coking coal, the kind used to make steel. As a result, the world’s largest mining companies are flocking there, especially the mineral-rich Tete Province. Major sources of natural gas also have been discovered just offshore of Mozambique. 

Investment by Major Global Companies 

Rio Tinto, a major British/Australian mining company, owns about 2,500 square 1,500 square mile property that may contain up to 4 billion tons of coal. Another major mining firm — Vale, based in Brazil — holds the exclusive mining rights on a property believed to contain an estimated 6 billion tons of coal.

Up until 1974, Mozambique was a colony of Portugal. But just three years after it declared its independence, warring political factions became embroiled in a civil war that lasted until 1994. Since then, the country has been under the control of the Frelimo political part


y, which has provided economic stability and has focused on growing key sectors such as resources and agriculture.

But while the country contains rich stores of the natural resources the rest of the world wants — not only coal and natural gas, but also aluminum, beryllium and tantalum — it lacks the infrastructure to get these resources out of its mines and to the rest of the world.

Infrastructure Needs to Be Improved

Rio Tinto, Vale and other international conglomerates are working with the government of newly elected President Felipe Nyusi and the nation’s Frelimo-ruled parliament to build and improve roads, railroads, ports and other infrastructure to support the nation’s growing role as a global provider of natural gas, coal and other natural resources.

Mozambique’s political leaders hope that the country’s growing role as a leading provider of natural resources for the rest of the world will lead to increased government revenues, which then can be reinvested into infrastructure. Building new roads, power generating stations, railroad lines and other major projects will create new jobs.

Objective: National Electrification

This, in turn, will help improve other key areas — such as education, public health, waste and water — which are still sorely lacking throughout much of the country. Another goal is to bring electricity to the entire nation by building two major new power stations and tapping into the estimated 5,000 megawatt hydroelectric potential of Mozambique’s Zambezi River.

Mozambique is one of the most politically stable countries in East Africa. If it stays that way, its wealth of natural resources will likely attract the attention and money of foreign investors for many years to come.



Photo courtesy of Packsize International

At the end of this month, when FedEx and UPS begin charging delivery fees based on package dimensions, delivery costs for companies that use these carriers could increase up to 30%.

Since the 1930s, most carriers calculated shipping rates based on a carton’s weight vs. the distance it was being shipped. But FedEx, UPS and other carriers will begin charging based on a carton’s dimensions, or “dim pricing“, instead.

About 77.9% of businesses that ship products to consumers and 76.9% of businesses that ship to other businesses are expected to be effected by the change.

Packaging Inefficiencies

Many companies use between 5 to 12 sizes of shipping cartons to ship most of their products. But under this dim pricing, these companies may end up paying more because carton space not containing products are filled with air pillows, kraft paper, foam peanuts and other shipping materials that help protect the carton’s contents.

But some companies are responding to this new “dim pricing” model by turning to on demand packaging.

Custom-Made Cartons Per Package

On demand packaging involves using specialized machines that build a carton that closely matches the dimensions of the product or products to be shipped in it. This helps keep the box as small as possible, reducing its dimensions and saving on shipping costs under the new dim pricing model to be used by FedEx, UPS and other shippers.

Surge in Interest in On Demand Packaging

Packsize International is a Swedish company that specializes in on demand packaging. The company’s CEO, Hanko Kiessner, said his company has seen a huge increase in inquiries in the wake of the dim pricing announcements.

“Making the box on-demand as part of the packaging process eliminates guesswork,” Kiessner said. “There is almost no material handling other than replenishing the corrugated at the machine. Designing and implementing the system focuses on attention on the process details, wasted movement is stripped away, and best practices are identified and standardized.”

Benefits of On Demand Packaging

On demand packaging has many benefits besides lowering dim pricing shipping costs:

  • Eliminated box/packaging inventory
  • Reduces corrugated costs
  • Cuts or eliminates costs for packaging materials such as bubble wrap, paper and foam peanutes
  • Reduces waste
  • Helps reduce on-hand inventory
  • Minimizes damage due to shipping
  • Improves customer satisfaction
  • Speeds up productivity
  • Improves throughput

Brandon Brooks, VP of strategy and marketing at Packsize, said the company hopes to capitalize on the increased demand for on demand packaging by installing its machines in its client’s facilities for free.

“The user pays only for the corrugated material,” Brooks said. “It’s a low-risk way for users to try out on demand packaging, plus helps us better align with our customers’ needs.”

Dim Pricing Here to Stay

Dim pricing is partially the result of new technological breakthroughs. It uses three-dimensional scanners to measure the size and shape of a package, which 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.

“Dim” machines will be used by FedEx and UPS beginning later this month, and other of the world’s biggest carriers — including YRC Worldwide, Old Dominion and Saia — may soon follow suit.



Intelligrated, one of the leading manufacturers of automated materials handling equipment, has opened a new regional center in Irving, Texas, that will serve the Southwestern United States.

The company — which is headquartered in Mason, Ohio — hopes the center will provide access to specialized engineering, projects management, and sales support for companies in southwestern states such as Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, according to CEO Chris Cole.

“The southwest is a strategic priority for Intelligrated and the new regional operation will build long-term partnerships with customers to learn their business and enhance productivity,” Cole said in a company news release.

The new facility represents an expansion of the company’s scope and size, so Martin Augustyn has been appointed to the newly created position of vice president of southwest regional sales and operations. He will oversee the new regional center, according to Royal Smith, Intelligrate3d’s senior VP.

The southwest regional center will offer Intelligrated’s broad portfolio of solutions and products, including conveyor belts, sortation systems, fulfillment execution software, picking technologies, robotic systems, palletizers, and automated storage and retrieval systems. It also will include a 24 hour customer service and support center.

Intelligrated designs, manufactures, integrates and installs complete material handling automation systems to companies worldwide under a variety of brands, including Alvey, RTS, and IntelliSort equipment, and Knighted warehouse management, warehouse control and warehouse labor management software.

Earlier this year, the company announced that it is planning to open a sales and engineering office in Shanghai, China. The purpose of the new office is to “strengthen local partnerships and connect regional customers with best-of-breed automation and software solutions to increase operational efficiency,” according to a company news release. The company will continue its manufacturing in the US for now, with plans to expand Chinese operations to include manufacturing in the future.