Benefits of Manually Operated Lifts

Running a warehouse, distribution center, dock, or any other type of materials handling business is practically impossible without the right equipment. Lifting and moving boxes, pallets, and equipment manually isn’t just unsafe, it’s also inefficient.

But when a business is just starting out, it’s not always possible to spend a fortune on powered equipment like forklifts and pallet jacks. Fortunately, there’s an affordable option that will still get the job done.

Manually Operated Lifts

As the name implies, manually operated lifts are powered by human muscle. Many feature foot activation that makes it easy to lift even the heaviest loads quickly but safely.

Yet manually operated lifts still offer the power of hydraulics for lifting heavy materials like cases of products or palletized boxes. Many work using the same principles as an automobile jack, using the force of muscle to lift materials incrementally — with a little help from interior hydraulics.

Unlike forklifts or power jacks, there are zero fuel costs for manually operated lifts. So you don’t have to worry about storing flammable gas tanks or taking your primary materials handling equipment out of service for recharging. With manually operated lifts, you are always ready to go.

For small businesses that are just starting out, manually operated lifts can be the best solution to their material handling requirements. They often cost a fraction of what businesses would spend on forklift or power jacks. And they are often affordable enough that they can be bought outright rather than entering into a long-term lease agreement.

Mobility and Productivity

Besides their affordable price tag, another benefit of a manually operated lift is its versatility. Many are narrow enough to fit through standard door frames. So they are ideal for working in smaller work areas.

They also are mobile enough to be used in crowded work areas. And because they don’t take up a lot of storage space, there is more room for warehousing products and materials.

Manually operated lifts come in a variety of sizes and styles so you can choose the right one for your specific needs. Even with the smallest pre-opening budget, many businesses can afford to purchase one or more of these helpful, efficient, and productive materials handlers that can instantly improve your operations.

As your business grows, your materials handling equipment can grow with it. In the meantime, small businesses on a budget can still be versatile and mobile with manually operated lifts.



Winter Is Coming … Do You Have a Plowing Plan in Place?

winterLike it or not, the snowy season is right around the corner. Heavy snows and winter storms can affect the productivity of any business, possibly even halting it altogether.

Clearing snow from parking lots, entry roads, docks, and other work areas can keep your business running even in during the harshest winter weather. Before the heaviest snow hits, it’s always a good idea to review some basic snow plowing essentials that can improve both the speed and effectiveness of your snow removal operations.

Prioritize Work Zones

Like anything else, the best way to deal with heavy winter weather is to have a plan in place before it hits. Identify the areas of your business that are critical to your operations. These can include driveways, docks, and other essential operational areas.

These are the places you need to clear first. Secondary areas like parking lots, sidewalks, and less essential spaces can often wait until later.

It’s also a good idea to mark items like speed bumps, shrubbery, water drains, pipes, fire hydrants, and sidewalk edges so that you can avoid plow damage. Place a tall flexible pole topped with a plastic flag on objects that will be hard to see after a heavy snowfall.

Forward Thinking

Plan the routes your snowplows should take, keeping in mind that plowing patterns should allow drivers to drive forward as much as possible.

If drivers need to put their vehicles in reverse, they should bring the plow truck to a complete stop before shifting. When in reverse, it’s a bad idea to rely solely on the vehicle’s mirrors, especially if snow is still falling. Instead, turn around and look in the direction the vehicle is moving.

Slow and Steady

While you want to remove snow as quickly as possible, driver’s shouldn’t drive fast. Vehicles fitted with snow plows should never exceed 40 mph when moving with their plow in the up position, or 14 mph when the plow is at ground level.

When plowing on dirt or gravel roadbeds, the plow should be fitted with plow shoes so that it doesn’t scrape the surface away altogether. Plow shows should be removed when plowing asphalt or concrete so that the plow can scrape as close to the surface as possible.

When the plowing job is finished, the plow blade should be lowered to the ground. This helps take stress off its hydraulics.

Winter is coming. Being prepared by having a plowing plan in place can help minimize its disruption on your business.

Staples DCs To Roll Out Automated Pick-and-Pack Nationwide

Photo by Stan Zemanek (via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Stan Zemanek (via Wikimedia Commons)

“That was easy!”

Now office supply retailing giant Staples is applying its signature catch phrase to its distribution centers throughout the US with an innovative new automated pick-and-pack system.

Traditionally, DCs and warehouses have used a “person to goods” system that uses human workers to pick and pack orders so they can be delivered to retail stores. But Staples’ new robotic system uses two “goods to person” automated guided vehicle (AGV) robotic systems to pick items with both high cubic velocity and low cubic velocity.

Reducing Robotic Tasks and Travel

The system — which was developed by Great Star Industrial USA — already is being used in one of Staples’ key fulfillment centers and will be rolled out to its entire nationwide network during the next 24 months, according to a company news release.

Unlike other systems used in warehouses and DCs, Staples automated robotic storage and retrieval system integrates two types of AGVs into an integrated system that requires less upfront capital investment than traditional materials handling systems while simultaneously boosting productivity and accuracy.

How It Works

The first robotic vehicle is engineered to pick from existing industry wide storage mediums and can retrieve up to five unique items per trip. That’s a lot more than traditional picking systems, resulting in fewer robot tasks and less travel across the warehouse floor.

A second type of AGV essentially replaces manual pick carts. These high cubic velocity AGVs pick cells to be fed by multiple AGVs simultaneously, eliminating the kind of downtime human order pickers typically experience. These vehicles can place products directly into the pick cell and then leave immediately to perform other tasks so they are constantly in motion.

Future Applications

The new robotic system should be in use throughout the Staples distribution network by 2019, but there already are plans to expand it even more, according to Mike Bhaskaran, the company’s chief supply chain officer.

“With Staples and Great Star each leveraging their strengths in design, engineering, and supply chain operations, we’ve rapidly gone from concept to production with a robotic solution that is truly ground breaking,” Bhaskaran said. “It incorporates concepts that have never been used before. In addition to rolling it out across Staples’ network of fulfillment centers, we’re excited for its potential applications beyond these facilities.”

The results will shatter industry norms, according to Great Star Executive VP Lily Chi.

“It offers a high degree of flexibility and capability that will provide a cost-effective solution for almost any order fulfillment and warehousing operation,” Chi said.



Mirrors Reflect Your Business’s Efficiency

MirrorIn this high tech age, there are many different types of electronics that can provide surveillance and improve the safety of your business. But in many cases, low-tech mirrors can serve the same purpose for a fraction of the cost.

There are many different types of mirrors that can be used in manufacturing facilities, warehouses, docks, and other businesses. But they all work the same way, using natural light to provide a reflection that can make people more aware of prospective dangers.

Wide-Angle Mirrors

Wide-angle mirrors can be hung at the ends of aisles or in the shoulder between ceilings and walls to provide a “fish eye” view of an extended area. This lets people on the ground level see a wider angle of what’s around them, including objects and vehicles at their sides or approaching them from behind.

Panoramic quarter-dome mirrors provide a similar viewpoint. These can be installed in corners to give a 90-degree view in every direction to avoid collisions between people and machinery and other hazards.

Drop-In Dome Mirrors

Sometimes you don’t actually have to see a hazard in order to avoid it. You can actually sense it. Drop-in dome mirrors don’t give a very precise actual reflection because of their shape. But they can give workers a “heads up” if there is something moving in their direction from a blind corner or other areas.

Drop-in dome mirrors also are specifically designed with the exact dimensions of drop ceilings so they can easily be placed in the middle, at the end, or any other place where you already use a drop ceiling.

Panoramic full-dome mirrors are similar in function but are typically bolted or glued into position rather than already part of a drop-ceiling panel.

Convex Mirrors

A convex mirror is curved outwards to provide a wide-angle view of an area such as an aisle, a corner, or a straightaway. They feature sturdy brackets and bolts that allow them to be hung practically anywhere. And they are widely used in warehouses, docks, factories, and even retail businesses such as grocery stores to provide heightened visibility and to reduce blind spots.

One-way mirrors are specially designed panes of glass that have a mirrored surface on one side but a see-through surface on the other. They are typically used for surveillance of work areas, retail businesses, and other places where you want to be able to see other people without them knowing it.

Mirrors may be low-tech. But they are a cost-effective, highly efficient way to improve visibility in your workplace.

Protect High-Value Items with Wire Enclosures and Partitions

Bolted Wire Enclosure
Bolted Wire Enclosure

Most businesses have items they want to keep safe. These can be products, parts, tools, or commodities.

Food and beverage operations usually want to lock up their liquor, for example. Manufacturing plants may want to lock up expensive components or finished products ready to be shipped.

Protecting high-value items is important. But most businesses don’t need an elaborate security system, safes, or armed guards to keep their valuable protected. In many instances, wire enclosures and partitions can provide the security you need at a fraction of the cost of these other options.

Indoor and Outdoor Use

All you really need for lockable wire enclosures and partitions is a little out of the way space. This area can be either indoors or outdoors.

Indoors lockable areas benefit from using existing walls and ceilings to limit access to the secured area while outdoor wire enclosures and partitions may need four walls.

If you are going to create an outdoor security enclosure, you also probably will need to use an area that already has concrete or you may need to pour a slab. Whether or not you want to add a roof depends on how weatherproof the items to be stored in the area will be.

Limiting Access

outdoor security enclosureIndoor security enclosures typically will use one or two existing walls. That means you may only have to install two or three wire walls, as well as a lockable entryway. Sliding gates or doors that can be opened with keys provide all the protection you need.

The height of the walls does not necessarily have to go all the way to the ceiling either, especially if you are building your storage area in a warehouse with tall walls. Fencing that is 8 or 10 feet tall is usually enough to discourage anybody unauthorized person who wants to gain access to the restricted area.

Closed-Circuit Television

Once your security enclosure has been built, you will want to limit access to authorized persons only. These can include supervisors, managers, and executives, as well as trusted employees.

Enhance your security by requiring anybody entering the area to either sign in and out on a clipboard at the gate, or sign out for the keys prior to being issued them.

Another option is to install closed-circuit security cameras that can watch the area 24 hours per day. That way, if there is a security breach or if high-value items go missing it can be relatively easy to find out what happened.

How e-Commerce Is Changing Your Business

packagingRight now, one out of every three people buy the products they want online directly from the manufacturer. This tidal wave of direct-to-consumers (DTC) trade is forcing many companies to rethink the way they do business.

Many businesses today are investing in more sophisticated materials handling solutions that optimize and maximize throughput while minimizing mistakes that can instantly damage their reputation.

Changes in Packaging

One of the most immediate changes many companies are making is changing their packaging. Shipping bulk products to retailers require bulkier, less costly packaging like pallets and cases secured with shrink wrap.

But with DTC commerce, individual products often need to be packaged individually using new materials, such as polymer bags. While most consumers will gladly absorb the cost of this packaging, businesses are left to figure out how to restructure their shipping departments to accommodate packaging that can change size and shape with every order.

Costly Mistakes

When manufacturers sell their products to retailers, there is a lot more room for error. Packages that are mislabeled, spoiled, or damaged can be easily returned and replaced with end-user customers being none the wiser.

With DTC commerce, however, errors in shipping and damage to products can damage a company’s reputation. Rather than giving the manufacturer time to apologize and rectify the mistake, consumers are often compelled to write and post a nasty review on their social media accounts or elsewhere online immediately.

While it’s not fair to businesses, it is one of the new realities of DTC commerce. As a result, manufacturers are motivated to minimize mistakes with every order they ship.

Speeding Up Delivery

Another new reality in the DTC business environment is that consumers expect and demand faster shipping. With companies like Amazon, Wal-Mart, and others promising next day or even same day delivery for online orders, other companies are challenged to find faster and more efficient ways to get their products into the hands of web-based buyers.

As a result, many businesses are investing in automated conveyor systems with modular conveyor platforms that allow retailers and system integrators to process and ship orders faster and more accurately than ever before.

These types of platforms include automated features that offer more flexibility and customization while allowing for the rapid handling of smaller and lighter packages in a variety of configurations. This can result in dramatic reductions in package damage while allowing more accuracy in hitting smaller, tighter delivery targets.

DTC commerce is here to stay. Businesses that can’t adjust to this new reality may not be.

Moving Objects from Here to There Easier with Conveyors

An Amazon Fulfillment Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Courtesy: Bill Haslam at
An Amazon Fulfillment Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
(Courtesy: Bill Haslam at

When you imagine a factory, one of the most common images that come to mind is a conveyor belt.

Conveyor belts, ball transfer tables, and other conveyance devices have been a part of industrial manufacturing since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century. And they have been burned into the public consciousness in popular media, such as when Lucy and Ethel try to keep up with production at the chocolate factory by stuffing candy into her mouth on “I Love Lucy”.

But laughs aside, conveyance devices are critical to most factory, warehouse, and dock operations for a very simple reason: They make it easier to move boxes, products, and other objects from one place to another.

Manual vs Automated Conveyors

Requiring workers to lift heavy loads from one place to another just isn’t good business. Not only is it inefficient, but it can lead to workplace injuries, increased employee turnover, and a lot of bad feelings towards management.

Commercial conveyors, on the other hand, are typically inexpensive, highly efficient, and can boost productivity and profits by double digits practically overnight in many cases.

Photo by Jorge Anoro (via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Jorge Anoro (via Wikimedia Commons)

Common Conveyor Types

Conveyors are a common site at airports, in scrap yards, and in many factories. But there are nearly as many types of conveyors as there are uses for them.

Chain belt conveyors are designed to carry a high volume of objects very quickly. Also known as chain edge conveyors, they are typically found on work floors and are used to transport waste materials out of the way. Examples include sorting feed lines, mixed lines, and feed side ejector balers.

Steel belt conveyors can carry very heavy weights, up to 20 to 50 tons, every hour. They come in two main types: Piano hinge and steel apron conveyors. They are found mostly in compactors, heavy-duty waste lines, and heavy industrial 2 RAM scrap balers.

Slider bed conveyors are used for operations that don’t need the speed of a chain belt nor the capacity of a steel belt conveyor. Slider bed conveyors generally can carry from 1 to 15 tons per hour and often have variable speeds.

Of course, there are many systems that use a combination of two or more different types of conveyors. Known as MRF sorting lines, these conveyor systems more different weight items at different speeds during separate stages of the industrial process.

Benefits of Conveyors

In addition to saving labor, reducing injuries, and making workplaces more productive, conveyors also can speed up processes, move materials up and down inclines quickly and safely, and automate operations to reduce costs and improve efficiencies.

Zone Your Workplace with These Floor Striping Options

Courtesy: Steve at
Courtesy: Steve at

Maximizing efficiency and safety of warehouses, docks, and other work areas require designating specific areas for certain uses. For example, lanes that are used by fast-moving forklifts and other industrial equipment should be separated from pedestrian walkways.

Warehouse aisles should be similarly marked to prevent collisions, alert workers to overhead dangers, and maximized workplace order.

Painting Stripes and Lines

One of the simplest solutions is to paint lines on the floor of your work area to designate different areas for different uses. Spray paint and striping machines can make creating designated areas within your workplace quick and simple work.

Industrial striping machines can be used for everything from parking lots to dock and warehouse floors. Spray cans of paint fit simply into these convenient tools to create neat, straight lines.

Painting traffic lanes, safety zones, and other lines onto even large areas of workplace can be completed quickly and efficiently

The Problem with Paint

But there are a number of problems with using paint to mark lanes.

First, paint can be messy. Unless you use a template, free painting lines and other markings can look unprofessional.

Then there’s the need to keep people and vehicles off the paint until it can dry. If somebody accidentally tramples on wet paint, they can track it all over your warehouse or dock, creating a whole new set of problems.

Finally, there are the chemical hazards. Using spray paint indoors can create a cloud of unsafe fluorocarbons and other chemicals which can be dangerous if inhaled. Painting lanes and other floor markings need to be done at night by workers using ventilators or other breathing apparatus, a time-consuming and disruptive task.

Vinyl Floor Striping Paint

A less disruptive option could be vinyl floor striping tape. Available in a variety of colors and widths, striping tape can be applied neatly and quickly to most surfaces without the potential hazards of using spray paint.

Vinyl floor striping paint is even available with anti-slip surfaces, reducing the risk of workers tripping, slipping, or falling as a result of the tape floor markings.

For the straightest lines and maximum neatness, use a floor tape applicator to lay down the tape in the patterns you want. Tape applicators are adjustable to accommodate different widths of tape for different uses.

Vinyl floor tape can be applied from long rolls or in slip-resistant patches in areas where weather, detergent, grease and other hazards are common.

Stretch Wrap an Essential Tool for Keeping Pallets Safe

Photo courtesy: Robert F. Blackman at
Photo courtesy: Robert F. Blackman at

What in the world did we do before stretch wrap? It’s now one of the most commonly used methods of pallet wrapping.

Stretch wrap isn’t just effective. It’s also relatively cheap, easy to use, and convenient. And it can be either low-tech or high-tech: In small operations, it can be slid onto a broom handle and manually wrapped around a pallet to provide a safe, comprehensive wrap.

In larger operations, rotating platforms and automated stretch wrap feeders can wrap hundreds of pallets per hour as they move down a production line and into the beds of waiting trucks.

Benefits of  Stretch Wrap

Stretch wrap offers one of the most effective means of securing items loaded onto pallets. Prior to the development of stretch wrap, most loads had to be covered with tarps that were tied down. Some loads were even packed into nets that could be easily lifted by dockside cranes.

But stretch wrap safely and tightly holds palletized items while providing a protective coating against weather, dust, debris, moisture, and other hazards. There are even UV stretch wraps that can help protect products from the sun’s rays.

It also can be applied to a variety of surfaces, including flat loads and those with pointed corners.

Stretch wrap is also much less costly to use than other methods of pallet wrapping such as strapping or tarps. The equipment used to automatically wrap pallets with stretch wrap is often less costly than other machines and usually requires less energy to operate.

It’s also better for the environment. Most stretch wraps on the market today are completely recyclable.

Wrapping Pallets in Stretch Wrap

Using stretch wrap is remarkably simple even if you don’t have special pallet wrapping equipment. All you need to do is to pull about three feet of plastic off the stretch wrap roll, then squeeze about 8 to 10 inches at the end of the sheet together to make a rope shape.

Then simply thread this roped end through one corner of the pallet. You don’t even have to tie a knot if you don’t want to because stretch wrap will stick to itself.

Then, beginning at the base of the pallet, begin wrapping the pallet. Wrap the base at least five times while keeping the film tight as it is pulled off the roll. Then move up toward the top of the load, making sure to keep the tension tight.

Use a knife or cutting tool to cut the stretch wrap after the entire pallet load is safely wrapped.


How Smart Are the Pallets You Use?

packagingUp until now, most pallets were little more than a few scraps of wood nailed together to provide a durable platform to accommodate materials handling.

But some pallets used in warehouses and docks today are much, much smarter than that. Many are embedded with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags that allow global positioning systems to keep track of their payloads as they make their way through the supply chains.

But RM2 International, a Luxembourg-based pallet leasing company, has taken pallet tracking a step further into the future.

Pallets that Monitor Their Payloads

Officials at RM2 teamed with AT&T to create futuristic pallets that can communicate with each other, as well as with a centralized dispatcher. Using AT&T’s LTE-M new global wireless network that is engineered to support Internet of Things (IoT) machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, sensors embedded in the pallets can keep track of such things as temperature, water intrusion, unusual jolting, and more.

Plus, new sensors — which are called RM2ELI0T, which stands for “Electronic Link to the Internet of Things” — also leverages existing cell towers to pinpoint the pallets location to within a few feet anywhere on the globe.

This information can be critical to users like food and beverage manufacturers that need to ensure the quality of their products as they make their way from production facilities to the ultimate consumers.

Real-Time Data 

The information gathered by the RM2ELIoT sensors is Cloud-based, which means that businesses leasing the pallets can access it using a user-specific online portal and application program interface (API). Or RM2 also offers the option of providing regular reporting directly to its clients.

The bottom line is that the new pallet technology will help businesses understand what is going on with their products at all times, according to Chris Penrose, president of AT&T’s Internet of Things Solutions division.

“Our work with RM2 during our LTE-M pilot will show how this new technology can help the packaging and supply chain industries increase their efficiency and sustain the integrity of their products,” Penrose said in a news release issued when the system was first being tested. “This is a prime example of how innovations like LTE-M will help bring the IoT to more end points than every before.”

Enabled by Technological Developments

Just a few years ago, this type of global pallet monitoring would have been impossible. But thanks to recent technological advances — sensor batteries that can last up to 10 years without being replaced, for example — these “smart pallets” already are in use all around the world.