Future of Warehousing Is in IoT

The forklift operator adjusts his smart glasses to properly fit his head and presses the power button. The glasses immediately send him visual and auditory instructions. He’s directed to pick a product in a specific aisle and row.
As he nears the pick location, a green rectangle appears on his glasses to highlight his destination.
Once he picks the item, the glasses’ built-in scanner verifies that he has the right package, then directs him to the appropriate loading dock.
All the while, sensors strategically placed throughout the warehouse are collecting and enabling the free flow of real-time data.

This scenario is just one part of today’s “connected warehouse.” Enabled by Internet of Things (IoT) technology, these modern distribution centers are becoming increasingly common, as companies try to cope with pressures from e-commerce.

In fact, according to one recent survey, the global IoT market in warehouse management is expected to reach $19.06 billion by 2025.

Vision or Reality?

But is this concept more vision than reality?

The fact of the matter is, right now, it’s mostly vision. In reality, the majority of distribution centers are not currently using IoT-connected sensors or equipment. And while many warehouse automation systems generate data in real time, they’re usually wired into a warehouse control system (WCS) or warehouse execution system (WES).

However, the IoT-connected warehouse is gradually materializing. That’s because DC automation and materials handling vendors, who already provide WCS and WES software, are increasingly developing warehouse IoT solutions.

What’s It All About?

Industrial IoT is all about connecting sensors, controllers or equipment to the internet or to private cloud-based technology in order to aggregate data for analysis. IoT systems interface seamlessly with all other automation systems, including robotics.

And while that connectivity is vital, it’s the data (particularly Big Data) and its analysis that’s really key.

Scott Wahl, vice president of global software for Dematic, a warehouse automation and WES provider, put it this way:  “We see the power of IoT as being connected to Big Data and cloud capabilities, because now we can bring together multiple disparate data sources into one place.”

According to Carlos Lemus, lead IoT engineer for Bastian Solutions, “IoT is almost a misnomer, because it places the focus on connecting to the ‘things,’ but the true value of IoT comes from the data.”

The IoT possibilities in a warehouse include real-time location tracking of goods, workers and equipment. For example, location technology built into mobile devices–like the smart glasses described above–allows for continual visibility of a picker’s exact location (a location “beacon”), rather than just a rough idea based on their last scan or system-directed pick.

Dubbed “hyper-locationing,” this IoT technology combines with analytics to enable smarter decision-making about what each picker should do next. IoT helps eliminate unnecessary steps. The systems and the analytics are smart enough to determine which steps should be followed and when.

Connecting Multiple Systems

But an effective IoT platform is not just about materials handling. Rather, it should capture data from multiple system types.

For instance, Iot technology can be used to tap into data from computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software and other data-acquisition sources to arrive at a comprehensive view of “building health.”

It also aggregates data from building control and monitoring systems, in order to reduce energy consumption in everything from light fixtures to HVAC units. And this overall real-time view of systems and operations is provided on a single dashboard.

About Those Smart Glasses

Some of the most interesting IoT developments are in wearable devices. Smart glasses, smart watches and voice-controlled headsets are all being used in warehouse settings to improve operations.

Smart glasses are probably the most intriguing. Here’s how they work:

  • Powered by their own processor and battery, these high-tech glasses collect data from the building’s wireless network.
  • Then they project text and numbers onto a tiny screen that’s incorporated into the glasses.
  • From the user’s perspective, the display looks like full-sized text, overlaid on top of whatever “real world” scene the wearer is viewing at the time.

One cutting-edge developer of warehouse IoT is the German-based multinational software corporation SAP. The following video demonstrates SAP’s smart-glass application called SAP AR Warehouse Picker:

 

The idea is to give workers hands-free access to computer-generated info, eliminating the need to carry handheld scanners or written documents. The end result is a boost in productivity.

In fact, according to Jay Kim, chief strategy officer at software firm Upskill, the best results for smart-glass technology so far have indeed been in warehouse picking applications–where mistakes tend to be very expensive.

More Vendors on Board

As warehousing operations become more complicated and fast-paced, and IoT technology costs decrease, more DC-focused vendors are taking the plunge into IoT analytics.

For example, Cisco Systems, a multinational provider of networking and other high-tech equipment, is currently collaborating with key logistics partners to test the many ways in which IoT can improve overall logistics operations.

According to Jack Allen, Cisco’s senior director for global logistics, IoT may not change warehousing overnight, but it’ll certainly speed up processes. “Information is going to be so much more available and increasingly real time, enabling warehouses to be much faster and more agile,” he says.

“Much of the value in logistics isn’t just in moving the goods, but in understanding the information. That means quick answers to questions like, ‘Where is my shipment?’ or ‘When will I get my goods?’ or ‘Can this production line keep up with the demand requirement?’”

It does indeed appear that the future of warehousing is in IoT.


Sources:

Food Logistics

PR Newswire

Modern Materials Handling

DC Velocity


Today’s Trucking Is a Dangerous Business

Trucking is one of this country’s deadliest jobs.

According to the most recent census from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 786 truck drivers were killed on the job in 2016. Not surprisingly, 80% of those deaths involved transportation incidents.

The BLS data underscores the recent findings of other federal agencies which also indicate an increase in truck-related crashes and deaths. For example, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 722 truckers were killed in traffic crashes in 2016. That’s up 8.6% from the prior year.

Altogether, the number of truckers who died in 2016 was 47% higher than in 2009 (the year with the lowest number of fatalities since federal agencies began collecting fatal crash data in 1975).

And that’s not all. According to the BLS, truck drivers are also more likely than the average U.S. worker to get injured or sick on the job. As a result, work-related injuries and illnesses led long-haul truckers to be absent from work a cumulative 47,560 days in 2016.

Why Is Trucking So Deadly?

Opinions differ on what makes trucking so dangerous.

Collin Mooney, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), believes that fatigue and distracted driving are the primary culprits.

 

But Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), points the finger at lack of training and crash-worthiness testing. The problem is that regulators are focusing on rules that aren’t safety related, Taylor said.

Another factor is the current booming economy, which has resulted in increased highway miles for vehicles of all types. In addition, surging demand for e-commerce translates into a steady rise in freight volumes.

Feeling Less Safe

Whatever the cause, truck drivers are feeling slightly less safe on the job than they did six years ago. That’s according to StayMetrics, a driver-retention technology company that polls truckers on issues such as job safety.

In 2017, the Indiana-based firm surveyed almost 10,000 truck drivers, and asked them to respond to the statement “I feel safe on the job.”  On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree”), the average rating was 3.88 in 2017, compared with 4.12 five years earlier in 2012.

“There is erosion on how safe drivers feel about the profession,” said StayMetrics Chief Executive Tim Hindes. He surmised that increased traffic congestion and lack of access to safe, predictable parking were the leading causes.

 

Common Causes

So what are the most common causes of truck-related accidents? Here are the top five:

#1 Driver Error

There are many reasons for driver error: fatigue, the influence of alcohol or drugs, distractions or recklessness. However, studies show the majority of trucking accidents caused by driver error are due to the passenger vehicle driver (81%), not the truck driver (22%). Trucker can improve their defensive driving by keeping a safe distance from other vehicles, being patient with slower or reckless drivers, and using turn signals.

#2 Poor Vehicle Maintenance

Equipment failure, such as worn brake pads or a cracked windshield, can cause a major traffic accident. It’s a driver’s responsibility to check his/her rig at the beginning of every shift and submit a vehicle maintenance report. Failure to do so can be fatal.

#3 Equipment Failure

Poor fleet maintenance isn’t the only thing that can cause a truck’s equipment to fail at a dangerous moment. Equipment manufacturers may be guilty of negligence during a part’s production, leading to defective or dangerous components.

#4 Inclement Weather

Rain, snow and ice can be especially tricky for truckers to drive on, due to the vehicle’s heavy weight and slower stopping speeds. It’s important to slow down whenever road conditions are not ideal. Seasoned drivers know when to pull over safely and wait it out, or park for the night.

#5 Improper Cargo Loading

Mistakes or negligence during loading procedures can make a load fall off onto the road, causing catastrophic accidents. Truckers and cargo loading teams must always abide by industry-specific rules when it comes to loading the bed of a commercial truck.

Will ELD’s Help?

Within the trucking industry, there’s disagreement over how effective electronic logging devices (ELD’s) will be in combating driver fatigue, long considered a prime factor in crash-related injuries and deaths.

The federal mandate requiring carriers and independent drivers to install ELDs in trucks to track driving time became effective last April. Regulators believe the devices will help enforce a federal hours-of-service rule, limiting truckers to 11 hours of driving within a 14-hour workday.

CVSA’s Mooney expects fatality rates to drop as a result of the new mandate. But Taylor of the OOIDA disagrees. Better driver training and crash-worthiness testing will do more to curb driver deaths and injuries than ELDs, she said.

Only time will tell.


Sources:

Trucks.com

Bureau of Labor Statistics

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Smart-Trucking.com

GTG Technology Group


How to Create a “5S” Workplace

In the past few decades, various forms of “lean” strategy have taken the business world by storm. (Think lean manufacturing, lean management or lean construction.) See related article, “6 Key Lean Manufacturing Principles.”

One of the most popular workplace organization methods to develop from the “lean” movement is called “5S” methodology. 5S has been found to be particularly useful in manufacturing and warehouse environments.

What Is 5S?

In its simplest terms, 5S helps accomplish one of the basic objectives of lean strategy: making problems visible.

5S uses visual signals to communicate important information. These visuals can include diagrams, pictograms, color-coding, floor markings and photographs. They allow everyone to quickly understand the information being conveyed.

 

The 5S methodology originated in Japan. Hence, the five S’s stand for five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. These words are typically translated as “sort,” “set in order” (or “straighten”), “shine,” “standardize” and “sustain.”

But 5S is much more than just organizing your factory or warehouse to make everything look great. It’s about having more efficient operations, excelling at training and communications and, in the end, saving time and money. A facility that has implemented 5S is able to identify issues quickly, address the root causes, and solve the problems in the short term to prevent recurrence.

 

Let’s explore each step within the 5S process and its application within a manufacturing or warehouse environment:

The First “S” — Sort

The goal of the sorting phase is to remove unnecessary items from the space being organized, and provide a clean slate on which to implement the other four steps.

How to Do It:

Begin by removing virtually everything from the designated workspace. While it may seem as though placing everything into one large pile is just making a mess, it’s an important step in the sorting process, as it allows you to truly decide which items are no longer necessary to your operation.

Arrange four industrial bins and label them as “Keep,” “Remove,” “Decide,” and “Relocate.”

Keep: These are the essential, frequently used items. They are the tools that should be returned to the work area after sorting is complete.

Remove: These are unneeded items that are simply taking up valuable space, such as broken or outdated tools, or components that have passed their expiration date. Many companies use 5S Tags (or “red tags”) when sorting out unneeded items. The tag is easy to see and workers can quickly determine which items are to be removed.

Decide: These are items that need to be evaluated for use. Set a specific amount of time for determining if the items should be kept; after that time has passed, the items are either discarded or organized back into the workspace.

Relocate: These items are not frequently needed but must still be accessible when they are required. They will eventually be relocated to areas that make the most sense.

The Second “S” — Set in Order

This is the phase where all the items in the “Keep” bin are returned to the workspace in a specific, well-organized manner. This phase is truly about finding the most efficient and sensible places for tools and other items within a specific area.

This step helps minimize waste and loss of time by eliminating the need to search around for tools required to complete the job. Every loss of efficiency can gradually bleed a company’s profits.

How to Do It:

Map out the area where the tools and equipment will be placed, drawing on employees’ input to determine the most convenient and comfortable areas for placement. Obviously, the most frequently used tools should reside in easily accessible areas, closest to the station operator.

The key here is to minimize the need for workers to repeatedly reach over and between items. Items that are less frequently used should be placed in other areas.

Organizational Tools

There are a number of organizational tools that are extremely helpful when implementing this phase of 5S methodology. For instance:

Shadow boards and foam tool organizers feature outlines of tools behind or beneath the locations where they are placed when stored. They make it very easy for a worker to quickly see where to return a tool based on its silhouette or outline. They also allow employees to quickly identify which tools are missing.

Floor markings are a staple within warehouses and manufacturing facilities, as they can be used for a variety of different organizational purposes. They can designate a specific workspace, mark off pallet storage, or help navigate pedestrian traffic on the shop floor. Floor markings are available in a variety of different colors, sizes, strengths, thicknesses, and shapes.

Signage is essential to an efficient work environment for safety’s sake and for purposes of improving visual communication within the workplace. Signage is easily customizable and is available as floor signs, wall signs, or standing signs.

Labeling is key to an effective 5S system. Virtually anything can be labeled to help keep work areas organized, efficient, and visual to workers. When properly used, labels help employees understand where things belong and easily identify when something is missing. To this end, industrial printers make printing labels simple, convenient and cost-effective.

The Third “S” — Shine

The Shine phase is basically a thorough cleaning of the entire workstation or space. It involves cleaning, dusting, polishing, sweeping, vacuuming and everything necessary to attain perfect order. Workplace accidents can potentially destroy efficiency, and a good deep cleaning can help workers avoid them.

How to Do It:

Clear expectations are essential in this phase of 5S methodology. Workers are more likely to comply when they know what is expected with regard to cleanliness of their workspace. Posting imagery nearby that shows the fully cleaned state of a workspace can be a guide, as can an information board indicating step-by-step cleaning instructions.

Cleaning should always be carried out routinely, on a schedule, not in response to a workspace that has grown too cluttered to navigate efficiently.

The Fourth “S” — Standardize

The Standardize step of 5S methodology is all about auditing and regularly checking in on 5S efforts. It’s the bridge between the Shine step and the final step of Sustain.

Standardizing the approach to 5S ensures that organizational efforts are sustained in the long run. Failing to standardize procedures can lead to sloppy work and a loss of efficiency.

How to Do It:

You’ll want to implement a clear system that everyone understands. To this end, audit sheets and checklists are usually most effective, as they can be used by whoever is checking an area on a given day. Here are some sample questions you may wish to include on the checklist:

  • “Are all tools in their correct place on the shadow boards or other tool organizers?”
  • “Have power tools been unplugged and their cords properly stored?”
  • “Are the necessary supplies in place for the next worker who will begin a shift at that station?”

 

The Fifth “S” — Sustain

The Sustain step focuses on taking all of the previous steps of 5S and transforming them into ongoing habits to ensure continuous improvement. Bear in mind that habits do not develop right away. When workers are required to do something new in the workspace, it will take them some time for them to actually incorporate the new procedure into their routine.

How to Do It:

First, every new 5S process should be demonstrated correctly by a trained and knowledgeable professional. Supervisors should provide their staff with the individual attention needed for workers to understand what is expected.

Then, workers should be monitored to ensure that the daily 5S habits are being developed, and mistakes should be corrected.

Finally, the audits and checklists should be used to ensure the processes are running smoothly and as expected. Tracking measures should be put into place so that any undesired results can be addressed immediately.

Another “S”?

Some in the manufacturing community have contended that there should be a sixth “S” for Safety. They believe that safety is important enough to warrant its own category in this organizational methodology.

But many others believe that safety is a key component in all of the other 5 S’s and, therefore, to create a separate category would be redundant.

Safety is an integral part of the Sort, Set in Order and Shine phases of any 5S project. The other two steps, Standardize and Sustain, focus on the methods used to ensure that safety is maintained.

Video Recap

We’ve presented a lot of information. As a brief recap, the following video clip summarizes the 5S process:

 


Sources:

Creative Safety Supply LLC

EHS Today

Kaisen Institute


Conveyor System Safety 101

In 2014, 21-year-old Candace Carnahan was working her summer job at a paper mill near her Canadian hometown. One day she took a shortcut that she had seen many others take before: She stepped over a conveyor belt.

Carnahan’s foot got caught in a pinch point and was pulled into the machine. The conveyor kept running for a few seconds, until a co-worker heard her screams and pushed the manual stop button.

But not before Carnahan’s toes had been severed by the conveyor. Her left leg later had to be amputated.

As with all machinery, conveyors are only as safe as the people using them. Let’s review some common sense safety rules and standards:

Don’t Tread on Me

Workers should never sit on, stand on, climb on, walk on, or otherwise misuse a conveyor — ever.  This includes reaching into, climbing over or crawling under the conveyor when it’s in motion.

While this rule may seem fairly obvious, disregarding it is one of the most common causes of injuries involving conveyors.

(Note: The only possible exception to this rule is during maintenance or repair, and then only by qualified technicians.)

Overloading

Conveyors that are loaded beyond capacity can overheat and malfunction, leading to damage and the potential for accidents due to falling goods. Make sure all workers are aware of the safe operating capacity of every conveyor. Managers must enforce this safety standard — for the good of the workers and the equipment.

Keep Your Guard Up

A conveyor has many moving parts, such as gears, chains and belts. These can pose a serious hazard if exposed. Which is why a conveyor should never be operated without guards and covers in place to keep out clothing, extremities, and any foreign objects.

In addition, conveyors should never be loaded over guards or railings, as this increases the risk of clothing getting caught in the rollers.

Be aware that, even with guards in place, conveyors are capable of catching dangling extremities, clothing and hair. Long hair should always be tied back or kept under a cap whenever working near a conveyor. In addition, clothing should not be baggy, and ties and loose jewelry should be removed. Workers should only touch materials on the conveyor, not the conveyor itself.

 

Control Training

All workers should be properly trained in how to stop the conveyor in an emergency. Controls should be easily accessible and easy to use.

Conveyor manufacturers recommend that all employees read and understand the conveyor system’s user manual. According to the MK Technology Group, “Any machine’s manual is its bible, and a conveyor is no different. The best way to be sure about proper conveyor use is by knowing and abiding by the contents of the manual – during use and service alike.”

Warning!

Warning labels alert workers about particular hazards and safety practices. Accurate, up-to-date warning labels should be posted on all conveyors and components, where workers can easily see and read them. In particular, make sure that motors and rollers are well labeled with safety information; these are two of the most hazardous components of any conveyor system.

Leave It to the Pros

All maintenance and repair work should be carried out only by trained, fully qualified repair people. They’ll be sure to follow proper lockout/tagout procedures and block or disengage all power sources to the conveyor (electrical, hydraulic, air, gravity).

Even the best technicians are occasionally injured by a malfunctioning machine. Untrained staff should never attempt a conveyor system repair.

The folks at Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, a Canadian health and safety association, offer the following additional advice to employers:


Canadian Occupation Safety

MK North America

Cisco-Eagle


Forklift Accidents: They’re Really the PITs

Every year, 85 U.S. operators of Powered Industrial Trucks (PITs) — more commonly known as forklifts — leave for work in the morning and never return home.

The most tragically ironic situation occurred in the late 90’s in Perth, Australia. During the filming of a forklift safety video, the 52-year-old owner of a machinery training school was thrown from the forklift cabin and crushed to death.

The subsequent investigation revealed the fatality was due to driver error, high speed over rough terrain, and an unused seat belt. Needless to say, this gentleman’s final safety demonstration was his most convincing.

A Few More Sobering Statistics

Here’s a little more food for thought:

  • Aside from the 85 annual forklift fatalities, OSHA statistics indicate that roughly 34,900 serious injuries occur each year, many from careless operation of the equipment.
  • The total number of all forklift-related injuries per year is a whopping 96,785. That’s right — nearly 100,000 American workers are injured each and every year due to improper training or sheer carelessness on the job.
  • In 42 percent of all forklift fatalities, the operator was crushed by a tipping vehicle.

Quick Quiz

What should you do if you’re driving a forklift under normal working conditions and it begins to tip over? Should you stay in the vehicle or jump out?
If you said, “Jump,” you’d be dead wrong.
Safety experts agree that the safest way to survive a tip-over is to stay in the vehicle, seat belt always fastened, with a tight grip on the steering wheel and feet braced against the floor, leaning forward and away from the direction of the tip-over.
(Source: Daily Journal of Commerce)

What Makes Forklifts So Dangerous?

There are a number of reasons why forklifts present such a hazard in the workplace.

First of all, they’re extremely heavy. Even unloaded, the most popular forklift models weigh between 7,000 and 8,000 pounds, which is about double the weight of most cars. And although operators are cautioned to keep their speed around 8 mph, a forklift can travel up to 18 mph. That’s a lot of weight behind the speed in an enclosed space. Also, unlike a car, forklifts only have brakes in the front, making them harder to stop once they get going.

A forklift carries its loads in the front, which can obstruct the view of the driver. In order to compensate for heavy loads carried in the front, forklifts are designed to be heavier in the rear. The uneven weight distribution can make a forklift difficult to handle. This is one reason why it is illegal for anyone under 18 years of age to operate a forklift.

Also, in a car or truck, the front wheels steer the vehicle. But a forklift is turned by the rear wheels, causing the rear end to swing outward. This increases the chance of tipping over during tight turns. Additional instability is created when forklifts are used to raise hefty loads to considerable heights.

Protect Yourself!

The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” was never more appropriate than when applied to forklift safety. Which is why daily, pre-shift inspection of all powered industrial trucks is required by OSHA standards.


Any defects in the equipment can lead to a serious accident, so early detection is paramount. While OSHA does not require a documentation of a daily inspection, a written checklist is always a good idea. Checklists  vary depending on the type of forklift or other PIT being used, but most include the following:

  1. Are there any hydraulic leaks in the mast or elsewhere?
  2. Are fuel connections tight and battery terminals covered?
  3. Is there any lint, grease, oil or other flammable material on the forklift?
  4. Are there any deformities in the forks, mast, overhead guard or backrest?
  5. Are tires at proper pressure and free of damage?
  6. Are seat belts working and accessible?
  7. Is the load capacity plate readable?
  8. Do all controls (such as lift, lower and tilt) work smoothly?
  9. Is the horn working?
  10. Are the lights operational?
  11. Is steering responsive?
  12. Do brakes stop smoothly and reliably?
  13. Does the parking break hold the forklift on an incline?
  14. Are there any sparks or flames coming from the exhaust system?
  15. Does the engine show signs of overheating?

If you detect anything wrong with the forklift, do not operate it until the necessary repairs have been made.

Remember: Your employer, your co-workers and your family are counting on you to safely complete every work shift. So be smart and be safe!


Sources:

OSHA

Occupational Health & Safety

Optimum Safety Management

McCue Corporation


Delivery Drones: Coming Soon to a Warehouse Near You

You click the “Submit Order” button on your favorite e-tailer’s website and wait. Thirty minutes later, a delivery drone deposits the parcel on your front porch.

If major players like Amazon, Google and Walmart have their way, this scenario will soon play out all across the country. In fact, what began as little more than a pipe dream a few years ago continues to inch closer to certainty as regulatory hurdles are overcome.

It’s easy to see the appeal of such a Jetsonion delivery system. But is it cost-effective? And how long will it really be before delivery drones become mainstream?

Driven by Two Factors

The economics of delivery is generally driven by two factors:  Route density and drop size. Route density is the number of drops that can be made on any given delivery route. Drop size is the number of parcels per stop on any given route.

If you make lots of deliveries over a short distance or period of time, or if you deliver lots of parcels to the same location, your cost per parcel will be low.

Right now, drones perform poorly in both of these areas. Current  prototypes usually carry only one package, with a maximum weight of five pounds. After the drone makes its delivery, it must fly all the way back to its home base to recharge its batteries and pick up the next package.

Compare that to the average UPS truck, which makes about of 120 stops a day to deliver hundreds (or even thousands) of packages. Drones launching from faraway warehouses currently can’t compete with this kind of efficiency.

Mobile Warehouses

Which is why Amazon and, presumably, other retailers are investigating plans to use delivery trucks as “mobile warehouses” from which a swarm of drones can be launched.

Releasing these drones in rapid succession would allow a single truck to deliver dozens of parcels simultaneously. Such a system could easily outpace the production of a single truck driver who delivers to one house at a time.

Amazon is even taking this concept a step further:  Imagine, self-driving trucks, roaming around neighborhoods. The trucks would be  stocked with items which Amazon’s systems had predetermined to be wanted or needed in specific areas.

Even More Fantastic

But wait…there’s more.

Both Walmart and Amazon have applied for patents on “gas-filled carrier aircrafts” that would serve as airborne bases for their delivery drones. That’s right….blimps. These blimps would allow the drones access to homes they couldn’t reach if they flew from a fixed location.

Flying at altitudes up to 1,000 feet, the airships would communicate with a remote scheduling system, telling the drones when to fetch packages from inside the blimp and head to their destinations.

Best Feature

But perhaps the drones’ best feature is also its most obvious one: They can go where there are no roads. And considering that about one billion people on the planet do not have access to all-season roads, that’s significant.

Take Rwanda, for instance, where drone deliveries have already taken flight. That country relies increasingly on drone technology in order to receive critical supplies.

Far removed from the American PR circus surrounding retail and e-tail deliveries, U.S.-based tech company Zipline uses its drones as “sky ambulances.” Their drones deliver lifesaving blood supplies by parachute to remote hospitals and clinics located hours outside the Rwandan capital of Kigali.

By focusing on critical medical supplies, Zipline has successfully convinced regulators to tolerate the potential safety risks of delivery drones. As it turns out, that’s a lot easier to do when the deliveries are saving lives and not just bringing the latest cosmetic or a new pair of shoes.

Smaller Players, Too

But don’t discount minor players in the drone delivery game, either. For instance, a small startup company called Flirtey recently partnered with convenience store chain 7-Eleven.

Together, they’re experimenting with using drones to deliver over-the-counter medications (and perhaps, Slurpees and chili dogs). Take a look:

 


Sources:

Flexport

The New York Times

Engadget

Wired.com


Tesla Unveils New Electric Semi

Elon Musk has done it again. Or has he?

On November 16, the quirky billionaire and Tesla Inc. CEO and co-founder unveiled a sleek prototype electric semi-truck (dubbed “Semi”), which he claims will travel 500 miles on a single charge. According to Musk, the average truck trip is less than 250 miles, so Semi could handle a standard round trip without recharging.

The truck’s battery pack is built into the floorboard, and can be charged to 80% of capacity within 30 minutes. Musk’s long-range plan includes the worldwide installation of solar-powered “mega-charging” stations.

Semi utilizes four independent motors and can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 20 seconds when fully loaded. And, Musk has said, the truck “feels like a sports car.”

Equipped with the most advanced safety mechanisms, Musk indicated that the vehicle will also be able to operate semi-autonomously in convoy. This would be the company’s first attempt at self-driving trucks.

The cab itself has been completely redesigned. It’s spacious, with a ceiling high enough to allow the occupants to stand upright. The captain’s chair is centrally located and flanked by two display screens — the same screens used in Tesla’s luxury Model 3 sedan. These screens provide navigation and scheduling data, as well as images depicting blind spots and other areas around the truck.

With no engine, transmission, and other traditional diesel truck components to get in the way, the seating area is pushed forward in the cab, not unlike a VW bus. To see highlights of the Tesla Semi unveiling, click here.

New Market for Tesla

Well-known for its all-electric luxury cars, this is Tesla’s first foray into the commercial freight market. Musk says he intends to begin mass production of the Tesla Semi by 2019. If that happens, it would open up a potentially lucrative new market for his company.

“A lot of people don’t think you can do a heavy-duty, long-range truck that’s electric, but we are confident that this can be done,” he said.

 

For years transportation firms seeking ways to reduce their emissions and operating costs have expressed keen interest in electric trucks. In addition to being emission-free, Tesla claims that its Semi will be much cheaper to maintain than standard diesel trucks and will cost just $1.26 a mile to run, versus $1.51 for a diesel.

“We’re guaranteeing that this truck will not break down for a million miles,” Musk said at the unveiling.

How Much Does It Really Cost?

Musk has not yet revealed the actual cost for the Tesla Semi though, except to admit that “Tesla stuff is expensive.”

However, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, a vehicle capable of covering 600 miles would need a battery pack that costs as much as $400,000. (This is for the battery alone, without considering the cost of the rest of the truck.) That compares with an average total cost of $120,000 for a standard diesel truck.

Still, Musk maintains that a diesel truck would be 20% more expensive overall, and that his Semi would beat a diesel truck economically, “from Day 1.”

Although Musk has not yet named a price for the Semi, a $5,000 deposit is required to reserve each truck. So far, Meijer Inc. has ordered four, and Walmart has secured 15.

Changes Likely

Because the Tesla Semi is still a testing prototype, it will likely go through a series of changes as the company prepares for production. (Of course, it’s also possible that production will be delayed, or fail altogether.)

The Tesla Semi boasts specifications that are unprecedented in the logistics industry…Tesla has to get many more pieces of the puzzle right to make this machine a market reality.” — Forbes, 11/20/17

And the Tesla truck is not the only kid on the block. Several other companies are actively working to develop electric semis and smaller delivery vehicles. Musk’s potential rivals include Daimler, Cummins and Bosch, as well as a host of startup companies.


Sources:

Axios

Fortune

Forbes

Reuters

MIT Technology Review


Help Us Help the Victims of Hurricane Maria!

We are going to have to cancel the drive.

There is no outlet to send any goods.

We will stick with our plan to help our team out internally as much as we can.

Our intentions were good, and we will continue to do what we can to help our team and their families.

From NBC News ~ “Food and clothes donations create ‘a second disaster,’ experts say—so just send cash.

A number of long-running organizations, including Unicef, the American Red Cross and Save the Children are taking donations.

Center for Disaster Philanthropy began four funds in response to recent disasters including the earthquake in Mexico and the three Caribbean hurricanes.”

Click Here to Read the NBC News Report


Nearly a week after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, power is still out in most places, and communications are virtually nonexistent for the island’s 3.4 million residents.
Many of our Power Recycling team members have families in Puerto Rico that need our help!

What You Can Do

On Saturday, October 14, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Power Recycling will host a relief drive for these victims of Hurricane Maria.

Come on down to our headquarters at 4715 State Highway 30, in Amsterdam, New York, and bring the following:

  • New and gently used clothing
  • Blankets and pillows
  • Canned food and dry food
  • Toiletries
  • Diapers and baby wipes
  • Baby food
  • First aid supplies
We’ll be filling up a trailer with all of these necessities and shipping them directly to the people in need.

Humanitarian Crisis

The New York Times reported that “Puerto Rico is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, economies across the Caribbean are on life support, and dozens of people are dead.” In fact, it may be weeks before we get an accurate death count.

For the living, most Puerto Ricans now spend much of their day waiting in line. Particularly excruciating are the long gas lines, where many choose to spend the night in their cars rather than risk losing their place in line. In most places, food and water are also being rationed.

Help Us Help Them!

Join us on October 14!
Bring what you can…even a little will mean so much in the lives of these precious family members.


Sources:

The New York Times

Vox.com


Energy Efficiency: Compressed Air Systems

This is the last article of a five-part series on industrial energy efficiency. This month we will address how Compressed Air Systems are prime targets for energy efficiency measures.

Compressed air is used in many industrial processes, such as sandblasting, injection molding, spray painting, and equipment heating and cooling, to name just a few. Air compression motors have high electrical demands. In fact, up to 20% of total electrical use in certain industries can come from air compression systems.

Which makes these systems prime targets for energy efficiency measures.

High Maintenance

If you use compressed air equipment, you probably know that the cost of the equipment itself is often a fraction of the cost of operating and maintaining it.

In fact, the cost of operating a compressor for just one year usually equals or exceeds the initial cost of the unit. So a reduction in operation and maintenance expense will create substantial savings over the lifetime of the system.

Let’s take a look at some of the low-cost or no-cost measures that can help minimize the expense of operating compressed air systems.

Air Leak Surveys

An industrial plant that has not been well maintained will typically leak about 20% of total compressed air production capacity. But this can be reduced to less than 10% of compressor output by proactively detecting and repairing leaks.

The best way to detect leaks is to use an ultrasonic acoustic detector. This device can recognize the high frequency hissing sounds associated with air leaks.

The units are portable and consist of directional microphones, amplifiers, and audio filters. They typically use either visual indicators or earphones to detect leaks.

Ultrasonic detectors filter out background noises within the audible range. As a result, leaks can be heard in even the noisiest environments.

The benefits of ultrasonic leak detection include versatility, speed, ease of use, the ability to perform tests while equipment is running, and the ability to find a wide variety of leaks. In addition, any operator can become competent after about 15 minutes of training.

Fixing Air Leaks

Air leaks occur most often at joints and connections. Which means stopping leaks is often as simple as tightening a connection. But it can also be as complex as replacing faulty equipment (couplings, fittings, pipe sections, hoses, etc.).

In many cases, leaks are caused by bad or improperly applied thread sealant. This is why it’s so important to select high-quality components, and install them properly with the appropriate thread sealant.

Did you know that non-operating equipment can be an additional source of leaks? To remedy this problem, any equipment no longer in use should be isolated with a valve in the distribution system.

You can also reduce air leaks by lowering the demand air pressure of the system. The lower the pressure differential across a hole or leak, the lower the rate of flow. A lower rate of flow translates into reduced leakage rates.

 

Once leaks have been repaired, the compressor control system should be re-evaluated and adjusted (if necessary) to realize the total savings potential. A proactive leak prevention program will go a long way toward improving the performance of your plant’s compressed air systems.

Recovering Waste Heat

As much as 80%-90% of the electrical energy used by an industrial air compressor is converted into heat. In many cases, a heat recovery unit can recover 50%-90% of this available thermal energy and put it to use heating air or water.

Typical uses for recovered heat include supplemental space heating, industrial process heating, and water heating. (Recoverable heat from a compressed air system is usually not hot enough to produce steam directly.)

For example, packaged air-cooled, rotary screw compressors are very amenable to heat recovery for space heating or other hot-air uses. Packaged compressors are typically enclosed in cabinets and already include heat exchangers and fans. So the only system modifications needed would be additional ducting (and possibly another fan).

Similarly, by using a heat exchanger, you can produce hot water. This is done by extracting waste heat from the lubricant coolers found in packaged water-cooled, reciprocating or rotary screw compressors.

Compressed Air Storage

An effective control strategy for your compressed air system should include adequate storage.  Employ storage to cover peak air demands by strategically locating receivers. This reduces both the amount of pressure drop and the rate of pressure decay.

For systems with highly variable air demand, you can achieve tight control by combining storage with a pressure/flow controller.  Narrowing the pressure variation with better controls not only uses less energy; it also minimizes any potential negative effects on product quality.

A Final Note

The final low- to no-cost measure recommended for improved energy efficiency pertains to inappropriate uses of compressed air. These include any application that can be done more effectively or efficiently by another method. The following table illustrates:


Sources:

Sustainable Plant

Compressed Air Best Practices

US Dept. of Energy

Univ. of Minnesota Technical Assistance Program


Energy Efficiency: Battling Start-Up Spikes

This is the fourth article of a five-part series on industrial energy efficiency. This month we cover Part Four of the series: Start-Up Spikes. This occurs whenever energy-consuming equipment and systems are started simultaneously.

Start-up spikes are an all-too-common occurrence in most manufacturing and distribution facilities. When energy-hogging equipment is started up at the beginning of a shift, it can often lead to unintended peak-demand energy charges.

But these spikes can also be a problem for any commercial buildings where lighting and HVAC systems kick into high gear at the same time each day.

Hard Starts

In the manufacturing and warehouse environment, start-up spikes result when multiple mechanical systems are turned on simultaneously. These “hard starts” can result in additional energy costs. But they’re also rough on equipment, causing premature wear and tear.

That’s because the inrush current from a hard start is often five to six times a motor’s full-load running current. This massive current creates heat in the motor windings, and heat can kill a motor over time.

One solution to this problem is a “soft starter.”

Soft Starters

Soft starters ramp up the voltage gradually, thereby limiting the inrush current. Here’s how: Every time your compressor, pump, or machine starts, the soft starter limits the current for about the first five seconds. It then reverts back to normal running conditions. This results in a more gradual increase of current and eliminates the spike.

The gradual increase in voltage significantly reduces heat buildup. Which ultimately results in an extended lifetime of the motor – particularly of motors that are stopped and started frequently.

In fact, a soft starter will allow you to turn a motor on and off much more frequently without damaging the windings. And for motor applications that involve intermittent loads, a soft start may enable you to shut the motor down in between loads, rather than running it continuously.

Variable Frequency Drives

At the high end of the starter spectrum is the variable frequency drive (VFD). VFDs are typically used for motor speed control, but they can also be used on small motors where they function as motor starters only.

The benefits of using a VFD include:

  • Reduced current starting
  • Communications to a central building management system, and
  • Easy interface for automatic control.

But these benefits come at a cost: increased complexity, increased installation costs, and sensitivity to the environment in which the VFD is installed. Also, additional equipment is often required to support VFDs (such as filters and surge protectors), which further increases cost.

Staging the Start-Up

Another technique for eliminating start-up spikes in factories and warehouses is to stage equipment to come online just in time (that is, sequentially, rather than simultaneously). By gradually ramping up mechanical equipment in a staged manner, excessive energy charges can be avoided without compromising production output.

Equipment start-up can be sequentially staged any time power has been interrupted through a “load control system.”

This staging of load ensures that power quality is maintained and any on-site generators are not overloaded during start-up. In addition to the sequential start-up, the load control system would monitor on-site generators, removing power load from the system if the generators become overloaded.

A Case Study

Start-up spikes can sometimes go undetected unless you’re monitoring your energy data. The following situation, reported by Industrial IP Advantage, is a case in point:

A manufacturer’s energy consumption profile documented a significant spike in demand that occurred monthly, without fail, on the same day and at the same time. A submeter pinpointed the source of the spike. During lunch break on the same day of the month, the maintenance staff simultaneously started all of the production equipment for testing purposes.

Staging the start-up – achieving a steady state with one system before turning on the next – would avoid the spike. But the optimal energy management strategy also included scheduling the once-monthly testing at 6 a.m. during the power utility’s off-peak demand period. The bump in overtime costs is minimal relative to paying peak rates over the course of an entire year.

This example underscores the importance of routine energy monitoring, so that start-up spikes can be pinpointed and eliminated before they become a problem.

Next Up…

Up to 20% of total electrical use in certain industries comes from air compression systems. Our last article in this series will address how these systems are prime targets for energy efficiency measures.


Sources:

DS&O Electrical Cooperative

Cummins

Industrial IP Advantage

Consulting-Specifying Engineer