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


Resolve to Make Your Workplace Greener in 2018

Did you know that any “green” changes you make in your workplace not only help the planet, but can improve your company’s efficiency?

The New Year is always a time for evaluating the past and looking towards the future. So this year, why not consider these five ways to make your workplace more eco-friendly in 2018:

Improve Waste Diversion

Pretty much every business could do more to reduce and divert its waste output. But you won’t know until you take a good look at what you’re currently discarding.

 

One way is to engage your staff in an interactive waste audit. This gets everyone involved in identifying what’s in the trash and what can be diverted away from landfills. (New York City and other communities actually impose fines on companies that fail to properly recycle.)

A waste audit helps you to measure the different types of waste generated at your business. The results will help you to figure out how much waste your creating and how effective your current recycling (or composting) programs are. It will also help identify opportunities for reducing the amount of waste you send to the landfill, and potentially save the company some money.

For a free downloadable guide on how to conduct a waste audit, Click Here.

Reduce Operational Costs

This is a highly underrated goal. Reducing your operating costs is like free money. Even if some changes cost a few dollars to implement, the payback can be substantial.

For instance, utility costs are typically thousands of dollars a month for large businesses. You can cut these costs significantly by changing out light fixtures to energy-efficient rated fixtures with LED light bulbs. LED bulbs can last around 20 years, use less energy to work, and provide a purer source of light.

Also, try making demand-driven decisions at your facility. Many companies are now choosing to run more slowly, in order to save energy without sacrificing customer service or output. Using real-time data provides the accurate visibility you need to accomplish this.

Time for a (Tax) Break

There are plenty of tax credits that businesses can take whenever they make efforts to improve their local environment. For instance, credits can be taken for:

  • Using solar energy,  fuel cells, wind turbines or geothermal systems
  • Reducing emissions
  • Utilizing high-efficiency interior lighting, HVAC or hot water systems
  • Investing in green building standards (if you’re building new or leasing a new space)

Here’s how a California frozen food warehouse is using 100,000 square feet of solar panels:


A quick search of “tax breaks for businesses going green” will provide a myriad of ideas on how to get a break on your business tax bill by going green.

It’s All in the Packaging

There are a variety of ways you can reduce order packaging waste. Work with your vendors to eliminate inbound freight packaging by sending their items as shelf-ready as possible. Also, set guidelines at the packing stations to limit the amount of waste sent with each order. For breakable items that require some extra packaging, use biodegradable (or edible) packing peanuts in lieu of plastic or Styrofoam products.

 

Switch to Electric

If you haven’t done it already, now’s the time to switch to electric forklifts. Not only do they eliminate the harmful tailpipe emissions produced by gas forklifts, but they’ll save you money in the long run.

In fact, by electrically powering a 5,000-pound-capacity forklift, used six hours a day, five days a week, you’d save about $26,000 in propane over a five-year period.

In addition, electric forklifts typically have tighter turning radius, which can increase storage capacity and reduce product damage. And electric trucks produce less noise during operation. Which amounts to a better, safer work environment for your workers.


Sources:

Green Tourism

Manufacturing Transformation

NYC Department of Sanitation

Factory Direct Promos

 


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


Warehouse Automation: How Far Should You Go?

Warehouse automation is everywhere these days. At Amazon and other online retailers, for instance, “pickers” work side-by-side with robots. (See related article “Warehouse Automation New Frontiers.”)

And with good reason. In many instances, warehouse automation has been shown to improve efficiency, speed, reliability, accuracy and (eventually) cost savings.

Is It Right for You?

But just because automation is so prevalent doesn’t mean it will solve every material-handling issue or be the right fit for your facility. Humans are still better at a lot of things. Indeed, even at Amazon — the mother of all robotic warehouses — machines are not quite ready to take over completely.

Take a look inside an Amazon fulfillment center:

15,000 amazon kiva robots drives eighth generation fulfillment center from designboom on Vimeo.

As you can see, the science of warehouse automation encompasses all kinds of methods to bring inventory directly to the worker, in order to minimize his or her movements within the facility. Some of the most popular systems are carousels, vertical lifts, automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), mini-loads, and automated guided vehicles (AVGs). A separate category of automation includes conveyors that move and direct inventory to the next appropriate operation.

Let’s look at the some of  the most useful applications for the new technology.

Where It’s Useful…

First of all, successful deployment of automation requires close integration with a warehouse management system (WMS) to help direct, simplify and track all of the facilities transactions. (See sidebar for an explanation of WMS.)

Your particular WMS may employ either barcodes or radio frequency identification (RFID) for inventory management, but some type of WMS must be in place before a more advanced warehouse automation system can be implemented.

Secondly, in order for automation to be successful, there must be a sufficient volume of activity to justify the high up-front costs and the ongoing need for maintenance. It’s also important to remember that human labor is still more flexible when it comes to changing business conditions.

For example:  An automated carousel pod will limit the picking rate to whatever a single operator can accomplish. Late in the day, that rate may be insufficient to support the rush of orders. Fixed shelving or a flow rack, on the other hand, can be accessed by multiple workers during busy periods.

So the type of automation employed must always be weighed against the flexibility (and availability) of workers. Even Amazon, with its 45,000 robots across the globe, still relies on human hands in its 20 cavernous fulfillment centers.

…And Where It Isn’t Useful

Clearly, automation is not a one-size-fits-all solution to every facility’s needs. Individual companies must do their due diligence to determine if automation makes economic sense.

Case in point: A mid-sized industrial distributor made a $3 million investment in carousels linked with an active conveyor. Alas, the system’s performance and reliability were so poor that it was abandoned, at a significant loss to the company. But in hindsight, the owner realized that, even if the system had worked perfectly, it still would have been a really bad investment.

Why? Because even though the automation enabled him to cut his workforce in half (for a savings of $300,000 per year), the five-year return on his $3 million investment would still have been minus 19%.

Like all business decisions, the choice of whether to invest in automation boils down to a reasonable expectation of adequate ROI.

Before You Climb Aboard

You’ve decided to climb aboard the automation bandwagon. Great! Where do you start?

WMS expert David Allais suggests the following steps:

  1. Assign a specific person or team that will be responsible for selecting the functionality and handling the implementation. This team should then be involved in all aspects of the planning and creation process.
  2. Ensure that the team factors in all costs for the proposed automation, including long-term maintenance and repair costs, and the cost of potentially adjusting the floor layout to accommodate the new technology. Also, if the company plans to eventually expand, the team should choose a system that will accommodate these expansion needs.
  3. Put together a viable support plan that will provide adequate training and technical support to all staff. This will greatly facilitate the implementation process.
  4. Be sure that your chosen automation vendor works with the assigned team to thoroughly explain and map out the data migration to the new technology.

The decision to employ warehouse automation is not one that should be entered into lightly. But with sufficient due diligence, your facility can be well on its way to becoming a more efficient, reliable, and cost-effective enterprise.


Sources:

Industry Week

NPR.org

TechTarget Network

Wired.com

Wired.com


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


10 Most Common Workplace Injuries

Did you know that every day in America, 13 people go to work and never come home?

That’s right. In 2015 (the most recent statistical year) 4,836 workers were killed on the job.

Another 3.3 million people per year suffer a workplace injury from which they may never recover. No one wants to get hurt on the job. But best safety practices are often neglected because they take a little extra time and effort.

As a result, serious workplace injuries are far too common.

Here is a list of the top 10 reported worker’s compensation injuries, according to leading insurance companies:

#10 – Violent Acts

Serious physical injuries can ensue when office politics and other arguments erupt into physical confrontations. Many of these situations can be prevented by:

  • Defining and communicating a clear code of conduct, such as “zero tolerance with respect to moral harassment and other types of workplace violence.
  • Providing workplace violence training to all staff.
  • Diligently monitoring any suspicious activities.
  • Exercising dissuasion and enforcing sanctions for conduct violations.

#9 – Repetitive Stress Injuries

Repetitive Stress Injury, or RSI, is often less obvious than other types of injury, but it can be very harmful in the long run. Repetitive motions, such as a factory worker performing the same task over and over again, can strain muscles and tendons. The repeated activity doesn’t need to be strenuous to cause a problem.

The result is often back pain, joint problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome. To avoid RSI, workers should be sure to take adequate work breaks, perform stretching exercises, and vary their work tasks, whenever possible. For instance, workers can be cross trained and a job rotation schedule implemented.

#8 – Machine Entanglement

The modern factory relies heavily on automated systems and a nonstop production line. Sometimes a worker will get too close to a machine that slices, welds, compresses or crushes.  The machine is unable to differentiate between an inanimate object and a human body.

Extra precautions must be taken to ensure that clothing, shoes, fingers and hair are kept far away from moving parts. Use protective barriers.

According to OSHA, the best rule to remember is this: “Any machine part, function, or process which may cause injury must be safeguarded.”

Safeguards must prevent hands, arms, and any other part of a worker’s body from making contact with dangerous moving parts. A good safeguarding system eliminates the possibility of the operator or another worker placing parts of their bodies near hazardous moving parts.

#7 – Vehicle Accidents

Employees who drive for business purposes are often injured in vehicle accidents, some of which can be fatal.  Those vehicles include forklifts.

In fact, OSHA statistics indicate about 85 forklift fatalities and 34,900 serious forklift injuries occur each year. In 42% of those fatalities, the operator was crushed by a tipping vehicle.

The safest place for a forklift operator is strapped into the seat with a seat belt. Which is why employers are obligated to require operators to use seat belts or other restraining devices. In addition, operators must receive site-specific forklift training, including the use of any attachments.

The following video clip provides some excellent safety tips for forklift operators:

 
Refresher training for forklift operators should also be available whenever necessary.

#6 – “Walking Into” Injuries

This happens when a person accidentally walks into a hard-surface object such as a wall, door, machinery, etc. Head, knee, neck, and foot injuries are the common result of these accidents.

The best way to prevent “walking into” injuries is to maintain a neat and tidy workplace. Clearly mark any potential obstacles/hazards. And train employees to be diligent in their surroundings.

#5 – Falling Object Injuries

Objects that fall from shelves or are dropped by another person can cause very serious injuries. Head injuries are a common result of this type of accident.

Materials should be stored or stacked in a safe and secure manner, and signage should be used to indicate any areas where debris may fall. Of course, proper personal protection gear (such as a hard hat) is also key to worker safety.

#4 – Reaction Injuries

Reaction injuries occur when a person slips or trips but “catches himself” to keep from falling.  These incidents can cause muscle injuries, body trauma, and a variety of other medical issues.

Preventing this type of injury is difficult because of our bodies’ natural reflexive actions. The best prevention guideline is for employees to be aware of their surrounding environment at all times.

#3 – Falling from Heights

Falling from an elevated area (such as a roof, ladder or stairway) can be caused by a slip-and-fall or by faulty equipment.

To prevent these injuries, make sure employees use proper personal protection gear. Install guardrails and other engineered protection devices, and encourage and reward employee diligence.

#2 – Slipping/Tripping

Falls on slippery floors or trips over objects lying on the floor are the second most common type of workplace injury.

Train employees on the hazards of slips, trips, and falls, as well as the proper management of spills and clean up. Use non-slip rugs and signage to indicate potentially hazardous areas.

#1 – Overexertion Injuries

The most common type of workplace injury is overexertion. It’s also the most expensive.

This category includes injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying or throwing. It represents $12.75 billion in direct costs, more than 25% of the overall national burden.

According to industry experts, overexertion continues to be a problem because workers do not understand the risk.

Because everybody engages in lifting, pulling, pushing and carrying from the time they start walking to the time they join the work force, they naturally believe they can do it properly.

To address this issue, employers should provide hands-on training by observing workers performing the tasks, and offering guidance when they are doing it incorrectly. They should also incorporate a psychosocial process into the program in order to understand how stress can affect worker safety. Even properly trained employees can become distracted and modify their work practices when they feel undue stress.

The Bottom Line

Education, training, diligence and proper safety equipment are all necessary components of a complete workplace safety program. For a list of OSHA training and educational programs to help broaden worker and employer knowledge of safety hazards in the workplace, click here.

And be careful out there!


Sources:

Arbill Safety Blog

Occupational Health & Safety

The Seltzer Group


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


6 Key Lean Manufacturing Principles

Did you know that most lean manufacturing concepts were developed from the philosophies of Benjamin Franklin?

In his 1758 essay, “The Way to Wealth,” Franklin stated the following:

You call them goods; but, if you do not take care, they will prove evils to some of you. You expect they will be sold cheap, and, perhaps, they may [be bought] for less than they cost; but, if you have no occasion for them, they must be dear to you. 

And Henry Ford cited Franklin as a major influence on his own business practices, which included Just-in-Time manufacturing.

Let’s take a look at some of the guiding principles for implementing a lean manufacturing protocol…

Waste Reduction

First and foremost is waste reduction/elimination. Historically, this is the foundation of modern-day lean manufacturing, identified by Toyota Production System in the 1990’s.

Many of the other principles revolve around this concept. There are seven basic types of waste in manufacturing:

  • Overproduction (production ahead of demand)
  • Unnecessary Motion (moving people or equipment more than is required to perform the task)
  • Excess Inventory (all components and finished product not being processed)
  • Production of Defects (leading to rework, salvage and scrap)
  • Waiting (i.e., waiting for the next production step or interruptions of production during shift change)
  • Transportation (moving products that are not actually required to perform the task)
  • Overprocessing (resulting from unnecessary work that adds no value)

Waste reduction/elimination involves reviewing all areas of your organization, determining the source of all non-value-added work, and reducing or eliminating it.

Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is sometimes referred to by the Japanese word “kaizen,” which literally means “change for the better.”

 

As the name implies, continuous improvement promotes constant, necessary change toward achievement of a desired state. The changes can be big or small, but they must lend themselves toward improvement.

To be effective, continuous improvement should be a mindset throughout the entire organization. Lean manufacturing experts suggest that you not get caught up in only trying to find the “big ideas,” as small ideas can often lead to big improvements.

For instance, at Toyota, the culture of continual aligned small improvements has yielded large results in overall improved productivity.

Respect for Humanity

The most valuable resource for any company is its people. Without them, the business simply will not succeed.

Staff Members

When employees do not feel respected, they tend to lose respect for their employer. This can become a major problem when a company is trying to implement lean manufacturing principles.

Most staff members want to perform well in their jobs. They’re not just earning a living; they’re also developing a sense of worth from their work.

Constant communication and praise for a job well done will go far to show people you respect them. But it’s also important to include them in upcoming changes and ideas, giving them an opportunity to provide their input. The more involved they are in decisions, the more the ideas become theirs. (And the more likely they are to accept the changes.)

The Supply Side

Implementing lean manufacturing processes requires the cooperation and participation from everyone in the company. But the respect for humanity principle goes so much deeper than the employee level.  You must also display respect for your customers and suppliers, as well as the environment.

Virtually every company is a supplier to someone else. If everyone throughout the supply chain treats their customers and suppliers with respect, working through issues becomes a whole lot easier.

Levelized Production

The basis of this principle is that the workload is the same (or level) every day. In a lean manufacturing facility, this type of standardization is very important.

The key ingredient for this lean manufacturing principle is utilization of a pull system. Components used in the manufacturing process are only replaced once they have been consumed. In this way, companies only make enough products to meet customer demand.

To achieve this, levelized production takes into consideration both forecast and history.

An Example

Your customer orders most likely fluctuate daily. Let’s say on Day 1, they want 10 black and five red parts. The next day, they want 12 red and seven black. On Day 3, they only require 13 parts.

Using levelized production:

  • On Day 1 you would set the level volume at 15 parts per day, and production would replenish the 15 parts that were ordered.
  • On the second day, the order is 19 parts (four parts higher than our levelized production volume). Production would still build 15 parts and the shipping area would take four parts from an inventory called “fluctuation stock.”
  • On the third day, the order was 13 parts, which is two less than the levelized volume. So two parts are put back into fluctuation stock.

Just-in-Time Production

The basis behind just-in-time production is to build what is required, when it is required and in the quantity required. In conjunction with levelized production, this principle works well with the pull system. It allows for movement and production of parts only when required.

The goal in lean manufacturing is to maintain finished product inventory at the lowest levels possible, while ensuring delivery does not suffer.  Of course, it is nearly impossible to carry zero inventory, particularly in facilities where short lead time is essential. So you will need to carry a store of parts to pull from when required.

Kanbans

To facilitate just-in-time production, companies typically employ a system of “kanbans.” A kanban is a hand-sized card that moves with the product or material. It signals when the product is to be built or when the material can be moved.

The kanban basically serves as a work order or pick list. But it also serves as a visual control, to identify the contents of each box. A third function of a kanban is inventory control, to determine the amount of finished product on hand.

Built-In Quality

The idea behind this principle is that quality is built into the manufacturing process. It’s built into the design of the part. It’s built into the packaging. From design to shipping, quality is a major consideration.

This means that your machines are capable of detecting abnormalities and your fixtures have mistake proofing to avoid misassembly.

Abnormality Detection

“Autonomation” pertains to a machine’s ability to judge good or bad conditions. When an abnormal condition is detected, the machine stops and triggers an alarm. A production worker then removes the parts and resets the machine. This keeps the suspect parts from continuing through the process.

Autonomation eliminates the need for a production worker to stand there and monitor each machine. It’s often referred to as “automation with a human touch.”

Mistake Proofing

The purpose of mistake proofing is to eliminate product defects by preventing, correcting, or drawing attention to human errors as they occur.

Mistake proofing can be implemented at any step of a manufacturing process where something can go wrong or an error can be made. For example, a fixture that holds components for processing might be modified to only allow those parts to be held in the correct orientation.

Presence sensors are another example. These sensors allow  only components that fit, and will trigger an alarm if the machine is cycled without all the components present.

Simulation Game

We’ve covered only six of the many lean manufacturing principles out there. If you’re thinking about employing these ideas and others, you may wish to check out the following Factory Business Game:


Sources:

Lean-manufacturing-junction.com

Lean Directions

Investopedia

Quality Digest

Lean Production


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


How New Green Packaging Is Saving Endangered Species

On May 18, 2015, “as the light was fading at the end of a bitterly cold day,” zoologist Tony Martin dropped his last rat bait pellet onto a peninsula at the western tip of an island near the South Pole.

“We had finished. We had really finished,” Martin wrote in his final transmission.

It was the end of an arduous four-year effort to save the endangered seabirds on South Georgia island. Martin’s 25-man team, led by the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT), had undertaken the largest rat eradication in history, defending indigenous creatures from their ravenous enemies.

The rats had been introduced to the island by early explorers and hunters more than 200 years ago. And they had been preying on the eggs and chicks of nesting seabirds ever since. In fact, until Martin and his team intervened, the rats had wiped out more than 90% of South Georgia’s seabird populations.

Almost Didn’t Happen

But this is a success story that almost didn’t happen.

One major obstacle the SGHT team had to overcome early on:  How to contain the rat poison pellets to withstand a transport of 17,000 miles across rocky seas, as well as outdoor storage for months in the polar climate?

 

Another consideration was that Martin’s team of conservationists needed the containers to be recyclable and/or biodegradable.  They wanted to leave virtually no evidence that they had even been there.

Eco-Shield: The Future Is Here

Bell Laboratories, the manufacturers of the pellets, had the answer.

They suggested the SGHT team contact Ox Box, an Illinois-based container company. Ox Box had recently developed a new container material called Eco-Shield, which incorporates plastic resin from recycled plastic bottles with corrugated fiberboard.

The company claims that, not only are Eco-Shield crates extremely strong, durable and weatherproof, their unique chemical composition makes these boxes recyclable and biodegradable, as well.

Bell Labs had good reason for recommending Eco-Shield: They had successfully used the special containers on a previous conservation project.

The Galapagos Experience

In 2012, conservationists waged a similarly aggressive campaign to poison the invasive rats living on Pinzón Island, part of the world-famous Galapagos chain.

The rats — introduced through human activity 200 to 300 years ago — were wreaking havoc among the Galapagos wildlife by preying on eggs and hatchlings of bird and reptile species. Particularly at risk was the saddleback giant tortoise, one of the world’s most ancient and endangered species.

But to save the tortoises and other threatened wildlife populations, the folks at Bell Labs had to ensure that their product would survive the trip to the Galapagos and the tropical Ecuadorian climate. In addition, the containers had to meet the Galapagos project’s strict environmental guidelines.

That’s when they turned to Ox Box for a solution. The Eco-Shield containers used by the team exceeded the project manager’s expectations, and helped them redefine “survival of the fittest.” Because of these containers, the project team was able to successfully “carpet bomb” Pinzón Island, one of the largest areas in the Galapogos chain.

Now, for the first time in more than 150 years, the population of saddleback giant tortoises is set to recover on its own.

Antarctic Epilogue

Meanwhile, back on South Georgia island, ongoing monitoring of the SGHT team’s project indicates some early success. The bait pellets appear to be extremely attractive to rodents, who prefer the pellets over their natural food, but unattractive to seabirds and other indigenous species.

As the need for eco-friendly packaging and shipping materials increases, it’s just a matter of time before products like Eco-Shield become the norm.

Here’s the Eco-Shield promotional video, highlighting the South Georgia habitat restoration project:

 


Sources:

BBC News

Ox Box

Bell Laboratories

Discover Magazine

South Georgia Heritage Trust