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
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.
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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is the last article of a five-part series on industrial energy efficiency. This month we will address how Compressed Air Systemsare 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.
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.
Did you know that most lean manufacturing concepts were developed from the philosophies of Benjamin Franklin?
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…
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 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.
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.
To achieve this, levelized production takes into consideration both forecast and history.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.