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December 2017
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Safety and Efficiency trend 2015
Mary Glindinning
Mary Glindinning

The industry that moves products where they need to go is moving itself – toward more automation. Automation will be a major trend this year, industry experts said, and will help move products more safely and efficiently.

Eric Esson, national sales and marketing manager at Rite-Hite Machine Guarding, said robotics drive the trend. “It seems every day we are seeing greater use of automation (robotics) being used in all industries.  What was once a manual process is now being done by robots:  welding, material handling, storage and retrieval of parts, conveyors and the list goes on,” Esson said.

New products enhance safety, productivity and efficiency in the use of manufacturing floor space, he said.

“New products are being developed based on customer needs, changing regulations and the introduction of new technology in new/different processes.  With new processes and manufacturing methods comes new tertiary products to make those processes operate more safely and efficiently. We may be in a situation where we are introducing a safeguarding device where one did not previously exist. We may be replacing an old or outdated safety device. Either way, we are aiding the worker in their job performance by increasing safety, aiding in productivity or helping enhance lean manufacturing principles.”

Customers want solutions that increase process efficiency, said Tim Ryan, president of Rhino Rubber. It is a great opportunity for Rhino, and good for customers’ bottom line, he said. New products help workers “become more efficient every day,” Ryan said. Most new products are related to automation, he said.

Ron Mileham, managing director of the King Group Australia, said automation is a driver, especially for larger companies. “For smaller companies, materials handling products that make work easier and/or solve a problem, are often cheaper than insurance or costs to fix the result of an accident. The challenge is to make owners pro-active, rather than be re-active,” Mileham said.

“It is a time for reflection about where products should be produced. China is certainly the place for volume production, but Vietnam is around half the cost, and the Philippines and other countries are close contenders, so the high volume products will always shift around to the lowest cost base,” Mileham said.

“Mature countries must concentrate on bringing home those marginal products. Concentrate on making superior products. Embrace their technological prowess. Show with pride the products that they excel in, and most importantly, bring jobs back home, and continue to train tomorrow’s game changers.”

New products that work well “bring a sense of pride and ownership to the operator. It also shows that the company cares enough to invest in aids to help them do their job better. It will often increase productivity and safety, but most times it helps ease the work load,” Mileham said.  

Comfort, conservation and convenience are assets in new products. “Two main factors primarily drive our product introductions: A direct relationship with our customer, which gives us invaluable input, and our close attention to the unsolved or sometimes unnoticed problems in the space,” said Alex Reed, director of consumer products at Big Ass Solutions.

 “Convenience is important to us, so we won’t compromise on user experience. That said, not every customer can afford or wants to operate a robust building automation system. Offering controls that ease the burden on our customers is at the forefront of consideration with all of our products,” Reed said.

Comfort helps workers focus, whether in a plant or office job, and feel valued. “Products that improve thermal comfort while protecting a business’ bottom line are no-brainers for our customers,” Reed said.

Along with efficiency, Sandra Gunthorpe, product sales manager for Flight Systems Industrial Products, sees consideration of eco-friendly products and techniques, and innovation as driving new product introduction. “We try to find new products that require minimal effort to install or use,” Gunthorpe said.

Recover, regenerate and reuse are watchwords, she said.  “I think the trend in the US towards eco-friendly products is driven by both long-term cost saving and an effort to take care of the environment,” Gunthorpe said.

John Rosenberger, manager at iWAREHOUSE® Gateway and global telematics for The Raymond Corporation said 2015 will be the year of “the introduction of big data.” Sensors already on lift trucks can be used to improve the efficiency of the labor force, the largest expense in a warehouse, he said. Labor amounts to 70 percent of warehouse costs, and lift trucks come in at 11 per cent. With razor thin margins, savings on labor can pay off. Time clocks show when an employee arrives for a shift. So if a driver doesn’t actually use a lift truck for another half-hour, it’s fair to ask why. “Is it because they come in one end of the warehouse and have to walk across the warehouse to get where the trucks are charging? Then put a door and locker room on that side of the building,” Rosenberger said. Or if a driver has several impacts, it might be time to have a drug test.

Companies can track when a truck is in motion, when the weight goes up by 100 pounds with one pick-up, and more weight with another pick-up. Collecting the data is important, but understanding what it means is even more important. “Without analysis, it’s just numbers on a sheet.” He said companies might hire consultants or part-time people to decipher the data, just as they hire accountants to do their taxes. As they become more familiar with the process, they might be able to do their own analysis.

The data is collected automatically. “I’m getting data right off the truck, which means I don’t have to have an industrial engineer come in with a stop watch” to track efficiency, he said. Deliver the data collected to the right device, he said. “You can’t look at charts and graphs on a smart phone.” “We want data more real time,” Rosenberger said. “Other industries have adopted this, and it’s coming to our warehouses as well.”

Mary Glindinning is a freelance writer who has worked at daily and weekly newspapers for more than 20 years. She lives in rural Shullsburg, Wis. E-mail to contact Mary.