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Information on the products and techniques to better store, handle, and move products in your facility.

Steel shortages are coming; here’s how to avoid being impacted

February 22, 2008

Are you ready for 2004 all over again? the roller coaster ride of rising steel prices and surcharges may be on its way back.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, steel prices are rising amid tightened supplies and robust overseas demand. For industrial and warehousing operators (and for material handling companies like us) the implications are obvious: prices are going to increase and they are going to be volatile in 2008. According to the Journal, “The worst-case scenario could be a repeat of 2004, when manufacturers of many products, from automobiles to washing machines, faced severe steel shortages and record-high prices.” The price of hot-rolled steel has increased about 6% in the past two weeks. There is about a 3-month supply of steel remaining, and shortages are predicted.

The takeaway: if you’re considering a large capital project like a conveyor or rack system that utilizes lots of steel, the time to pull the trigger is probably now, not later, to avoid a large hit on escalating steel prices.

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Economic stimulus makes this a good time to implement facility upgrades

February 20, 2008

tax incentives for businessThe big news out of Washington the last couple of months has been on the tax rebate part of economic stimulus. What may have more impact on the economy, and will certainly have more impact on people in the warehousing or manufacturing business, are the business tax breaks that quietly came along with it. We’ll break them down into two primary areas…

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Free download: “10 Ways to use Material Handling to Increase Security”

January 17, 2008

material handling and security brochure

We have uploaded the (free!) PDF of our latest paper, “10 Ways to use Material Handling to Increase Security.” It’s a quick, 4-page read with an additional page on identification systems that can help you quickly sort out the nature of what is being conveyed for a higher level of security and efficiency. It’s free, printable, and worth your time. You might ask why a material handling company is concerned with security. I might ask why one wouldn’t be concerned with security. Sure, Cisco-Eagle doesn’t sell cameras or alarm systems. We don’t consult on personnel or security systems, but what we do is inseparable from  security, because the way you store and handle valuable items is impossible to separate from the way you secure them…

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Getting lean (but not mean) in your warehouse operation

December 30, 2007

cover for lean warehousing book

Sure, we’ve heard all the talk of lean manufacturing, but what about lean warehousing? I’ve been in facilities that have straightened production lines in pursuit of lean principles, and those lines included storage factors and materials handling, but I’ve never seen it specifically done in a distribution operation. Many warehousing operations have probably applied aspects of lean in the warehousing process, but how many have, from top to bottom, implemented a lean warehousing program?

The original concept of lean was designed for mass production of identical or similar items, so a straight conversion to warehousing, where volumes aren’t massive or standardized, isn’t a given. You can’t apply the science of lean exactly the same way, but you can definitely apply it.

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What Are OSHA’s Safety Standards for Mezzanines & Platforms?

December 11, 2007

We see a lot of structural mezzanines in our business in a range of facilities. They range from professionally manufactured to home-made, with quite a few fabricated by a local shop. It’s a good business for the fabrication shops (although maybe not so much for end-users, given the potential pitfalls), and if you go that route, you need to be sure your mezzanine fabricator is complying with OSHA & local safety regulations, particularly on guard railing, stairs and gates. You also have to look at local building codes. If your fabricator doesn’t routinely work with mezzanines, this is something you’ll have to do on your own. It’s not something to dismiss lightly.

The best policy is to look at established vendors if you don’t want to micro-manage the details of building permits, code compliance, and OSHA’s blessings.

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Along with the cost of a gallon of gas, your transportation costs are rising (but fuel isn’t the only reason)

November 14, 2007

It’s more immediate of course, when the cost at the pump jumps, but rising fuel costs are a reality in your shipping operations whether you are pushing product to customers or bringing it into your facility. We’ve all seen the fuel surcharges and continually-rising freight rates.

According to Operations & Fulfillment, labor developments may have just as much impact over the next few years. Over the next 5 years, the latest UPS contract amounts to a $9 per hour labor cost increase, which will certainly make its way downstream to shipping charges. Developments in other companies such as FedEx and labor negotiations across the shipping and freight world mean that even if fuel prices stabilize, it’ll cost you more to ship and receive products.

Curt Barry’s article at Operations & Fulfillment recommends some of the steps you can take:

  1. Look at transportation in the context of the total supply chain efficiency. (see Curt’s article for tips).
  2. Institute vendor compliance policies, include routing guides for inbound carriers. Do not permit vendor-controlled freight.
  3. For high returns businesses, use return services.
  4. Join an inbound freight consortium with contracted carriers and negotiated best rates.
  5. Do your homework. You have to understand your volume and shipping characteristics, etc.
  6. Consider a freight consultant, which can reduce costs 15% to 25%.

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Is supply chain sustainability more than a marketing ploy?

November 12, 2007

“Being a good steward of the environment and in our communities, and being an efficient and profitable business, are not mutually exclusive. In fact they are one in the same.”
— Lee Scott, CEO Wal-Mart, Twenty First Century Leadership, October 24, 2005

Whatever you believe about the issues surrounding climate change, sustainability, and all things “green”, there are certainly people paying attention, and if your business serves consumers, they may be paying attention to the way you conduct business, from the way you make things, handle them in your operations, ship, and handle them.

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