Every once in a while material handling makes news outside its industry boundaries. Many incidents that grabbed the outside world's attention in the last couple years involved wood pallets, believe it or not. I was reminded of this when I heard that Bruce Scholnick died. While he was president and CEO of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA), MH&L interviewed him many times about controversies connecting wood pallets to food and drug contamination and even tree infestations.
My most recent conversation with Bruce earlier this year focused on a story making the media rounds at the time stating that tree-hungry beetles were hitching rides to the U.S. inside wooden pallets and crates shipped from Asia. He passionately defended his industry's role in making sure that didn't happen, citing ISPM 15 (International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures no. 15), an international regulation that requires all wood packaging to be heat treated to 56 degrees centigrade at its core for a minimum duration of 30 minutes to kill any creatures hiding within.
Bruce will be missed. However, lately I've noticed the material handling world grabbing for mainstream attention even without his help. Here are a few examples:
• The first I'll cite involves pallets again, but this time, plastic ones. Deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department “Plastic Industrial Theft Task Force” busted a theft ring last month at So Cal Plastics, an Anaheim, CA, business that had achieved a reputation as a site where stolen trademark plastic pallets, trays and containers could be fenced and ground up to make them untraceable. Approximately $450,000 in stolen plastic products were found, some in a ground-up state, while some were still intact. This Task Force has recovered more than $5 million in stolen trademark plastic over the past year. Officials say those losses are then passed along to consumers, who end up paying higher prices for any goods shipped on a plastic pallet or in a container. The good news is that pallets equipped with RFID tags and GPS transponders help the authorities identify the original owners so these assets can be returned. The head of p.r. for iGPS, a major supplier of plastic pallets, told me that this tracking technology is starting to be recognized by those who would steal their pallets and is actually deterring theft.
• In another story involving transport packaging, Sealed Air announced that its protective packaging encapsulated a NASA space shuttle simulator on its final journey from Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to the Seattle Museum of Flight. The wooden simulator was used to train astronauts in the space shuttle program since the 1970s. It weighs nearly 25,000 pounds. The crew compartment, which is the part of the trainer most closely resembling the real shuttle, was transported via air in NASA's Super Guppy, a plane designed to carry outsized cargo. More than 30 fabricated Ethafoam military grade polyethylene foam blocks (each measuring 12-inches by 12-inches) and more than 500 pounds of Instapak polyurethane foam protected the trainer. After the blocks were positioned, two cranes lowered the trainer's crew compartment into a basket and held it while foam-in-place was applied to the sides, back and nose of the trainer. The crew compartment arrived in excellent condition. Not only will the simulator be re-used for educational purposes, but all of the foam materials used to protect it during shipment will be recycled.
• The next example of material handling and logistics getting mainstream attention involves the 2012 Olympics, to be held in London. DHL Express announced it has partnered with JogPost to add “jogging” couriers to its workforce to address two logistical challenges: maneuvering around traffic congestion in London and accessing areas temporarily blocked from vehicle traffic during the games. “Traffic is estimated to increase on London's core pickup and delivery routes by more than 30%, so this carbon-efficient method provides the perfect solution to the issue of congestion,” said Ian Clough, CEO of DHL Express U.S. Throughout the Games, DHL Express will have a dedicated Operations Control Center working around the clock to monitor changes to the network and localized congestion. This will help them adapt network plans.
• My final example is another London-based story. It shows that material handling is even important to Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen. Columbus McKinnon announced that Bruce's production team uses its American-made Lodestar hoists for staging equipment in the big arenas hosting his E Street Band's "Wrecking Ball Tour." There are nine 2-ton and twenty-five 1-ton hoists at work. But after one performance in London last week, Springsteen learned the importance of bringing his own generator too. During the finale, surprise guest Paul McCartney joined Springsteen on stage to jam some classic Beatles tunes. Going way past the band's three-hour curfew, the arena they were playing started getting complaints about the noise—so management dutifully shut off the power to the sound system. I think they needed those hoists to put the fans' jaws back in place after they all dropped.
That ends my material-handling-in-the-headlines tour. Now whenever any of your friends yawn when you tell them your job involves material handling and logistics, offer them this beetles to Beatles p.r. guide. Then don't be surprised if they whip out their iPhone to take their own Google-guided tour of your world.