Youre a Hot Topic

Ever get the feeling people were talking about you? Well, they were last month in Charlotte, North Carolina. That’s where the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) held its spring meeting, and you, its customers, were a topic of conversation at several of the product section meetings. MHIA figures, if they can find out what keeps you from investing in their members’ equipment and systems, they can help you find ways to improve your productivity.

If you attended the NA 2004 Material Handling and Logistics show in Cleveland recently, you might have been handed a questionnaire asking about your attitude toward automated material handling. One of MHIA’s key findings from that survey was your response to this question: What are your principal barriers/hurdles to automated handling and storage system deployment? The most common response: availability of capital/inability to justify.

That response was good fodder for discussion at several MHIA product section meetings in Charlotte. At the Integrated Systems and Controls meeting, guest speaker Trevor Cusworth of Hagen & Company, Marblehead, Massachusetts, did a presentation on his firm’s approach to "True Accounting." In a nutshell, he said downtime and constraints are built into company budgets. They’re considered a cost of doing business. The problem is, these constrained budgets keep companies from looking at innovative alternatives to solving complex business problems. The methodology outlined during the ISC meeting emphasized the dollar value of potential improvements, not the cost of a piece of capital equipment. That’s factored in after opportunity is identified.

In the Ergonomic Assist Systems and Equipment (EASE) meeting, members were trying to put into words the value proposition that comes with an investment in their equipment. The goal of this exercise was to help you make a compelling business case to your company’s financial gurus.

Ed Romaine of Remstar International said that to a chief financial officer, ergonomics is often seen as a "nice to have," not a need. That’s why, whether you're talking about lift assist devices or vertical carousels, you need to talk the CFO’s language: ROI, uptime and productivity.

Jim Galante of Southworth International added that ergonomics can be sold on making the job easier, but repeat investments come from sustained productivity. And once documented, the savings of lower healthcare and workers’ comp costs add to the case for ergonomics, concluded Tom Carbott, representing MHIA.

In the Conveyor Section meeting, members talked about the cost of delayed projects, particularly the delays caused by elevator inspectors who halt the installation of vertical reciprocating conveyors because they consider VRCs elevators, thus, their territory. Indeed, many inspectors consider VRCs a cheap form of elevator, and potentially dangerous. What about the ASME B20.1 safety standard for conveyors and related equipment? Certainly this document should convince those pesky elevator guys that VRCs are meant to move products, not people. Don’t bet on it. The only documentation elevator inspectors know is the A17 elevator safety code.

That’s why the members of the Conveyor Section are reviewing an updated version of "Application Guidelines for VRCs," which was written to provide more comprehensive safety guidelines and, when produced along with ASME B20.1, should convince reasonable elevator inspectors that thorough safety procedures are top-of-mind to the managers of a project in question. The question is, how reasonable are your state’s elevator inspectors?

So, yes, MHIA was talking about you at its spring meeting. MHM will continue to report back to you on the progress of their continuing dialogue and how it will help you improve your material handling management.

Tom Andel, chief editor

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