Chain of Thought

ProMat Report: On Accentuating Existing Capacity

Analysts keep their eyes on industrial capacity utilization to gauge industry health. If they had walked the ProMat show floor the last few days, they might feel a surge of hope. Many exhibitors were demonstrating ways to improve industrial capacity—making best use of what’s already under industry’s roofs and on its delivery routes.

In his company’s opening-day press conference, Doug Keith, president of Siemens Industry, Drives Technology Div., said he believes North America is on the cusp of a manufacturing renaissance. It already represents 25% of the world’s economy, he said, and between now and 2018 it will represent 20% of its total GDP growth. He added that his company is investing in what it will take to keep that going—in the form of $50 million a year spent on job training and in science, technology, industry and manufacturing education.

As I walked the show floor, in visit after visit, exhibitors were explaining how their innovations were helping support the human and capital resources necessary to maintaining economic health. Many of the innovations on display showed visitors who were still struggling with economic uncertainty how to get more productivity of their existing infrastructure.

John Lee, vertical marketing manager at Nilfisk Advance was showing his company’s new fuel-cell-powered floor scrubbers. The idea was to target the existing base of manufacturers and distributors that have already made a substantial investment in a hydrogen infrastructure supplied by Plug Power to support their fleets of fuel-cell-powered lift trucks.

These sweepers are designed to run an entire shift on a single fueling, and are already being used at a 600,000 sq ft, three-shift operation along with a fleet of like-powered lift trucks. Lee said maintenance is simplified and safety is magnified because these scrubbers are designed to control “fugitive dust” in such large industrial environments. As the floor is scrubbed, dust that rises is blown back down by dust guards and swept up. This is especially important where ignition sources pose a combustible dust threat.

Another example of making best use of existing resources in the industrial tuck world was demonstrated to me at the Hyster booth by the company’s president, Jonathan Dawley. He noted that e-commerce is constantly changing the configuration of distribution environments and that calls for multi-purpose equipment. He showed me a turret truck that can be used as a multi-purpose vehicle, not only as a dedicated-aisle vehicle in a dense storage system, but in other general-use applications. He also showed off new electric vehicles that can be used both indoors and outdoors.

Thom Peebles, director of brand management for NACCO Materials Handling Group, addressed flexibility of financing options, including a trend toward paying for the equipment hours you use.

Back to another example of an innovation making best use of existing infrastructure, Tim McInerney, Product Manager at Sealed Air Corporation, was showcasing the benefits of Restore, protective packaging material made from mycelium (the root-like structure of mushrooms). It’s home compostable, meaning that after it has done its duty protecting a shipment, it can be taken to any of the more than 600 composting facilities in the U.S. to return the material to nature. The reason “home” compostable is notable is that there are still few industrial composting sites available, so the existing residential composting infrastructure can fill in for that void in the transport packaging space.

I’ll fill you in on more from the ProMat floor in my next blog. Gotta get back there now.


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