Bedeviled by Details

Jan. 1, 2001
Paying attention to material handling basics is the key to high-tech e-commerce success.

Bedeviled By Details

You’re considered a commodity and you’re treated like hell. At least it feels like hell. Your working environment is 100 degrees Fahrenheit, on average. You labor 24/7 next to a smelting operation in a motor manufacturing plant. You lift loads of molten metal weighing about 3,500 pounds. Finally, after toiling 3,000 hours in hell without complaint, something gives. Your horn.

You’re a lift truck, the workman’s warhorse. Some owners might figure, if your horn is the only thing hurting after such punishment, you must be ready for more. But the enlightened owners in this case weren’t managers from hell. They worked at Emerson Electric’s Humboldt, Tennessee, motor plant, and they didn’t waste a minute before calling their dealer, R&J Lift Truck Service, a TCM dealer in Alamo, Tennessee. Leon Latham, R&J sales manager, says this was the first service call they performed on this particular truck. This speaks well not only for the quality of today’s lift trucks, but for the smarts of the owners at the Emerson plant. They recognized how critical a working horn is to occupational safety.

So does the Industrial Truck Association. In fact, at the ITA’s fall meeting in Olympic Valley, California, members of the Accessories and Components Task Force agreed that completion of work on horns should take priority over any new projects. That’s why they’re developing a recommended practice for the durability of horns used on industrial trucks.

Why am I using my first editorial of 2001 to talk about horns when everybody in material handling seems to be concentrating on new retail fulfillment models? Because the operations built from such models can be brought to a screeching halt for lack of a functional lift truck horn. One of those new models is the home improvement warehouse superstore. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), recognizing that customers in such stores regularly cross paths with lift trucks, issued a press release recommending that retail organizations that have not yet implemented a comprehensive safety and training program educate employees in customer and employee safety. Sounding the horn in stocking situations where you’re approaching a blind intersection is basic but critical.

Customers also share ergonomic concerns when the workplace becomes the showplace. An article appearing in the ASSE Professional Safety Journal, "Protecting Retail Customers from Back Injury Risks," says "a back injury to a customer can occur when he is handed from a higher level a large object by an employee and then must lower it a long distance before it is level or resting on the floor."

Having a working horn and a trained operator are key to successful fulfillment, whether you run a warehouse superstore or a plant from hell. Yet they’re details that are often overlooked as e-commerce raises the performance bar. And you know what they say about details — the devil is in them.

That’s a line I took right out of ProMat’s 2001 Conference Planner. It describes a session on managing zone picking systems, one of the many seminars, workshops and tutorials offered at Chicago’s McCormick Place North, February 12-15. As you’ll read in this issue of MHM, material handling strategies are being discussed in the executive boardrooms of today’s leading companies. A CEO attending ProMat with his/her logistics managers will come to appreciate details like the importance of a horn to an operation’s success in sessions like "Industrial Truck Fleet Management." If that’s too devilish of a detail for your CEO, send him or her over to "E-Fulfillment: The Logistics Behind E-Commerce," an executive symposium offered free to all ProMat attendees. Go to for the details. There’s no devil in them, but a helluva good learning opportunity.

Tom Andel


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