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Witt's End: Easy Come, Easy Go

Sept. 1, 2008
There's that nagging bottom-line problem to consider.

What you lose on the swings you can make up on the merry-go-round. Recently, I read a notice that giant packaging-material supplier Sonoco will implement a $50-per-ton price increase for all uncoated recycled paperboard products in the U.S. and Canada.

As we all know, reusing things—in this instance, recycled paperboard—is a good thing. As the company announcement said, “In most cases, the price increase will take the place of a previously announced energy surcharge that…”

So, another cliché that fits here is “pay me now or pay me later.” Sonoco is not the only company struggling to cover burgeoning fuel costs by creating new revenue streams that will keep the financial balance sheet in balance—or at least in suspended animation. Just another example of the yangst (a word coined by my wife that combines a feeling of being yanked by the neck, with angst) plaguing mangers these days.

Doing the green, or sustainable, thing is the right thing to do; it even shows promise of paying off in the long run. In the short run, however, there’s that nagging bottom-line problem to consider. Consequently, when a company embraces the idea of taking greater responsibility for the environment, it often seeks resources to help. The message coming from the experts these days is: Making do, or improving what you have, can be a major part of sustainability. It fits with that lean agenda many companies have already adopted.

Elsewhere in this magazine, you’ll find stories and thoughts about retrofitting—a growing subset within sustainability. One of the better reasons for retrofitting rather than building a new facility came from Larry Tyler, president of K-Tec, Wickliffe, Ohio. He told me that he senses managers are redefining the role of the warehouse, particularly in the manufacturing arena. They are seeking alternatives to business as usual. “Companies are now making a more balanced attack, blending manual with automated equipment,” he says. “They’re searching for alternatives to singleapproach material handling methods.”

He adds that the challenge, for example, is to combine conveyors with lift trucks and manual handling equipment to create a safe and productive workplace.

Clyde E. Witt Editor-in-Chief [email protected]

Rather than have a fleet of lift trucks scurrying around the warehouse, it might make better sense to keep the lift trucks on the perimeter of the floor and take assembly parts to the line with carts, he suggests. (Full disclosure here: K-Tec does make carts and other manual handling equipment.) In a situation in which there are aisle constraints, as you might find when converting an existing facility to narrow, or very-narrow-aisle storage, enhancing the flow of order picking with manual picking rather than automated picking might be more practical.

So, this new idea continues to be an old idea from the last century—a more cellular approach to manufacturing, with an additional meaning for this century. It’s still about making better use of equipment you have by understanding the needs of your product line and employees. Only now we’ve mixed in sustainability to add some assurance of a future.

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