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Material Handling & Supply Chain Technology

Material Handling & Supply Chain Technology is the place for conversation and discussion about conveyors, overhead handling; purchasing & logistics; warehousing & distribution; lift trucks, loading docks & AGVs. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

A Growing Role for Automated Pipeline Pigging Systems

Posted March 25, 2017 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Pigging is a routine maintenance procedure that plays a critical role in oil and gas pipelines for mitigating and monitoring internal corrosion, and for preserving safety and integrity. Extensive time and manpower requirements associated with manual pigging systems have become problematic, so many pipeline companies are turning to automation.


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1 comments; last comment on 03/27/2017
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Sensor Provides Immediate Detection of Lead

Posted December 21, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

The technology, a handheld device used for one-time testing of lead in tap water, can also be integrated into water meters and purifiers with the goal of continuous monitoring. In addition to lead, the technology can be adapted to test for other chemical signatures, such as mercury, arsenic, and E. coli bacteria.


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3 comments; last comment on 12/22/2016
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You May Never Go Grocery Shopping Ever Again

Posted December 07, 2016 11:11 AM by HUSH

I typically bring my own lunch to work, but today I must venture out in the masses to forage for nutrition. Yesterday’s bi-weekly, Monday-evening grocery trip was superseded by holiday shopping, of course.

Grocery shopping sucks and I hate it. I find few things as tedious as slow strolls through aisles of food, buying basically the same stuff week-after-week. And I don't live in one of the cool states that allows you to buy a 'walking around beer' as you shop.

Unlike most other forms of shopping, grocery shopping has been resistant to e-commerce, and for a variety of reasons. Traditional parcel carriers aren’t optimal because distribution centers aren’t close enough to get fresh food to customers quickly, and food might not survive the Tetris game of boxes in the back of a truck. Chilled goods also need insulated packaging, adding shipping expense.

With a few exceptions, grocery stores don’t typically deliver. This is because supermarket profit margins are extra-small (about 1%), and order picking by an employee and last-mile delivery add expenses that would make grocery delivery unacceptably expensive for the customer. As of yet, drones haven’t filled the delivery void, though they soon could.

What it takes to make e-grocery shopping a reality is a deep-pocketed, entrenched online retailer to provide a solution. Enter Amazon. Last summer, Amazon re-launched its Amazon Fresh service in eight U.S. markets, and continues to roll-it out in more areas as it invests in refrigerated warehousing and delivery trucks. There is a significant charge up-front, nearly $300, but after witnessing an Amazon Fresh delivery at my brother’s home last week, I say the convenience can’t be beat.

Users browse for their groceries on the Amazon Marketplace, and [reputedly] the prices are similar to or cheaper than a grocery store. Users pay online and select how they like their groceries delivered by dedicated Amazon trucks. Selecting a one-hour delivery window requires a person to be present to accept the delivery. Users who select three-hour delivery windows find insulated cooler totes on their porch awaiting them; the totes will be exchanged with full ones upon your next delivery.

Even under this current system, it’s hard to see Amazon Fresh profitable, at least to begin. But by starting Amazon Fresh now, they are the first to market as an online grocer, and are in an excellent position to move to a delivery chain of autonomous autos, drones, and robots once such a supply chain is possible.

Current competition to Amazon Fresh is meager. Safeway Inc., a regional, Midwest -based grocer, is the most established competitor and has offered online grocery ordering and delivery since 2002, but is a regional chain that only offers it on the west coast and in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. WalMart stores around the U.S. are beginning to offer online ordering, but customers need to pick up groceries themselves.

Amazon Fresh is just the tip of Amazon’s grocery initiatives. This week, the company also announced plans for 2,000 Amazon Go convenience stores around the U.S. These stores will feature Just-Walk-Out technology, which utilizes machine vision, sensors, and AI so customers never have to visit a point-of-sale. Instead, they sign in with their phones, select items, and then leave.

It definitely seems as though major changes to the grocery supply chain are impending, and if it can eliminate the regular grocery trips, or even just the order picking process, I will be forever grateful.

14 comments; last comment on 12/09/2016
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Making the Move to Material Handling Automation: 5 Lessons

Posted November 06, 2016 12:00 AM by ahorner_22
Pathfinder Tags: automation material handling

As we finalize our transition to an automated material handling system in our NJ headquarters, here are some of the lessons we learned in the process:

Use process optimization as a bridge to automation:

Over a period of a few years we evaluated our processes to see where we could make improvements prior to transitioning. We found we could more than double our picking efficiency by moving to a zone picking scheme with a second order consolidation process.

Don’t trust the architectural drawings:

Because we coordinated our implementation with the move to a new facility, we were developing plans for a facility that we had never occupied. The drawings for the building were helpful but we learned they weren’t precise enough to depend on. You have to actually measure distances rather than relying on drawings. This helped us avoid major problems during the deployment.

Expect the unexpected:

Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. We planned carefully and had few surprises, but once you get into a project you realize that there are always going to be things you didn’t plan for. Accounting for this can prevent delays.

Know your competencies:

We are an engineering company so we made the decision to manage a good deal of the system integration ourselves. For some parts we had to bring in outside expertise to fully leverage our capabilities. Companies that don’t have engineering as a core competency will have to rely more on outside resources for systems engineering.

Find the visionaries:

Collaboration is key. If you get lucky, you may find some visionaries within your personnel- the people who don’t just do the job they are told to do, but are always on the lookout for better ways to do their job. These visionaries can be extremely valuable during the planning phase.

Editor's Note: This is a sponsored post by Todd Radwell, Senior VP of Operations and Engineering for Radwell International.

1 comments; last comment on 11/07/2016
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Ways to Maintain a Safe Warehouse Environment – Part 2

Posted July 17, 2016 12:00 AM by ahorner_22
Pathfinder Tags: safety warehouse safety

EVERYONE HAS A ROLE IN MAINTAINING SAFE CONDITIONS: Any employee witnessing a potentially unsafe condition or practice in the warehouse is expected to report the observed condition or practice to a warehouse manager. This gives the management team an opportunity to provide additional training where needed to continue to help maintain a safe working environment. It truly is everyone’s job to maintain a safe workplace.

ALWAYS BE CAUTIOUS IN THE WAREHOUSE: A warehouse is a busy, often noisy and crowded environment with many different roles, job functions and people involved in the process. It is always important to exercise caution whenever traversing the warehouse. Failure to exercise caution can have serious consequences.

It is important that everyone works together and helps insure that safety procedures are in place and being practiced throughout a warehouse environment. Although no environment is ever perfect, by making every effort to follow basic safety tips, everyone can benefit from a positive and productive working environment.

For more on warehouse safety, read Part 1 of this series.

Editor's Note: This is a sponsored blog post compiled by Julie Basello for Radwell International. Contributors: Jim Malia, Gary Wenrich.

4 comments; last comment on 07/24/2016
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