River Rouge Revisited?

By DC Velocity | November 20, 2014 | 12:28 PM

About a month and a half ago, I had the opportunity to tour forklift company MCFA's newly expanded manufacturing facility in Houston. My generous hosts/tour guides were buzzing about the continuing growth of the electric lift truck market and innovative manufacturing techniques. But what struck me the most was the amount of welding and iron bending going on there and just how many of their components were made, if not in MCFA's own plant, than at least nearby.

I found that interesting because when I began covering the supply chain space, I spent many hours in dimly lit conference rooms looking at old, black-and-white photos of Henry Ford's River Rouge Complex and being told that we were moving past that kind of vertical integration to a world of outsourced supply chains that span the globe.

But MCFA is far from being a maverick. Instead the pendulum of change seems to be swinging back. Now companies are talking about regional manufacturing, and the buzz about offshoring has been transformed into a buzz about reshoring or near shoring. I guess everything that was old is new again. MIT, for one, suggests that this is less about a revival in American manufacturing and more about changes in the supply chain.

Are forklift manufacturers on the forefront of this trend? MCFA's efforts to manufacture more lift trucks and parts in the United States is certainly fairly new, but Crown Equipment Corp. has a long history of "vertically integrated manufacturing" that it's quite proud of. I will be interested to hear if this trend is evident in other parts of the material handling industry.

—Susan Lacefield
associate editor

Preparing the workforce of the future

By David Maloney | November 10, 2014 | 6:01 PM | Categories: Material Handling, Warehousing

Those who attended the MHI Fall conference in San Diego last month heard one theme repeated through many of the sessions - how difficult it is becoming to find quality people. And the situation is expected to become even worse in the future.

Colleges are just not turning out enough skilled managers to fill the ranks of the future supply chain. The colleges and universities themselves say that they do not have enough qualified instructors to teach budding supply chain practitioners. The lure of industry is keeping many from pursuing PhD's and entering the world of academia. 

Supply chain technicians - those who install and repair warehouse technology - are also becoming rare at a time when automation is seeing dramatic growth rates within facilities.

While many companies are bemoaning the dirth of talent coming into the pipeline, one company is doing something about it. Baldor is investing in its future by helping to develop the robotics program at the University of Arkansas-Ft. Smith campus.

I attended the Baldor Publishers event last week at Baldor headquaters in Fort Smith, Ark. It was a gathering of editors and publishers from magazines that cover the various industries that use Baldor motors, drives, and robotics. During the meeting, we were bussed to the U of A campus to meet with some of the students of the robotics program and to experience their enthusiasm. The classes meet in the Baldor Technology Center building on the campus, further evidence of the company's support of education.

The eighteen students in the class worked in teams of two, with each team manning one of nine small tabletop robots supplied by ABB, the parent company of Baldor. The students had programmed the robots to do a number of tasks, some of which could simulate warehouse or manufacturing operations, such as picking up objects on one part of the table and moving them to a process represented at another spot on the tabletop.

One pair of students had programmed their robot to move ping pong balls from one set of egg cartons to another, simulating a picking operation. Another pair had their robot draw with a pen. And one more pair had attached a child's golf club to the robot and programmed it to put a ball across their worktable.

The range of student ages was also encouraging. While most were of the usual student age of around 20, several students were older and in their 40s or 50s. These were obviously workers retraining for new job skills.

A steady stream of skilled designers and technicians graduate the program every year, with many of them finding a home at nearby Baldor. Baldor is making an investment in the future that pays dividends over and over again.


By Mark Solomon | October 27, 2014 | 7:56 AM
Move the STB Needle, Please!

In July 2011, the National Industrial Transportation League proposed rules to give captive rail shippers the opportunity to have their traffic switched to another carrier if certain conditions were met. The proposal, to us, seemed reasonable: Shippers would have to prove they could not be served by other modes or another railroad.And the switch would not occur if the originating railroad could prove the practice was unsafe, or if it harmed existing rail service.

This post, though, is not about the proposal's merits. Rather, it questions why, after nearly 3 1/2 years, the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that oversee the rail industry, has done nothing with this other than assign the case a docket number and ask for initial comments. There has been no rulemaking, nor has there been a decision by the STB to even determine if one should begin.

The STB's inaction has drawn the attention of Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), David Vitter (R-La.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who in early October sent a letter to Chairman Dan Elliott asking to explain its foot-dragging. As of this post, STB has not replied to our request for an explanation, nor has it commented on if it responded to the letter.

We are not fully privy to the robustness of the STB docket. But it's hard to imagine it being so busy as to be unable to render a decision on a rulemaking in 27 months. It even has a model to go by: In Canada, switching rules are required by law and have been in place for decades.

The STB's action only reinforces the perception that it, like its predecessor the Interstate Commerce Commission, is little more than a handmaiden of the railroads. The knee-jerk reaction of the powerful rail lobby, meanwhile, is to warn of re-regulation and, for the most part, give the shipping community the back of its collective hand. The rails have behaved like this for 120 or so years. It was this arrogant attitude, combined with their refusal to give shippers relief from their transport monopoly, that drove President Theodore Roosevelt to ram rail regulation through Congress in the early 1900s.

Our advice for the rails is to tread lightly. Folks on Capitol Hill are well aware of the industry's year-long service problems, and their stubborn refusal to work with NIT League on competitive access rules isn't likely to sit well. The STB may be in the rails' corner, but if Congress decides to act, the support of a small federal agency won't matter very much.

Forget leaning in, we all need to look up

By Mitch Mac Donald | September 29, 2014 | 9:33 AM | Categories: Transportation

As so often noted, the deluge of business information that streams to us (or at us) everyday has never been greater or more daunting to manage. It will be, though. As technology advances and the means by which we invite and accept information grows, so too will the ferocity of the content deluge.

 From websites to magazines to mobile apps to social media, the content streams are multiple and it seems multiplying. This is all well and good if you have a strategy in place to filter through all the content to find that which you really like, and want, and need. But even with such a strategy in place, there’s still going to be something missing. Something all our technology and all our devices can’t replace.

This comes to mind while reflecting on a phenomenal four days last week in San Antonio at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professional’s Annual Global Conference. The preeminent association for supply chain thought leadership did it again. It provided nearly 3,000 attendees an unparalleled bounty of some of the best content available.

One comment, though, from a bright young supply chain professional, made me wonder how many folks today “get it,” and I don’t mean get content, I mean really “get it.” This young professional noted that the event was good, but they were still looking for information (content) that the conference and show afforded that they couldn't get with a quick search on the Internet. 

Wondering how many others in San Antonio, and all those others who didn’t attend this year’s AGC, shared this young person’s view, I realized that in today’s hyper-connected world, many folks don’t “get it.” It’s not because they aren’t smart. It’s not because they don’t want to succeed. And it is certainly not because they don’t want it. They just don’t “get it.”

They don’t get it because they have lost sight of the value of looking someone in the eye rather than at their LinkedIn profile. They don’t get it because even when at the ultimate gathering of supply chain executives, thought leaders, and subject matter experts, they spend the majority of their waking hours nose down, eyes fixed on their phones, tablets, and other devices. They don’t “get it,” and they are missing something important. In fact, they may be missing what in the modern business day might be the single greatest value a gathering like CSCMP’s annual conference and show brings: live, real-time, actual human-to-human interaction.

While discussing this with some other attendees, one actually brought up one of my own Outbound columns in DC Velocity from February of 2013 wherein I asked, "Are you connecting or just connecting?"

Another suggested a YouTube video that makes the point particularly well. It’s called “Look Up,” and it is possibly the single best piece of advance anyone will offer you this year. Watch it here and let me know if you agree: "Look Up."


- Mitch Mac Donald,

Group Editorial Director

DCV editors will begin blogging

By Peter Bradley | September 15, 2014 | 3:00 AM | Categories: Material Handling, Transportation, Warehousing

    Since 2003, DC Velocity has brought its readers stories designed to help material handling, logistics, transportation, and supply chain executives do their jobs better. Whether its the latest on transportation regulation, the newest developments in warehousing management systems, news on the innovative products for distribution efficiency, or leading thinking on issues like network design or business resilience, our editors have brought news and information to keep readers ahead of the game.

We've also changed with the times, offering a robust web site and a series of e-newsletters to bring news and information far more frequently than the monthly magazine. Now, in the latest extension of our effort to engage readers, our editors will begin blogging. One or more of our editors will post a blog on what they have seen, heard, or read--or what they consider vital or just plain interesting about the areas we cover--every week. We trust that this effort will add greater value to our readers and deepen the trust we've spent more than a decade working to develop.

This is a timely week to begin. Next week, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals will hold its annual conference in San Antonio. We'll have a full team of editors there to bring you news of some of the latest thinking we hear at seminars, on the show floor, or in conversations along the way. Stay tuned.

-Peter Bradley, Editorial Director, DCV Velocity and CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly


The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

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