Archives for November 2014

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.


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.

Thoughts from our editors.

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