In terms of how COVID-19 has shaped American consumer behavior, April 2021 seemed to represent a light at the end of a long tunnel shining clearer. Meanwhile, many stories from April 2021 took stock of the impact of specialized sectors of the bulk material handling industry.
The increased demands for particular ingredients are influencing manufacturers to ramp up prices in the months to come. A particularly detrimental year in cybersecurity has increased the need for the U.S. government to take specific action. Robotics technology continues to benefit manufacturing settings and products in the plastics industry may exhibit increased sustainability due to new scientific development. Here are 11 bulk material handling headlines you almost missed from April.
Manufacturing expanded faster in March than in 17 years
Both the “firm orders and production readings” of March 2021 lead Bloomberg to declare that manufacturing had surged last month in a way that hasn’t been seen since 1983. As pandemic restrictions loosened, fiscal relief and increased vaccinations met increasing business demands in the U.S. These factors helped the country started to mirror an economic recovery seen in other parts of the world.
Supply chain stability the focus of “COVID lessons” op-ed
After a full year of quarantining through a pandemic (and consumer attitudes shifting as relief from restrictions looks clearer), there was no shortage of news items recapping business lessons learned from the last 12 months. One op-ed from Ray Grady through Industrial Equipment News explained how modernizing supply chain processes can introduce lasting impacts and high ROI:
“The pandemic has shown all industries — particularly manufacturing — that the time to get agile and efficient is now,” the piece by Grady read. “COVID-19 has also underscored that one of the best ways to prepare for the next crisis is to automate. That’s because automation is an important component of supply chain stability.”
You can read more about supply chain stability (and a few major options related to it) in a free AZO guide.
EPA fines adhesive manufacturer for chemical safety violations
Failing to properly inspect and maintain both storage tanks and pipes is what led ITW Polymers Sealants to pay $345,000 to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Massachusetts-based adhesive manufacturer had allegedly violated the “Clean Air Act” as such storage tanks contained toxic and highly flammable substances that were transferred through pipes.
Robotics introduced benefits to manufacturing through pandemic
The dichotomy between a jump in some 50,000 positions in the manufacturing sector (created in the past year) and there being still nearly half a million fewer employed manufacturing workers than there were in the industry than last year was a comparison explored by NBC News last month. Behind these numbers sits a realization many manufacturers faced during the pandemic when social distancing concerns led to ramped-up automation and more digitized controls: repeatability and accuracy can increase significantly with more automation and robotics are implemented into processes.
Sources from the story indicate that the high upfront cost for developing and implementing machines in factories was “compensated” by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which discouraged human work. Others claim that, in its current state, robotics can truly only implemented as tools that warehouse workers will use (rather than replacing human workers) as humans will still be needed to check in trucks, open doors and activate such robots to perform functions.
Post-pandemic prices rising in bread, cleaning supplies and other ingredients
April 15, 19, 20
It was speculated by global business site Quartz that a higher cost of producing bread came about through direct higher logistics and labor costs following COVID disruptions over the past year. In addition, flour prices (which fell during the first half of 2020) have since grown nearly 10%, arguably contributing to this bump.
As some simple products become more expensive, concerns over possible inflation meet the rising of U.S. prices in general. Two major companies that also have publicly stated their plans to increase product prices include Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble. As companies inevitably aim to source lower-cost product, machinery more capable of handling various amounts of supplies could become increasingly more critical. Bulk purchase and delivery options could also help a manufacturer subside certain costs during the post-pandemic period.
Google brings Cloud Data Analytics to partnership with Siemens
Siemens’ Digital Industries Factory Automation portfolio is about to receive a helping hand from Google. It was announced last month that Google Cloud data analytics and AI capabilities will be integrated through a partnership aimed at making it easier for manufacturers to address factory automation topics such as quality control and energy efficiency.
New taskforce compiled by U.S. Justice Department to prevent future ransomware attacks
Following what was reportedly the most costly year for cyberattacks in American history (fueled in part by state-backed Russian intelligence agencies), The Justice Department has compiled a unique task force aiming to “unify efforts across the federal government” in order to halt future ransomware attacks.
As these breaches can lead to significant supply chain disruptions, news sources representing various corners of the bulk material handling world are pitching in with stories specifically aimed to help curb the chances that these threats could exploit more manufacturers.
Sizeable developments in eco-friendly plastic made by Berkeley
As efforts to combat increasing levels of plastic waste start making waves for mass adoption with some bigger companies, a team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have released a study illustrating how manufacturers could utilize an entirely new plastic that could allegedly increase sustainability of products long-term. Poly (diketoenamine), or “PDK,” is made through a process using plant material fermented by “engineered microbes” and could lead to increased sustainability for energy, carbon and water intensity of production and recycling.
Modern pressures of pet food industry the talk of Food Engineering podcast
The pressure to provide high-quality product to pet food operations was the focus of Food Engineering’s April podcast episode featuring Scott Knowlton, the area sales manager of Protein with TOMRA food. Knowlton described how critical the balance is between meeting standards that customers demand and \controlling economic constraints of profitability.
“Pet food is a growing market — almost 10% in 2020 and projected as high as 5% to 6% in 2021,” Knowlton said during the show. “Producers are under pressure to provide even higher quality product pressed by the same standards of safety and production that the biggest food companies adhere to. You have both big and small players all vying for a part of this category. In the growth of organic and specialty pet food, you see that competition is exerting pressure across all categories.”
In line with the plethora of news stories recapping lessons from the pandemic, the guest described how having the right equipment not only allows a manufacturer to provide a quality product, but that it also “secures your brand from avoidable quality issues.”
9 facilities faced fires in April
April 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 20, 21 and 27
Unfortunately, April saw 9 facility fires affect various industries in the bulk ingredient handling world. As always, it is crucial for companies to do all that they can to prioritize keeping their employees safe. Dust mitigation is a critical concern that should be properly addressed in order to prevent these incidents from occurring.
The NFPA sets critical guidelines for manufacturers in material handling industries, and we at AZO have compiled their work into various forms of content to be easily accessed on our site. Below are 9 cases of facility fires and when they were reported this past month:
- April 6 at a cymbal manufacturing plant in Norwell, MA. All workers evacuated the plant safely. Dust, made up of a special compound that is used for polishing the cymbals, overheated in the dust collector, according to coverage by The Boston Globe.
- April 7 at a specialty products plant in Winslow Township, NJ. No injuries were logged. The reason for the fire was not explicitly reported but the area where the fire was located reportedly did not have fire hydrant service.
- April 8 at a chemicals facility in Channelview, TX. One worker was taken to the hospital as a precaution. Allegedly, the incident started as product was being transferred between drums, but a report is underway to investigate the exact cause of such a flame that caused smoke to reach local doppler radar systems.
- April 12 at a foods plant in Robards, KY. No injuries occurred. The fire reportedly broke out on a cooker.
- April 20 at a grain elevator in Grand Forks, ND. No injuries were reported. A mechanical failure in a piece of equipment may have started the blaze, according to reports.
- April 21 at a sugar plant in Baltimore, MD. No injuries occurred as many employees were rescued by fireboat. A larger investigation is underway, but the fire is said to have originated in a storage shed that contains raw sugar. The blaze made its way to a conveyor belt, traveled up the conveyor and destroyed a storage silo.
- April 21 at a power plant in Sheboygan, WI. No injuries were logged. The cause was not explicitly reported, but crews arrived at the facility to find smoke in a dust collector, television news station WBAY said.
- April 27 at a chemicals production plant in El Paso, TX. No injuries were reported. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but firefighters said in local news coverage that a semi-truck was possibly involved in the blaze.
Facility fires outside of the U.S. included:
- April 5 at a grain silo in Vancouver, Canada. One worker received swerve burns. Engineers reportedly referred to the incident as a dust explosion.
4 facilities experienced explosions in April
April 8, 12 and 23
Just one month after the NFPA released an informational video reminding us that hundreds of combustible dust explosions occur in the U.S. each year, 2 particularly damaging facility explosions took place on American soil. Another explosion occurred at a facility in Pakistan. Here are 3 explosions that took place during April 2021 and when they were reported:
- April 8 at a paint production plant in Columbus, OH. 8 workers were injured and one lost their life from the blast. An investigation into the cause of the fire is reportedly underway, but reports indicate that there were many chemicals present at the facility.
- April 23 at a carbon plant near Coushatta, LA. Two workers suffered burn injuries. Officials are reportedly investigating the cause of the incident.
- April 29 at a chemical company plant in Affton, MO. No injuries were logged, but local residents told local news that they heard several explosions. The cause of the fire was not available at press time.
Facility explosions outside of the U.S. included:
- April 12 at a chemical plant in Lahore, Pakistan. Two people were reportedly injured during the incident. The cause was not reported but several parts of the facility were destroyed as multiple boilers exploded.
It's never a bad time to ask questions regarding dust mitigation, plant maintenance or how to upgrade your facility to increase efficiency. AZO has more than seven decades of experience in handling raw materials and shaping ingredient automation along the way. Feel free to contact our sales team for any questions on how to help your plant and processes run smoothly.