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Archive for November, 2008

Lessons to be Learned from the Auto Industry Meltdown

November 17, 2008 By: CartPro Category: Automotive Industry, Business Tips, Future Trends, Material Handling, Safety and Ergonomics

The plight of the American automobile industry should serve as a cautionary tale for all U.S. manufacturers and businesses. To survive in today’s global marketplace, you must be flexible, embrace change, and constantly re-shape your business to meet future trends. Survival is as much about preparing your business for the future as it is about being competitive today.

Detroit’s problems are complex and have been exacerbated by a 15% sales drop as the economy has worsened, but at their core is the failure of U.S. auto executives to acknowledge the trend toward more fuel-efficient cars and to innovate. Rather than meeting the challenge posed by rising well-made, fuel-efficient Asian competition, Detroit continued business as usual, putting its efforts into advertising and Congressional lobbying to support bigger, better, fuel-guzzling cars. And until the rising cost of gas bit us in the wallet, the American public played along.

The sad thing is that back in 2000 Detroit did flirt with a program to push fuel-efficient vehicles but abandoned the effort as too expensive and unnecessary. It makes you wonder if the auto industry would be in cardiac arrest today if industry leaders had had the foresight to imagine the future and the courage to make the hard decisions necessary to prepare for it.

In the material handling industry, DJ Products faced this dilemma successfully. With the vision to spot new trends and the flexibility to act, DJ Products was one of the early responders to need for ergonomic material handling equipment. Well before the high price of repetitive stress injuries became a national cause, DJ Products saw a need to design material handling equipment that would reduce the potential for musculoskeletal injuries and improve the health and safety of workers.

DJ Products manufactures ergonomically-designed motorized carts and powered cart, equipment and vehicle movers that eliminate the pain and strain of manually pushing and pulling heavy carts and wheeled equipment. Our products are less costly, smaller, more maneuverable and more versatile than traditional material handling equipment used to move carts and equipment, such as forklift trucks, walkies and riding tugs. Forward-thinking business owners are revitalizing their operations and positioning themselves for the future by turning to ergonomic equipment to meet their material handling needs.

With an Obama administration expected to increase ergonomic standards and requirements in the next year, a proactive approach toward worker health and safety is a  smart business move. And it’s a decision that will have a positive impact on your bottom line. The cost of most ergonomic equipment purchases are recouped in the first year in savings on medical costs, insurance, workers’ compensation and lost work days. A move to ergonomic equipment also provides a substantial benefit in improved worker morale and increased productivity.

To find out how ergonomically-designed material handling equipment can help prepare your business to meet the challenges of the future, contact the ergonomic experts at DJ Products.

Hope for the Future: Redefining the Auto Industry

November 14, 2008 By: CartPro Category: Automotive Industry, Business Tips, Future Trends

Despite harsh criticism, the President and Congress seem poised to throw a lifeline to America’s struggling auto industry. Critics say Detroit’s problems stem from 30 years of short-sightedness and poor decision-making. Failure to recognize future trends toward smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles compounded by failure to aggressively address budget-busting labor demands head critics’ lists of the poor management practices that have led to the U.S. auto industry’s financial woes (see our Nov. 12 post). Today, the auto industry defends itself.

U.S. auto industry representatives dispute their critics, saying critics oversimplify the issues and don’t credit automakers for the significant progress made in recent years. “In the last five years, there’s been more restructuring done in the automotive business than any other business in the history of the United States,” said Tony Cervone, General Motors VP of communications.

Auto industry spokesmen cite a decade’s worth of tough cost cutting measures, improved productivity and their switch to the production of more competitive, fuel-efficient cars as indications that Detroit has been working hard to reverse course and increase its competitiveness with popular foreign imports. They point out that their ability to compete is severely hampered by the demands of powerful labor unions and the strictures of multiple government regulations.

The recessionary economy and tight credit have placed additional burdens on automakers. New car sales are down, in part, because consumers aren’t spending. Across the economic board, consumers are harboring their financial resources and taking a wait and see attitude about the nation’s economic future. Adding insult to injury, the tight credit market has made it nearly impossible for people who want to buy a new car to get financing. Burned by the mortgage meltdown, banks have reined in lending practices and raised loan requirements.

The news isn’t all doom and gloom, however. Capitalizing on fuel-efficient designs initiated in 2000, Detroit is finally rolling out cheaper, competitive alternatives to the Asian-designed vehicles that dominate that sector of the market. Financial pressure is forcing the industry to consolidate and streamline production practices. President-elect Obama’s reminder to the American people that we will all have to sacrifice if the country is to weather the current economic crisis could play out in more reasonable labor contracts. And that Congressional lifeline is likely to come with lots of strings attached that should give Detroit the needed incentive to redefine itself more competitively.

Next time: Lessons to be learned from the auto industry meltdown

How Did U.S. Automakers Get Themselves into This Mess?

November 12, 2008 By: CartPro Category: Automotive Industry, Future Trends

President-elect Obama yesterday asked President Bush to throw a lifeline to the battered U.S. auto industry. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also called for “emergency and limited financial assistance” for auto makers and suppliers, introducing legislation to make the big three automakers eligible for help under the $700 billion Congressional bailout passed last month. The move followed disastrous third-quarter losses reported by Detroit’s Big Three: General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

Prior to its election break, Congress passed legislation providing $25 billion in government-backed loans to automakers to help them retool for the production of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Since then, the Big Three and United Autoworkers officials have asked for an additional $25 billion to keep the automakers afloat and a further $25 billion to fund future healthcare payments to 780,000 retirees and their dependents. Legislation currently being written in the House and Senate is expected to severely limit executive compensation and demand vigorous federal review in exchange for bailout funds.

Critics say Detroit is suffering from decades of short-sightedness and poor decision-making. In iterating the missteps that have led automakers to the edge of bankruptcy, critics cite the auto industry’s failure to invest in new products, failure to aggressively pursue fuel-efficient cars, failure to meet the competitive challenge of Asian imports and failure to take on growing union demands.

“There’s been 30 years of denial,” said Noel Tichy, a University of Michigan business professor, author and auto industry consultant. “They did not make themselves competitive. They didn’t deal with the union issues, the cost structures long ago, everything that makes a successful company.”

Tichy says the auto industry’s problems started in 1980s when Toyota and Honda mastered the production of reliable, fuel-efficient cars. Detroit, unfortunately, failed to see this as an omen of future trends. Cheap gas and a strong U.S. economy made Detroit blasé about the public’s fledgling interest in ecology and “green” lifestyles. Driven by high profits and consumer demand, the Big Three automakers continued to invest in the traditional “bigger is better” model, flooding the American market with luxury vans, trucks, SUVs and the ultimate example of overindulgence, the Hummer.

By the 1990s, Detroit had effectively ceded the small and midsize car markets to Toyota and Honda. When fears of global warming, pollution and high oil prices began to gain affect public opinion and buying habits after the millennium, U.S. automakers were caught unprepared. Skyrocketing fuel prices over the past year sent sales plummeting and sealed their fate. Coupled with a recessive economy and tight credit, failure to address future trends has driven the U.S. auto industry to the brink of extinction.

Next time: Hope for the future: Changes that will redefine the U.S. auto industry

Election Ushers in Era of ‘Ergobamanomics’

November 10, 2008 By: CartPro Category: Future Trends, OSHA, Safety and Ergonomics

In the wake of Barack Obama’s election, U.S. industry should brace itself for a re-emphasis on ergonomics in the workplace. We are about to enter the era of “Ergobamanomics,” predicts senior editor Austin Weber, coining the phrase in his November 6 post on AssemblyBlog, a function of Assembly magazine which serves the manufacturing product assembly market.

“We’re going to have a government that makes sure workers aren’t put at unnecessary risk,” Obama said while stumping on the campaign trail this summer. It seems likely that increased federal emphasis on the development and implementation of ergonomics standards and legislation will be part of the Obama administration’s plan to revitalize and improve U.S. industry. In numerous studies, ergonomics has been proven to significantly reduce workplace injuries and improve worker health and safety.

While workplace health and safety policy changes may not be immediate — president-elect Obama will, after all, have his hands full with more pressing problems in the first few months of his presidency — a solid Democratic majority in Congress makes it likely that tighter ergonomic standards will see quick passage in the near future. Some industry experts believe that a return to the OSHA standards of the Clinton administration could easily be enacted by Congress within the first six months of the new Obama administration.

The sweeping OSHA ergonomics changes ushered in by the Clinton administration in 2000 were quickly repealed by Republicans when George Bush took office in 2001. OSHA’s scaled-back ergonomics plan of 2002 revised the controversial Clinton-era regulations to focus primarily on the reduction of repetitive stress injuries. During his 2004 Senate campaign, Obama said he supported reviving the more comprehensive Clinton OSHA ergonomic standards. During his presidential campaign, Obama has repeatedly promised to renew the government’s commitment to improving the health and safety of all American workers.

Critics fear that a return to Clinton-era OSHA ergonomics standards would place an additional onerous burden on struggling American businesses. Tighter ergonomics standards could necessitate retooling and restructuring of production tasks. Training programs would have to be developed and executed. Increased record-keeping of repetitive stress and musculoskeletal complaints and injuries would also add to time-consuming paperwork and reporting demands, critics charge.

Despite industry fears, ergonomically-designed equipment and work procedures have the proven capacity to increase production efficiency and substantially cut injury rates. Results are both immediate and long-term, resulting in instantaneous and sustained reductions in medical, insurance, workers compensation and lost work hours while reaping considerable gains in worker satisfaction, production efficiency and improved product quality and customer service.

For more information on how ergonomically-designed equipment can improve your business, talk to the experts at DJ Products

Ergonomic Plan Can Help Attract and Retain Workers

November 07, 2008 By: CartPro Category: Business Tips, fulfillment, logistics, Material Handling, Safety and Ergonomics, Warehousing

This week we’ve been talking about the growing worker crisis that faces the material handling, manufacturing, warehousing, logistics and related industries (see our Nov. 3 post). By 2010, American industry will face a 50% shortfall in its material handling workforce. Attracting workers to material industry jobs is one of the biggest challenges of our industry (see our Nov. 5 post), particularly with worldwide growth in our industry expected to remain robust over the next several decades. Developing and instituting a comprehensive ergonomic plan in your company is an excellent way to attract new workers and retain your current workforce.

Ergonomics is the science of designing equipment and planning work tasks with the goal of eliminating workers’ risk of musculoskeletal injury. Equipment and tasks are designed around the capabilities of workers and seek to make it possible for workers to perform tasks with a minimum of physical strain and effort. A comprehensive ergonomic plan combines the use of ergonomically-designed equipment with ergonomically-planned task procedures to make it possible for workers to perform tasks more efficiently with a minimum of potential injury-causing motions.

Any time a worker has to bend, stretch, reach, push, pull or lift, he runs the risk of serious musculoskeletal injury. These injuries cost U.S. businesses more than $150 billion a year. More than 13 million American workers suffer non-fatal injuries each year, and 6,500 people die from workplace injuries. Workers’ compensation costs U.S. businesses $60 billion annually, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. More than 25% of those claims are for back injuries caused by repetitive lifting, pulling, pushing and straining. Back injuries alone affect more than 1.75 million workers a year, costing American businesses more than $12 million in lost workdays.

When you implement a comprehensive ergonomic plan, you send an immediate message to your employees that you respect their contribution to your business and value their health and safety. That, in turn, engenders worker appreciation and loyalty. The ability to offer a safe, ergonomic work environment is a powerful inducement in attracting and retaining your workforce.

DJ Products is an industry leader in the manufacture of ergonomically-designed electric and motorized cart pushers. Our equipment is less costly, smaller and more maneuverable than traditional equipment used to move carts and equipment. Ergonomically-designed equipment increases worker efficiency, thus improving production efficiency. In most situations where ergonomic equipment is introduced, businesses recoup purchase costs within the first year in medical, insurance, workers’ compensation and lost work-days savings alone. An investment in ergonomic equipment is a win-win situation for both businesses and their workers. DJ Products’ ergonomic specialists can help you assess your equipment needs and explore custom applications to benefit your business and your workers.