Cantilever Rack for Vehicle Storage

Cantilever Solution for Car Storage

Justin Erkenbrack, Solutions Specialist at SJF, has been working with Lee C. Parts out of Massachusetts to come up with a solution for storing cars that are being parted out. The customer needed a way to keep the cars out of the way and off the floor, while still making them easily accessible. With Justin’s help and expertise, a great workable solution was found… Cantilever racking.

Justin and the rest of our solutions specialists will work with you to find a solution to your problem. Whether it’s storage or more complex warehouse operations and automation, they have the training and experience to help.

If you have a problem or need some ideas, feel free to contact Justin directly at (320) 485-4962 or He’s happy to help!

Newest Member to our SJF Family Visits

We had an absolutely adorable visitor at SJF last week that we were all happy to see… None other than sweet little Sloane Sterner stopped by, along with her Mom, Kelli, of course, to say hi. Sloane is our youngest SJF family member at only 9 months old and is the daughter of Sam and Kelli Sterner. Talk about a great way to brighten the day!

Guest Post: A History of Robotics in Materials Handling

Today’s post is courtesy of Bryan Hellman

How long have robots been around?

The mathematician, Archytas, created the first robot in 400 BC, and robots have been a fascination of humanity ever since. Robots come with all different shapes and capabilities, but one of the most common applications of robotics is in manufacturing. Since the early 1960s, robots have revolutionized and streamlined material handling.

It began with a focus on automation in manufacturing, as Ford Motor Company’s Vice President quickly realized the need for improved material handling in order to compete with Chevrolet. Once automation began to spread in the manufacturing market, robotics quickly followed. George Devol and Joseph Engelberger founded Unimation, Inc. in 1961, and they introduced the world’s first industrial robot into an assembly line in a General Motors factory.

The First Industrial Robot

This robot was a robotic arm titled, Unimate #001. Unimation robots were also known as programmable transfer machines since their primary purpose was to transfer objects over a distance of about twelve feet. These robots used hydraulic actuators, with the joint angles stored during a teaching phase and replayed during operation. 1

Advancements in computing and robotics led to more development of robots such as the Stanford arm in 1969. This was an all-electric, 6-axis articulated robot invented by Victor Scheinman at Stanford University. The Stanford arm was able to accurately follow arbitrary paths in space and eventually spread the use of robotics outside of the field of material handling and into areas such as assembly and welding. 2

Unimation licensed their technology to Kawasaki Heavy Industries and GKN, and by the late 1970’s many US companies as well as several Japanese conglomerates began to build even more industrial robots. This led to robots that were capable of handling materials of a heavier weight at a faster speed and with more reliability. They were controlled by programmable logic controllers (PLCs), which allowed for easy programming and reliable control. PLCs have since been replaced using modern software, improving the capabilities of industrial robots and allowing for more sophisticated control.

Industrial Robots Become Autonomous and Mobile

In 2003, Kiva systems built autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to drive inventory around warehouses. Amazon purchased the company in 2012, and it became Amazon Robotics. Most of the robotic advancements in the 2000s took place in research labs, however, as researchers tested and developed more advanced robotic arms in order to deploy them into the global market.

Parameters for Industrial Robots

There are several defining parameters of industrial robots used in material handling. The first is the number of axes, which determines the mobility and degrees of freedom of which the robot is capable. The next is the working envelope, which is how much space the robot can reach. For robots which are meant to transport materials over long distances, a greater working envelope is needed. However, many smaller robots specialize in material handling within confined spaces, increasing the need for accuracy and decreasing the need for greater mobility.

The amount of weight a robot can lift is called the carrying capacity or payload. Advancements have allowed robots to lift much heavier payloads than ever before, outperforming human workers faced with the same task. Speed is another defining parameter of industrial robots, as well as how quickly the axis can accelerate. And the level of repeat-ability is one of the most important criterions for an industrial robot, as greater repeat-ability means smoother operations and less maintenance.

Robotics as a Material Handling Solution

One example of the use of industrial robots in material handling today is Genesis Systems’ robotic machine tending system. They needed an automated solution for the manual loading and unloading portion of their lathe and part washing processes. Genesis Systems therefore created a robot capable of handling 16-part numbers, processing each part in under 60 seconds. Their robot is capable of operating unattended for at least 45 minutes at a time, eliminating bottlenecks and increasing productivity. 4

Industrial robots today have allowed manufacturers to fully automate material handling in certain areas, cutting labor costs and reducing bottlenecks. The use of robotics in material handling allows for greater consistency and faster production, as these robots can work round the clock with only a small period of downtime for maintenance. They also reduce the need for humans to perform hazardous and tedious labor, increasing workplace safety.

Kawasaki Robotics offers a series of material handling robots capable of handling up to 1500 kg payload capacity. They also aid material handling with features such as conveyor tracking and collision detection. Their M series robotic arm has the highest payload capacity of 1500 kg and the widest reach of up to 4005 mm. They also have medical and pharmaceutical robots designed specifically for accuracy and cleanliness. 5

The Future of Robotics in Materials Handling

The future of robotics in material handling is a bright one. As manufacturing begins to trend towards the use of multi-arm robots, the robots’ payload capacity will increase as well as their applications. They will also be able to work in conjunction with area scanners to perform three-dimensional bin picking, allowing these robots to perform these tasks in a much faster time than humans can. In addition, they will reduce risk for workers in industries handling parts near hot metals or glass.

Smaller robots will be able to handle tinier, more fragile parts such as electronics or food products. As software improvements allow robots to move faster and more delicately, the amount of damage to these products is reduced. Robots with USDA-certified grippers will also be able to handle raw food directly as the use of robotics grows in the agricultural manufacturing industry. 6

Robotics in Materials Handling are Changing the World

As more research and development is done on industrial robotics, manufacturers are beginning to adopt more robotic technology in material handling. This is leading to safer workplaces and more intelligent robots that can work alongside humans. Although this robotic technology is not universal, it’s certainly moving in that direction. With all the advances of the last few years, it won’t be surprising to see material handling become fully automated in the coming decades.

Bryan Hellman is a writer with DO Supply, Inc. who enjoys writing about Robotics, Automation, and the future applications of AI.


We’re showing our Minnesota Pride loud and proud at SJF this week! Be sure to watch the Twins take on the Yankees Friday night at 6 pm!

Guest Post: Top 5 Steps to any Equipment Maintenance Program

Top 5 Steps to Any Equipment Maintenance Program

Today’s post is courtesy of Megan R. Nichols

Material handling equipment is an investment. Industrial companies purchase more than 150,000 forklifts each year, but the upfront price is only part of their overall cost. Ongoing maintenance to extend the life and increase the efficiency of your production is also an essential investment.

The longevity of your material handling equipment depends on how well you execute your maintenance plan. Breakdowns and unexpected expenses lower your productivity and decrease return on investment. To help keep your operations running smoothly, here five ways to extend the life of your material handling equipment.

1. Invest in Workforce Training

By hiring a top-quality workforce and training your employees adequately, you’ll be better prepared to maintain and extend your equipment’s useful life.

This process starts by verifying and recording any training and certifications. Improper use will lead to unnecessary wear and tear and a quicker end-of-life for the equipment. Further, as 42% of forklift-related fatalities are the result of tipping vehicles, workplace training is essential to proper use and employee safety. Even if inadequate training or maintenance doesn’t result in injury, it will lead to unnecessary equipment wear. Ensure your employees are vetted and trained by supervisors when working with heavy equipment.

To train your employees on your machinery and any changes to operation protocol, you should provide simple, regular updates concerning operations and safety. Plan to talk to your workers about equipment operations on a schedule, such as every month or every quarter.

Then, managers should supervise equipment operators daily to ensure they follow best practices as defined during training. Address any improper use immediately and provide easily accessible manuals for all equipment operators. Well-trained and managed employees are less likely to abuse the equipment.

2. Conduct Equipment Inspections

The more you know about the many forms of wear on your equipment, the sooner you can respond to issues and establish a smart maintenance schedule. Ensure your employees and supervisors are familiar with manufacturer specifications, and report anything out of the ordinary during a regular equipment inspection.

Early identification of problems, such as signs of wear or age, will allow you to repair or replace a part before it causes an avoidable delay. To do so, visually inspect your material handling equipment before, during and after use. Have regular operators record changes in performance. Check for vibrating belts and gears, high temperatures from poor lubrication or loose bolts. Repair or replace any parts issue that arises before it affects efficiency. Recognizing symptoms early will avoid costly emergency repairs.

3. Understand Your Equipment

By knowing the specifications of your equipment — such as model, brand and machine specifications — you can predict future maintenance needs.

Understanding how your equipment operates is vital to achieving a long service life. Each brand and model may have different instructions and maintenance requirements. Incorporate the specifics from your original equipment manufacturer (OEM). The specifications they provide will ensure you are following the appropriate schedules.

Further, consult your OEM manual or equipment expert to ensure you have the correct parts when making repairs. Depending on the specific machine and part, you may need to follow detailed instructions to avoid harming your equipment. A small inaccuracy can be the cause of a costly failure. Keeping track of parts in regular need of maintenance or replacement will also help you keep track of when maintenance or a replacement is due.

4. Keep Accurate Records

Plan for efficiency by recording data about your material handling equipment. Accurate records will give you a plethora of information so you can respond to needs immediately and effectively.

One of the most useful types of data is the data you collect from your inspection routine. Categorize what needs to be done immediately and what you can defer to the future. Information can include hours of operation, type of work being completed and details about ongoing repairs. This data will help you develop a preventative maintenance schedule.

You also have access to information from employees, supervisors, the OEM and experts in equipment maintenance. Record this information in a clear, easy-to-follow way to develop your plan of action.

5. Develop an Effective Maintenance Schedule

Create a system for your material handling equipment’s maintenance. Planning for preventative and predictive maintenance will extend your machines’ useful life.

Scheduling regular downtown for your equipment will increase the value it provides over the long term, so ongoing inspections and service is crucial. Depending on factors such as truck type, the volume of work and the work conditions, you may plan for service intervals as frequent as every 90 days. You can plan this maintenance during non-peak production times by using a preventative schedule.

It may also be beneficial to consult an expert on specific equipment, since professionals are particularly trained to handle maintenance and repairs for your machine model and parts.

Consulting experts knowledgeable on the make and model, as well as implementing any protocols recommended by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) will help you develop an effective system for planning inspections and predictive maintenance. With a predictive maintenance plan, you can calculate your equipment life and better retrofit machinery with the latest technology when most cost-effective.

Save Time and Money With Proper Equipment Care

Effective equipment management and maintenance is one of the most significant ways you can cut costs and increase your workforce’s productivity. By implementing a maintenance schedule, understanding your machines’ inner workings and following the other tips outlined above, you can stretch the usefulness of these costly machines to its fullest.

Megan R. Nichols is a technical writer who specializes in industrial and scientific topics. She regularly contributes to sites like American Machinist, Manufacturing Transformation and Industry Today. Megan also publishes weekly on her personal blog, Schooled By Science. Keep up with Megan by following her on Twitter or subscribing to her blog.

Guest Post: 4 Reasons Material Handling Needs Automation and How to Implement It

Today’s post is courtesy of Megan R. Nichols

When it comes to the supply chain, the most visible processes and events aren’t necessarily the only areas that should be modernized and improved upon. The so-called first-mile is just as important as the last, even though consumers may never see or hear what it entails. Collectively, every mile plays a role in the performance and efficiency of manufacturing and wholesale operations.

By streamlining the entire lineup, it improves the speed, quality and accuracy of all products and services. One of the best ways to make that happen is to deploy automated systems and equipment, including advanced robotics. These solutions never tire, burn out or falter — so long as they are maintained well, quite unlike human laborers.

Beyond the basics, there are several reasons why automation should be used in material handling and manufacturing environments.

Why Use Automation?

1. A Smarter, Connected Environment

Whether you’re talking about manufacturing processes directly, the handling of finished goods or distribution closer to the last mile, all these practices could benefit from more data-driven operations.

Implementing IoT and connected technologies earlier on can also help eliminate what’s known as the islands of automation within a facility. Most older machines and solutions operate in a siloed nature, separate from other components within a factory or facility. Automation and the resulting systems can help do away with this entirely, creating a more synchronous environment.

2. On-Demand Manufacturing and Services

In today’s hyper-fast and hyper-personalized environment, most customers and clients expect a degree of convenience, which can be difficult to provide in material handling and processing fields. To achieve this, the entire system needs to be optimized from start to finish. Queue advanced automation.

The connected nature of the autonomous factor also generates the on-demand concept for internal processes. Materials can be delivered exactly where they need to be, not just on time but in advance. This is done through a series of data-driven systems that send alerts and control various operations as necessary.

3. Predictive Modeling and Decision-Making

Near the start of the supply chain, performance and support directly rely on market trends. If a particular supply or raw material is low, it can affect everyone, including the delivery times of various components and goods. With automation and advanced analytics systems, this kind of problem can be eliminated, largely through predictive modeling.

A machine learning or AI system will essentially ingest data on a company’s history, performance, market trends and consumer demands. It will then build an accurate model of what’s to come or how things will play out, allowing for more informed decisions. This can be evolved to include automation systems for a larger efficiency boost.

If a certain raw material is becoming more scarce, the automated system can order more in anticipation of a major shortage. During the shortfall, the system can calculate the length of time to receive new supplies as well as the current stock to ensure operations run smoothly. Items arrive just before old ones run out.

4. Better Workforce Management

Rather than waste human expertise on rote and tedious tasks, projects can be automated through a series of systems including IoT, AI and advanced robotics. Personnel can then be assigned to higher-value tasks that better meet their talents. This has the added effect of boosting employee happiness, as workers will certainly enjoy the more important roles and responsibilities.

Moreover, labor shortages and high turnover rates become a problem of the past, with many of the tasks and opportunities that were hard to fill now handled by automation.

How to Implement Automation and Streamline Materials Handling

1. Research

The best place to start is by doing some research. Consider the available vendors and their reputation, as well as what kind of solutions they offer. What will you need to upgrade in your existing systems and solutions? Is there anything that can be carried over?

How long will it take to implement the full scope of the automation project? Most importantly, how long will it be until you recover the initial investment and turn a profit?

Also, consider the systems that will be automated. It’s much more than just digital tools and components. Pallet inverters, for example, can be used to automate the handling of pallet-based goods and have a load capacity of about 4,400 lbs.

Another way to automate your warehouse is to invest in, and maintain, conveyor belts. Not only do conveyors keep employees safe by minimizing the amount of heavy lifting they need to do, they could be optimized in the near future. Adding sensors to conveyor rollers will allow businesses to gather important data like, product weight, amount and quality.

Is there equipment that you can use to automate more conventional procedures, similar to the pallet inverter or conveyor belt examples?

2. Vendor Selection

Once those questions are answered and you understand what’s necessary to achieve automation, it’s time to start shopping around for vendors. What solutions can they offer and what comes included? How are system updates handled? What’s the support process like? Are there real-time consulting opportunities at the ready?

You may even want to consult with a vendor’s existing clients to get a feel for how satisfied they are. Did the company meet their needs? Were there complications and have all their concerns been addressed?

The research process seems involved and can be daunting, but it’s necessary before getting involved with any automation providers or vendors.

3. Prepare Your Team

Next, you’ll need to prepare your workforce. This means training them and building awareness about the new systems, technologies and processes. Don’t forget to consult with them where applicable, as many workers have direct insight as to the inner workings of supply chain operations.

Ultimately, companywide buy-in will ensure the adoption process goes smoothly, and it will help mitigate the usual problems you might see when adopting new procedures.

4. Deployment

All that’s left is to deploy the necessary technology’s processes and solutions. Implementation can be a lot more complex than expected, however, so it’s always best to consult with support agencies and vendors. The exact approach is going to vary from business to business, which is why most of this explanation will seem broad.

The trick is to start small and slow. Choose one or two major processes that can be automated and work on perfecting those systems before moving on to other areas of the business.

With perseverance, the bulk of your materials handling operations will be automated, resulting in many cost- and time-saving benefits.

Megan R. Nichols is a technical writer who specializes in industrial and scientific topics. She regularly contributes to sites like American Machinist, Manufacturing Transformation and Industry Today. Megan also publishes weekly on her personal blog, Schooled By Science. Keep up with Megan by following her on Twitter or subscribing to her blog.

Congrats to the HLWW Track Teams!

Congratulations to the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Boys Track team for their outstanding 1st place win at the True Team Section 4A on Tuesday, May 7. Also snagging a 2nd place trophy was Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted’s Girls Track team at this same event.

We have two very proud parents in our SJF family that are especially enjoying the excitement of the win – Rhonda Remer and Jason Deiter, both in the Sales department.

Rhonda’s son, Remington (11th grade), and Jason’s son, Chase (8th grade), are members of the HLWW Track team and competed in this meet.

Congratulations Lakers!!