Tom Andel,
chief editor


One of the best things about reading trade magazines like ours is the opportunity to supplement your education. Think I'm overstating our importance? Not if you believe the National Science Foundation. According to a recent NSF report, a substantial number of individuals working in science and engineering in the U.S. don't even have a bachelor's degree. Out of more than 4 million people with at least a high school diploma employed in science and engineering, five percent reported they had obtained a high school diploma as their highest level of education.

Graduates with at least a four-year degree are still the norm in positions like yours. But whether you're degreed or not, continuing education is important to any world class organization. Even the companies that sold you your material handling equipment and systems attend association meetings like those of the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) to stay current.

The keynote speaker for MHIA's fall meeting was John Brandt, former editor of Industry Week and currently CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute. He reported results of a study his firm did on the habits of World Class companies. Brandt said that half of the world class companies he studied provide 65 hours of training per employee per year. He cited Lockheed Martin's Pike County Operations in Troy, Alabama, which offers 96 hours of preemployment training. They partner with Alabama Industrial Development's training program, which includes 16 hours of math and 36 hours learning assembly operations. Once on the job, Lockheed team members receive a share from all ideas that generate greater than $1,000.

It's in the MH industry's best interest to help their customers become heroes. But if you're getting smarter, your vendors had better wise up as well — especially when it comes to signing contracts with you. John Usher, Ph.D., P.E., professor of industrial systems engineering from the University of Louisville, taught that lesson in his presentation to members of MHIA's Industrial Systems and Controls product section. He challenged these vendors to be more careful in how they write contracts. Of particular concern are the terms regarding system reliability and availability. Usher says neither the customer nor the vendor has a good handle on what these terms mean.

A standard clause in these system contracts says there will be no system failures for the first 40 hours of operation. Usher says there's no way you can document true availability using that timeframe. He suggested that vendors could stay out of potential legal hot water and establish a competitive advantage by staying with the customer after installation, until there have been a few failures. Time-to-repair and system availability could then be documented. He says unless vendors start quantifying the terms of a contract this way, customers will eventually wise up and catch them on a technicality for failing to deliver a reliable system.

Vendors in the Lift Manufacturers Product Section also had liability on their minds as they discussed the need for safety label standards. Posted on the wall of their meeting room were different precautions for setting the chock, and different uses of the terms "Caution," "Warning" and "Danger." This situation has evolved to where whoever attaches the most labeling to their equipment sets the standard for "sufficient" labeling.

After that meeting, Jim Galante, of Southworth Products Corporation, and chairman of the Lift Manufacturers Section, told me: "Consistency in labeling helps us, but more importantly, good labeling serves our customers by promoting the safe and proper use of scissors lifts, industrial tilters and turntables."

Continuing education comes in many forms, including magazines, books, conferences, contracts and labels. Whether yours comes from any or all of these, it will pay back a lifetime of tuition.