11 Bulk Material Handling Headlines to Mull Over from March

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The results of various studies seemed to occupy many headlines related to bulk ingredient handling industries in March 2021. From how women are treated in the manufacturing workplace, to a seemingly growing susceptibility to cyber hacking in operating systems, pertinent concerns were reflected in more than a few surveys that were released last month.

Manufacturer’s and consumer’s attitudes toward COVID reflect a continued focus on what is at stake while plastics and chemical markets continue to adapt from changes brought on by events related to the pandemic. Here are 11 headlines from the bulk material handling world to catch you up to speed on the state of various industries. 

Ransomware attacks on manufacturing systems tripled in 2020, says report

March 2 

Companies that are slow to update their OT (operation technology) systems may be rendering such systems vulnerable to the increasing threat of cyberattacks, according to Siliconrepublic.com. In 2020 manufacturers faced more than triple the number of reported ransomware attacks than the previous year, reports industrial cybersecurity company Dragos.

Supply-chain issues and even physical danger can result from these technological breaches, but ensuring barriers such as virtual private networks and keeping well-tested backups are a few ways to combat the threat. NordVPN Teams’ CTO, Juta Gurinaviciute, was quoted by Silicon explaining how COVID shutdowns have also impacted the world of cybersecurity: “If you had 5,000 employees, now you have 5,000 offices to take care of.”

Tyson administers vaccines to workers, repurposes separate plant 

March 9 and 19

As food processing workers were mandated as a priority to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Arkansas, Kansas and North Carolina, Tyson foods administered free on-site vaccinations to thousands of employees last month. After closing a Columbia plant in August due in order to “continue focusing on and investing in strategic growth priorities,” the company also announced that the site will be repurposed and reopened. 330 jobs are expected to emerge as a result.

Longstanding challenges for women in engineering reflected by new study

March 10

“Factory Flaw: The Attrition and Retention of Women in Manufacturing” is the name of a study released in March by the American Association of University of Women (AAUW). An analysis of employment and wage trends related to women who work in manufacturing paired with a survey of 214 of these women concluded that women are more likely to leave jobs in these male-dominated fields than women in other industries. 

Reasons listed for these departures include pay gaps directly related to gender, lack of support in juggling work/life responsibilities and workplace cultures that tolerate sexual harassment. While men lost 23% of their jobs between 2000 and 2020 (when U.S. manufacturing as a whole dropped 4.4 million positions), women (who make up one in three manufacturing jobs) lost 31% during the same time period. 

As various manufacturing employers continue to have difficulty finding skilled workers that keep them competitive, The Riverbank News states these findings offer evidence for manufacturers that they can build a more competitive workforce by addressing the longstanding issues that women in continue to face in the field.

OSHA fines New Jersey manufacturer $237K upon repeat offense

March 16

Jammed equipment lead to an employee losing his finger at a New Jersey-based Lakewood ice cream manufacturing plant in 2018, but a recent investigation found the facility ignored protocols to avoid similar incidents after another worker lost two fingers from the same machine in 2020. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed $237,176 in penalties last month, according to Plant Services.com. OSHA found that the Fieldbrook Foods Corporation “willfully failed to shut down and isolate energy to the machine during repair work.”

Powder & Bulk Solids debut podcast with cheesy history lesson

March 19

“Particulate Matters” is the name of a podcast from Powder & Bulk Solids that launched its first episode in March 2021. Featuring managing editor John S. Forrester at the helm, “Matters” aims to be a podcast “for the dry particulate and bulk solids processing and handling community.” Their first guest, Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, is the author of “Combat Ready Kitchen: How the US Military Shapes the Way You Eat.” She explained the origins of the cheese powder industry in America.

“[The U.S. Military] had to ship tons and tons of food overseas to feed what were eventually 11.6 million troops, so they took out the heaviest part of these foods, water, to compress the size and reduce the weight,” Salcedo said in the episode. “In 1945 the war came to an abrupt halt and there was no longer a need to ship cheese powder overseas. The military was left with huge stockpiles of dehydrated cheese powder ... Through some public assistance and probably some lobbying, that cheese got connected with the grocery manufacturers of the united states, which soon thereafter began adding it to the new snack and convenience foods that appeared after the war.”


COVID continues to shape shopper and manufacturer concerns 

March 22 and 26

As consumers and manufacturers alike press forward into 2021, concerns related to the pandemic remain top of mind. Prepared Foods reports that in the year-end 2020 Food & Health Survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), 39% of respondents said the risk of COID-19 when shopping for food or dining out was their top food-related concern. Prepared Foods anticipates that this trend will be reflected through technology: “restaurant customers can expect experiences that minimize face-to-face interaction, such as robotic or automated food handling. Food take-out will also offer more and more contactless options. Home food-delivery apps and services will make greater use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to meet customer needs and expectations around food safety, a trend that is already spreading across the broader food system.”

On the other side, manufacturers in select industries are still seeing a decrease in production due to the pandemic. 83% of bakers reported sales for foodservice were down in a December 2020 study reported by Baking Business.com (as compared to 93% in March and 96% in June). 

American Chemistry Council reports markets dropped in February

March 24

Specialty chemical market volumes fell 4.1% in February, according to the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and Powder & Bulk Solids. Of 28 specialty chemical segments monitored by the ACC, only six expanded (compared to 21 in January). These included foundry chemicals, rubber processing chemicals and textile specialties. 

Cannabis market sees 6 major food and bev firms make moves

March 24

Nestle, Kraft Heinz, Molson Coors, Moosehead, Carl’s Jr. and Seneca foods have all recently stepped into the fold preparing to profit from the CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) industry space with various product types. In collaboration with HEXO Corp., beer maker Molson Coors Beverage Company has announced “VeryWell,” a line of non-alcoholic CBD-infused sparkling waters to make their US debut after premiering in Canada last year. Each beverage contains 20mg of hemp-derived CBD and adaptogens, according to Powder & Bulk Solids.

A CBD-infused burger debuted exclusively at a Denver location of Carl’s Jr. fast-food restaurant in 2019 and Business Insider recently reported that the chain may make the product a nationwide offering. In 2019, Evolv Ventures (the venture capital unit of Kraft Heinz) invested in a provider of retail software specifically for cannabis dispensaries. Even the pet food industry has seen the launch of science-backed, gourmet-flavored CBD soft-chews as recently as January. FinancialNewsMedia.com estimated in February that the global edibles market could grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of about 25.4% from 2019 to 2025 to a value of $11.5 billion. 

Plastics chemicals’ supply remains unsteady, yet expected to increase in demand

March 26

Price increases, product delays and even factory shutdowns in the plastics industry have been caused primarily by the shortages of three key chemicals since the summer of 2020. Supply chains related to polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and monoethylene (MEG) have shifted in response to COVID-related lockdowns, weather conditions, and the ill-timed blockage of the Suez Canal. The Harvard Business Review projects surges in demands of plastics-related chemicals while surveys predict worsening imbalances between the supply and demand of these materials (even as the U.S. economy reopens). 

According to The Harvard Business Review, these changes have “highlighted the need for building supply-chain-resilience capabilities.” The Review recommends businesses look at “even the most inexpensive parts and materials when then they are critical to products and revenues and not just expensive, sophisticated or specialty items.” One other general way to maintain supply chains relates to “hybrid” plant solutions between diversification and consolidation

12 facilities faced fires in March

March 1, 3, 9, 12, 19, 25, 29, 30 

In a month where video game developers even helped spread awareness about combustible dust fires, 12 facilities, unfortunately, saw these hazards play out off-screen. 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 12 cases of facility fires and when they were reported this past month:

Facility fires outside of the U.S. included:

4 facilities experienced explosions in March

March 2021 saw multiple explosions as well as facility fires. Two of these were reported to have taken place in the U.S. while two others occurred in India. Here are four explosions that took place in the past month and when they were reported:

  • March 16 at a sugar-beet processing plant near Wahpeton, ND. Two workers were hospitalized due to smoke inhalation but were expected to recover. Though it was not disclosed what type of equipment was involved in the blast, dust exploded in an area of the plant utilized for packaging powdered sugar. 
  • March 24 at a seed cleaning plant near Silverton, OR. Several workers were trapped on the plant’s second floor, and one person died as a result of the explosion. One other was hospitalized for treatment to injuries. The incident was reported as a dust-related explosion. 

Facility explosions outside of the U.S. included: 

  • March 12 at a bulk chemical plant near Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, India. Two workers near a reactor were killed and four others required hospitalization. An official was quoted by local media as stating that after two chemicals were mixed, excessive heat caused the reactor to explode. Other reports quoted police stating that a tightened valve on a nitric acid pipeline made contact with the boiler as two boilers exploded. Hazardous material was not found upon a recent inspection of the facility by local officials.
  • March 22 at a chemicals plant in Ratnagiri, India. Following the explosion, 40 to 50 people became trapped inside the plant and reports speculated that at least four passed away as a result. An unknown number of workers were also hospitalized. A short circuit is believed to have caused the blast, but an investigation has begun in order to determine the complete origin. 

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.

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