Steady mezzanines on unsteady grounds!

Earthquakes are a terrifying possibility in areas with high seismic activity. The destruction of property, land, and most importantly, human lives drives us to take into careful consideration all standards required to protect our buildings and structures from these terrible tremors and shakes.

When you know you live in an area of high seismic activity, you want to know that you’re on solid ground even when the earth is shaking! Much like buildings that have strict codes and standards in earthquake-prone zones, mezzanines have special requirements as well. And it’s very important to consider these factors when making a decision about your mezzanines and stairways.

Bluff Manufacturing takes your safety into consideration when designing and manufacturing mezzanines for your building. If you are in a “seismic zone,” Bluff’s engineering department knows how to make your mezzanine safe. We have resources that define such necessary data through the United States Geological Survey organization based on the project’s address alone. The only parameter we may need from our customer is what Occupancy Category the mezzanine system will apply to. For instance, “Buildings and other structures that represent a low hazard to human life in the event of failure, …” is a Category I. While “Buildings and other structures with potential to cause a substantial economic impact and/or mass disruption of day-to-day civilian life in the event of a failure” is a Category III. Category III would be facilities such as power generation, wastewater treatment, telecommunication, and the like. This occupancy category translates into an importance factor (I), which can be applied in determining the Seismic Response Coefficient (Cs).

We may also determine a site class – something that can be easily defined by a subsoil investigation either by a material testing firm local to the project site or historical document relating to such an investigation. For mezzanine systems this parameter can be taken from that assigned to the building itself.

Finally, Seismic Design Category is determined based on the Occupancy Category and geographical location. But Bluff can already determine this piece of information for you based on all the information previously collected.

Safety is at the very epicenter of our business and Bluff Manufacturing works with customers located in all kinds of seismic zones to provide them with stable mezzanines built to stand on shaky grounds. We help our customers configure their mezzanine frame – a simple hand sketch often helps us outline the Seismic Force-Resisting System (SFRS) and the lateral support required. Whether your mezzanine frame is a cross bracing, knee bracing, or moment frame, we at Bluff Manufacturing, are committed to keeping you on solid ground.

Moment Frame

Knee Braced

Cross Braced

A tale of two countries, and a 36 feet yard ramp!

We’ve often blogged and created amusing anecdotes about the “Adventures of the Bluff Traveling Banner.” In fact, you might have occasionally seen our Facebook updates on its whereabouts. However, this tale that I am about to narrate involves the adventure of a particular Bluff Yard Ramp – let’s call it 20SYS8436L (the L stands for a 6 feet level off , which I described in my last post.) This is a tale of persistence, hard work, commitment and most importantly, good team work!

On June 22nd, Russell Smith, one of our six inside sales reps, received an online request for quote via the Bluff Manufacturing website. The quote was from Santiago – one of the largest cities in Chile and the capital. The request was in Spanish and required decoding, as he does not speak Spanish. Thanks to Google, we realized the quote request was for two yard ramps. After a series of emails going back and forth, a mutually acceptable price is negotiated for one yard ramp.

By the time a Purchase Order was obtained and wire payment received at the bank and cleared, and the order is entered into the system, it is already July 13th.

Patrice, our contact in Santiago and Russell now begin the interesting, yet onerous task of coordinating the shipment of 20SYS8436L to its new home in Chile. It all began with trying to identify the nearest shipping port to Dallas – being Houston. At this point, neither company is clear on who is responsible for transporting 20SYS8436L to Houston (although Russell has already included the freight cost in the original purchase order). It’s already July 22nd and the Manufacturing of Yard Ramp – 20SYS8436L is complete, the bill (including freight) has been paid, but there is not closure on the Houston destination and who is actually going to get the ramp there.

The purchaser determined that they wanted to coordinate the movement to Houston, identifies a freight broker that they would like to coordinate 20SYS8436L’s safe (and legally compliant) surface shipping to Chile. And now its time for paperwork – includes all the commercial information as well as the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Act) paperwork for international shipping. At this point, we’re unaware that we’re still scratching the surface and there’s a lot more fun stuff in store for us – translation – more paperwork!

All of the paperwork is emailed to our new international client – but only after Teresa, another one of our brilliant inside sales rep, has translated all of it to Spanish! Our client informs us that they are not a part of NAFTA and proceeds to send us documentation in lieu of NAFTA – the Chilean equivalent of it in Spanish, naturally! This time, it’s Cindy Simmons (Purchasing / Credit) to the rescue – she translates the documents for us and the yard ramp is sent packing on its way to Houston.

Is it time for intermission? Should we take a popcorn break? Because we are about to embark on Part Two of this journey. Once the Yard Ramp reaches Houston and is in the hands of our customer’s freight broker, we are informed that more documentation is required from our end. You didn’t think shipping something this big to another continent was going to be this simple, did you? No, neither did we. It turns out that in order to ship the yard ramp to Chile, we (the manufacturers) were required to send an original invoice, and two copies of the certificate of origin, which we emailed, to our customers who then proceeded to inform us that only hard copies of the original documents along with an AWB (Airway Billing) form were acceptable.  Kellie, our ever-reliable Receptionist investigates UPS International and learns how to send the requisite documents overnight.

With all the documentation in place, the yard ramp makes its way to its final destination and its new home in Santiago, Chile on the 6th of September! Victory is ours! We did it! Wait, what? It’s not over? Russell gets an email – the Owners Manual was “destroyed” during transit. Russell sends another copy. AND the ramp arrived at international shipping in a container on its wheels! In the U.S., it arrives on a flatbed on its side and hence, our offloading instructions are written accordingly. This time, our Bluff engineers Chris and Wes bail us out by developing offloading instructions for the unique delivery – in Spanish! We’re almost done, but not quite yet. On September 8th, the purchaser requests a Spanish version of the owners manual. Nope, not a tall order at all. Nothing is impossible for us. Cynthia Schneider, our marketing manager, employs  Google Translator again and the SECOND Spanish Owners Manual is sent to Santiago. On September 9th, we get another email from our customer – only to say – in perfect English – “Excellent, perfect!”

Across a span of three months and two continents, a unique sale was made. As Shakespeare says, all is well that ends well. So long, 20SYS8436L! We know you will provide your new owners with many long years of solid service and safe loading dock solutions.  Thank you Bluff employees for taking a challenging situation and handling it with the Bluff can-do spirit!  Andy if anyone knows of a dealer, who services Central and South America, please send us their contact info! We have proved our mettle! No pun intended!

Yard Ramps – to use the 6 feet Level Off or not. That is the question

There are several guidelines and factors to consider when buying a yard ramp. But we wanted to bring one particular aspect to your attention. When does buying a 36′ Length Yard Ramp with a 6’ Level off make more sense as opposed to a Straight 30′ Length Yard Ramp? When you need that extra maneuverability and visibility, that’s when our Bluff yard ramp with a 6’ level off becomes a better value packed option to consider. It’s important for you to know that sometimes getting that additional 6 feet of leveled off ramp space becomes a better and more optimal solution for your docking needs.

In addition to the traditional use of Ground to Truck, a 36’ Length yard Ramp with a Level Off is beneficial in these situations:

  • In some ground-to-dock applications
  • Close to dock-edge overhead door configuration
  • Often for high-use application
  • In high-traffic docking areas
  • When using folk-lifts that need access to railcars

Heading up a Yard Ramp without a level off puts the operator in a disadvantageous position of having to look upwards until his lift truck is completely horizontal on the dock or warehouse surface. With a high load on his lift truck the operator’s vision may be severely limited in many situations.  Adding a level off gives him 6’ of straightforward viewing BEFORE he attains the dock surface. This allows the operator enough time to see what’s ahead across a wide spectrum allowing for very safe, productive, and highly maneuverable operations. This is especially handy when forklifts are turning into railcars and have to handle pallets near door-openings. The additional 6’ on a yard ramp is also most preferred for end loading. Basically, for any truck or railcar to ground application and close to dock-edge overhead door configurations, opt for the 36 feet Yard Ramp with the 6 feet level off.

Bluff has always been the industry leader in providing docking solutions – and our yard ramps are a perfect example. We design and engineer every single one of our products to meet a variety of unique needs and to meet and surpass guidelines and standards. Bluff Manufacturing sets the standards and others follow. Look for the letter “L” following the model number on a Yard Ramp to recognize a Bluff Yard Ramp with a 6’ level off!

Green Jobs in the Manufacturing Sector

Green is a color. Green symbolizes the American Dollar. Green symbolizes envy. Today, more popularly, that color is strongly associated with environmentalism, and it also defines an entire industry worth trillions of dollars. Green jobs are those that produce goods and services that have an environmental benefit.

According to manufacuringnews.com, the green economy employs more people than the fossil fuel economy! Brookings Institute released a recent report, which highlights certain surprising facts about the “green” and “clean technology sector.”

Jobs.com did some of the homework for us and brought forward some very interesting facts. Let’s play a little game of “Did you know” or as my kids put it, “Guess, what?”

The green economy employs 27 million Americans today.

The South has the largest number of clean economy jobs in the country, BUT the West has the largest portion compared to its population. And not surprisingly, California has the largest number of jobs, but Alaska and Oregon have the most per worker.

Before the recession, during the 2001-2010 period, the clean technology economy made some slow, yet steady progress. During the recent 2009 recession, the green economy created “a job explosion” that led to more people being hired in this sector than any other sector in the economy.

But here’s the best part – the part that is most pertinent to us in this industry – the manufacturing and export sectors seemed to have been the main driving force in creating clean technology jobs! As compared to the 9% national average, clean technology jobs within the manufacturing sector comprised a whopping 26% of all green jobs!

For years, Industrialism and Manufacturing have been blamed for the sadly deteriorating condition of our planet, and for creating the worst carbon footprint ever. But today, the very sector that received all the blame is responsible for creating 26% of the green jobs.

In a sincere effort to be more sustainable, most companies are implementing measures to reduce waste and to reduce our corporate carbon foot-print. It is part of our corporate responsibility – alongside food-drives and fund-raisers.

Here are just a few small things we’ve undertaken at Bluff Manufacturing to be sustainable. For starters, we use absolutely no VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) Paints. We also use nickel slag in our powder coat process rather than sand or charcoal. Nickel slag is not only a reusable, high-density blasting slag (a by-product of nickel production), it is also an ideal abrasive for general-purpose use, including shipyards, bridges and general industrial blast cleaning. Tests have shown nickel slag to provide high productivity improvements over traditional abrasives and it also lasts three times longer than other media thereby creating less waste to dispose of.  Bluff’s plants also utilize censor-activated light bulbs, which shut off when there is no movement saving energy. As for recycling, we use recycled metals when possible and we recycle our waste.

We’re doing our part and will continue to think of new ways to become more sustainable. How green is your company? If you’ve made any changes towards sustainability (even small ones), feel free to share with us. We’d like to hear from you.

The Disappearing American Working Man, The Lost Generation, and Hurricane Irene!

Business Week’s reference to the “Disappearing American Working Man” and “The Lost Generation” made us look into trends that are coming to light because of the economic turmoil in the last few years. With economic news see-sawing in the last month, we finally saw a glimmer of hope as the Dow and the S&P gained more than 4% and Nasdaq rose 5.7% this past week, breaking the four-week losing trend!

So, what is all this talk of the Disappearing American Working Man and the Lost Generation? It turns out that with the job recovery being so slow and more women entering the workforce, data-driven jobs that require collaborative work are now being taken over by educated women that can flex their brain cells more than they can flex their muscles. That’s not necessarily bad news, because women have been  entering the workforce in greater numbers during this recessive period to help feed their families. The main challenge here is that the longer men stay unemployed, the harder it is on their morale and the more difficult it is for them to get reabsorbed back into the work force.

Meanwhile, the younger generation is taking a hit as well. Bloomberg Businessweek recently referred to them as the ‘lost generation’. It is hardest for young people entering the workforce, wet-behind-the-years with inexperience to grab a hold of even the first rung of the ladder. In a situation where the older workforce with past education and experience has been struggling to get back into the work force, the younger more inexperienced workforce has been hit the hardest; and this, in spite of their recent education, their fresh ideas and youthful energy and spirit.

Colleges and schools are now pumping more students into the workforce as the demand for education grows every decade. But unfortunately, the workforce is not able to place or accommodate all these youngsters in the current economic situation. The government needs to up the ante on its job plans, and as Ben Bernanke put it to Congress, not to ‘mess up again’ especially while the stock market seems to have gained a few points now.

So while we (along with fearful insurance companies) brace ourselves for Hurricane Irene, let’s do our part in minimizing the impact of these disasters, both natural and man-made. For starters, let’s get those skilled and unemployed folks back into the work force. Let’s hire some young interns so we can get more work done for less, while they can put work experience on their resumes. They need jobs and companies like Bluff Manufacturing need skilled workers and talented individuals. When Bluff Manufacturing added mezzanines, landings, stairs, ladders, and a whole host of other material handling products to its product line right in the middle of the economic crisis, we knew we would be taking on a lot. But it was all well worth the effort. Not only did we offer Bluff-quality products to our customers to increase their plant efficiency, optimize their work-space, and improve their safety measures, we were able to absorb a new workforce that came with this line and create new opportunities for more folks to come work at Bluff.

As for our friends out there on the East Coast, we are glad Irene turned her softer side your way. Just like our mezzanines, ladders, and stairs were built to take workers to higher grounds securely, we wish you stay high and dry above the water.