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9 Bulk Material Handling Stories to Observe from October

Gus Carrington

Gus Carrington About The Author

Nov 6, 2020

October 2020 was scary enough in more than a few ways, but the material handling world saw significant creativity in preparation for Halloween and a few projections for trends in 2021 are helping manufacturers plan for a world past the COVID-19 pandemic. These events and more are described in the AZO blog material handling-related news wrap-up for the month of October.

12 facilities faced fires in October

Oct. 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 12, 15, 19 and 23

In September, Powder Bulk & Solids reported five different fires that disrupted material handling facilities. October saw more than two times the number of these reported incidents, with a few specifically caused by dust-related hazards. An easy-to-read infographic is available to view here on the AZO site as we firmly believe that both facilities and equipment manufacturers have an important role to play in preventing these dangerous events. Here are the 12 fires reported in the material handling world in October 2020:

  • Oct. 1 at a spices and vegetable processing plant in New Mexico. Though two separate fires occurred, no injuries resulted from them. The first broke out in a commercial roadster’s ventilation unit. Two days later smoke and flames erupted from a large chile processing hopper outside of the structure.
  • Oct. 2 at a commercial facility in Bargersville, IN. No injuries were reported and no damage estimates were available from the Bargersville Fire department. The blaze started in the upper levels of a dryer holding shelled corn. 
  • Oct. 5 at a food processing plant in Fraser Township, MI. No injuries, but it took about 60 firefighters to extinguish the flames as homes on several streets near the plant were evacuated. The fire started in a processing area of the facility and then spread to the facility’s insulation.
  • Oct. 5 at a meat processing plant in Tremonton, UT. Three workers were injured and $1.5 million in damages was a result. Reportedly the structure was holding thermal fluid at the time of the incident. 
  • Oct. 6 at a sugar beet processing plant in Wahpeton, ND. Two workers had minor injuries. This fire was dust-related as it started in a coal boiler’s vacuum dust system. 
  • Oct. 6 at a farm in Janesville, WI. No injuries were reported, but $400,000 in damages to property was estimated along with $20,000 in product loss. The blaze originated from an ignited piece of corn drying equipment.
  • Oct. 9 at a grain elevator in the Canadian province of Marengo, Saskatchewan. No injuries were directly reported, but a state of emergency was declared in the village and rural municipality. 
  • Oct. 12 at a pet food production plant in Emporia, KS. No injuries occurred during the fire. Though an estimate was not available, a portion of dog food was lost to an ignited piece of drying equipment. 
  • Oct. 15 at a Missouri feed mill. No injuries were reported. A drive belt on a mechanical elevator caught on fire inside of the leg after it jammed and its gears continued to rotate. 
  • Oct. 19 at a sheet metal manufacturing plant in Illinois. No injuries were logged during the incident. A dust collection system was where the flames originated. 
  • Oct. 23 at a coatings production plant in Bedford, TX. No injuries were logged during the incident. A commercial oven was where crews noticed the fire had emitted. 

Capacity and staff increase for food manufacturers while pandemic continues

Oct. 5

For key food manufacturers, demand during the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced the supply-chain of particular popular products. The Wall Street Journal quoted Campbell’s chief executive, Unilever’s company president of food and refreshments and Kellogg’s CEO who all described changes in their factories and strategies moving forward.   

In some cases, this means hiring more workers to compensate for those experiencing either times spent quarantine or rest from heavy workloads. Another strategy involves investing in more automation as manufacturers seek to reduce exposure to human workers and avoid plant closures that can result from such exposure. 

3 facilities experience explosions in October

Oct. 12, 19 and 21

Three facilities were reported by Powder & Bulk Engineering to have experienced explosions in October. On Oct. 12 an asphalt plant in Tacoma, WA, saw several explosions and a fire that resulted in a smoke advisory being issued to those living near the facility. 

The fire department’s assistant chief described the source of the fire to likely be because the supply lines of two silos failed. One of these silos contained 70 tons of liquid asphalt. No injuries were logged during the event.

Accumulated dust is thought to be behind an incident in Stuttgart, AR, where a spark led to a minor dust explosion in a storage area. Three workers sustained minor injuries at a food plant on Oct. 19, were treated and then released.

Six workers were injured after a steel melting furnace exploded at a steel plant in the Perai Industrial Park in Penang, Malaysia, Oct. 21. An investigation has been opened to determine the cause of the explosion. 

Baking & Snack podcast tackles worker retention in the baking industry 

Oct. 14, 21, 28  

The baking industry is in dire need of more skilled mechanics, engineers and production workers that will stick around to fill leadership positions. That was the takeaway from the first of three podcast episodes last month published by “Since Sliced Bread,” the Baking & Snack podcast. 

Marjorie Hellmer, the president of Cypress Research Associates, expanded on this point by sharing pertinent statistics towards the end of the episode. For example, according to DATA USA, there are currently 261,000 mechanical engineers in the U.S. workforce. By comparison, there are 419,000 computer programmers and 4.3 million computer software engineers. 

The limited supply of people in skilled production positions contributes to these concerning numbers, but turnover is also an issue in engineering and manufacturing positions too. Stressful environments and long hours mean that it’s hard to hold on to employees. At AZO, we have demonstrated a few alternatives on our blog that seek to aid this very problem. 

Confectionery industry approached Halloween with pandemic and consumer safety in mind

Oct. 15

As “traditional” trick-or-treating was listed among higher-risk activities on the CDC website, Halloween looked and felt a little different both for many candy consumers and the industry behind the sweets that are synonymous with the holiday. From an app-based digital platform built by Mars Wrigley that virtually “knocked” on neighbor’s doors to Mondelez delivering Sour Patch Kids candies in 12 U.S. cities (with branded Sour Patch toilet paper to boot), outside-the-box thinking in conjunction with modern technology was used to keep the spirit of Halloween alive in 2020. 

Freight rail reforms advocated by chemical industry

Oct. 21 

Unprecedented challenges faced by railroads and shippers in the chemical industry were the focus of Olin Corporation’s Vice President of Global Supply Chain’s testimony on behalf of the American Chemistry Council before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Oct. 21.

Frank Chirumbole took the opportunity to explain how his company works with federal agencies and railroads to keep important shipments of chemicals moving during the pandemic. Olin has access to a single railroad to transport chemicals, which Chirumbole argued posed difficulties. For example, directives by the Surface Transportation Board (STB) have gone unrealized, according to Chirumbole, and in his eyes, Congress must provide transportation policies that help ensure free enterprise, commerce and competition are allowed to flourish while consumers who are “captive” to a single railroad have their interests protected. 

Agribusiness group labels and predicts 5 major 2021 food trends

Oct. 27

How the COVID-19 pandemic will shape industries even after it subsides has consistently remained a topic of discussion in material handling industries, and October was no stranger to further speculation. American agribusiness Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) unveiled a report identifying five particular food and beverage trends projected to have significant impacts on 2021.

Summarized by our friends at Powder & Bulk Solids, these included “a more proactive approach to nourishing your body and mind, sustainability taking center stage, the gut microbiome emerging as a gateway to wellness, plant-based food boom expanding beyond the bun, and transparency building consumer trust.

Combustible dust research organization publishes mid-year report

Oct. 29

Driving home the point that incidents related to combustible dust are extremely dangerous yet preventable, Dust Safety Science released a report summarizing data on the number of incidents from January to June of 2020. 

Descriptions of the materials, industries, causes and losses involved in the facility fires and explosions are detailed in the report. Sources say the number of dust explosions has actually decreased by about 30% this year. Though there still have been 26 dust explosions and 94 dust-related fires, the pandemic may be the cause for this reduction.

Ammonia leak sends firefighter to hospital from chemical plant

Oct. 28

A chemical spill at a plant in Brockville, ON (Canada), required a HAZMAT team and other first responders present while workers evacuated the facility. According to GlobalNews.ca, police explained that a firefighter experienced minor respiratory issues and was taken to a hospital. The leak is currently under investigation.    

Handling materials is our world at AZO. If you have any other questions or concerns regarding material handling, feel free to contact our sales team. Recently we’ve posted a variety of content related to keeping in line with critical dust hazard management practices. We have more than seven decades of experience in the ingredient automation world and have added tons of other topics also covered at length on our blog.