Polar Vortex Affects Manufacturing, for Better and for Worse

posted on: Monday January 13, 2014

Express Singled  2Most of the nation is experiencing record-breaking low temperatures and snowfall this winter, and the effects are widespread. While some businesses are forced to halt daily operations, others are seeing an atypical spike in sales. When it comes to cold weather, the manufacturing industry has to be especially cautious about the temperature’s effects on equipment and people. Some sectors, however, are thriving because of the recent arctic weather.

According to USA Today, a Wisconsin-based company is so busy that all of its manufacturers are working 24-hour shifts six days a week to keep up with demand. The article, “Cold Snap Fuels Heat Wave for Some Businesses,” by Gary Strauss, states that the aforementioned company, Ariens, is experiencing 47% more in sales than this time last year. Not surprisingly, Ariens is a snowblower manufacturer. Last year, the company had a surplus of 25,000 snowblowers; this year, it is backlogged 7,000 orders.

This goes to show that while it seems obvious a company like a snowblower manufacturer would thrive in the winter season, the current cold weather can still deliver a surprising boost in sales. January is usually a slow month of sales, even for businesses selling winter-based products.

Take Jarden, for example. This mini-conglomerate owns over 100 brands that manufacture cold weather-based products. It sent around 100 trucks in five days to keep retailers supplied. The list of items hot on the market: Holmes space heaters, Pine Mountain fire logs, Sunbeam electric blankets, Diamond matches, Atlas snowshoes and K2 skis. They’re even seeing an increase in Coleman camping gear demand and expect a rise in Bicycle playing cards sales. Jarden also owns Marmot outerwear.

Marmot isn’t the only apparel flying off the shelves; Carhartt’s retail stores can’t keep up with the demand. Carhartt went mainstream after years of catering to road and construction crews. Strauss quotes Carhartt COO Linda Hubbard, “At our own Carhartt retail stores across the country we can’t keep coats and bibs on the shelves. In our Northeast stores, outerwear sales have seen double-digit increases over the last few days… Two out of three customers are asking for outerwear, bibs and other cold-weather gear, which we have never seen. In our Chicago store, we are selling our Extremes arctic wear as fast as we can get it back in stock.”

How long will the boom last? Strauss cites a Goldman Sachs report that shows how winter weather is usually “a drag on the economy.” Strauss quotes Steve Cochrane, director of regional economics at Moody’s Analytics: “You spend less when you are hunkered down and more later on.” Economists predict that the surge is as temporary as the cold streak.

On the flip side, many businesses are struggling and/or taking extra precautions because of the extreme cold and snow. The weather has wreaked havoc on the airlines. On January 6th alone, airlines made over 4,100 cancelations and nearly 8,000 delays.

As for manufacturing, the cold weather warrants some extra care and caution. The low temps affect even the most routine tasks, like pouring concrete. Of course, extreme temperatures are tremendously dangerous for anyone working outside, and employee safety should be the top priority. This may mean more frequent breaks, accommodating or moving a work site, or even halting work completely if the situation is dire enough.

Even minimal exposure to the elements can pose risks for workers. The cold affects sensitivity and dexterity of the extremities. Numb fingers can lead to slowed productivity at best and fatal accidents at worst. The cold also hampers mental alertness – again affecting productivity and risk of injury.

The cold weather also affects machines and equipment. Anything that is running outside needs time to warm up. In weather as cold as this, all parts and equipment should be inspected to insure the integrity of insulation. Even with intact insulation, some machines just won’t run properly or at all when the temperatures reach a certain point.

Indoor equipment will be affected by the cold, too, if it is housed in a location that frequently opens to the outside, like loading areas. Employees need to keep an eye on such equipment to make sure it is running properly at all times. Similarly, water, ice, condensation, and snow that collects or is dragged in from the outside create very slippery surfaces for foot and lift-truck traffic. Safety is an entirely different beast when the temperatures are below zero.

Safety issues, regardless of their affiliation to weather, are serious. Manufacturers looking to make their pushing and pulling tasks safer and more productive should look into power tugs. Load Mover power tugs are built for ergonomics and safety. They have a wide range of uses. They are proven to be practical and secure – their safety alone has won them preference over forklifts in many manual material applications. For more information on Load Movers, search this site, email info@loadmoverinc.com, or call 952-767-1720.