What’s on the horizon for the material handling and logistics industry? We asked John Sneddon, executive vice president of Sales & Marketing at MCFA.
How is automation being used by material handling customers today? What are the top trends you’re seeing?
At a high-level, customers are looking to improve their productivity and efficiency while continuing to lower their overall cost of operation. This isn’t a new focus in material handling, but what is new is the increasing speed of sophisticated technologies and automation being implemented.
Depending on the customer application, this can range from how they manage and track their forklift fleet utilization to exploring new technologies, such as the use of automated guided vehicles or semi-automated material handling solutions to drive productivity, efficiency or lower their overall costs.
Are these trends specific to the logistics and distribution space?
The use of automation and advanced technologies is by no means limited to logistics and distribution customers, however it’s safe to say that these are some of the key industries exploring new technologies and trends. Customers are embracing three key stages of adoption, ranging from traditional to full-automation.
First Stage – Manual or Traditional Material Handling
The traditional phase is when the customer exclusively relies on manual traditional material handling equipment - in which the operator uses the truck or equipment to move product or goods. This can include both the use of a warehouse management system, or without a management system.
Second Stage – Semi-Automation Material Handling
The Semi-Automation phase relies on the lift trucks or material handling equipment to be connected to and taking commands directly from the customer warehouse management system. In this scenario, the equipment is also linked directly to an on-board equipment driver aid system.
- One proven example of semi-automation is the use of a Jungheinrich Very Narrow Aisle Man-up Turret Truck equipped with Warehouse Navigation technology, where the Turret Truck is connected directly to the customer’s Warehouse Management System via a logistics interface software.
- Through the Warehouse Navigation technology, the Turret Truck is guided to the most efficient and effective route to its intended location. The use of this technology can result in improved order accuracy while also increasing operator productivity by up to 25%.
Third Stage - Automation
This stage can cover everything from the introduction of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) to fully automated & integrated warehouse solutions.
As ecommerce activities continue to increase so do the demands. What are the biggest opportunities and challenges the customers or the industry are facing?
The biggest opportunities continue to be the expansion of distribution hubs and warehouses that are positioned closer to the end-user customer. As an industry, this has brought forward new trends in material handling products – moving from traditional to automated guided vehicle solutions and related technology. Trends and new solutions in alternative fuel sources are also rising, resulting in expanded offerings for Lithium-ion batteries and fuel-cell technology, that allow businesses to run their fleet longer while conserving battery life.
In logistics and distribution, there is also a clear trend toward more customized solutions for end-user customers – this has shifted movement away from case or full pallet handling to picking of individual pieces, boxes or totes instead. To drive efficiency under this model, customers are revisiting the way they approach their warehouse to drive greater efficiency and productivity. The solution can range from traditional, automated or in most cases a combination of both.
What recommendations do you have for customers who are considering the use of semi-automation or automation?
The variety of offerings is vast, so I would strongly recommend that customers seek out an experienced partner to help guide them through the process. In some instances, it may require rethinking the way a customer works with their preferred partners.
No longer is material handling about considering the price of the product or forklift being purchased. Instead, I would encourage leaders to really evaluate and communicate their challenges and leverage the expertise of the dealer or manufacturer to help them understand their range of solutions. Additionally, as customers explore automation, it’s critical to understand that implementing automation into their warehouse is more than a single product purchase – it’s a project with multiple phases, and it’s important to discuss that at the onset with their providers.
The transition from manual to semi- or full-automation material handling can seem daunting or tedious. But, if you lean on the right, experienced partners, they should guide you through the decision-making process to ensure you find the right fit for your business.
If you'd like to learn more about automation and semi-automation, visit our Automated Guided Vehicle Solutions page.