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14 posts categorized "Material Handling"

March of the robots

By Toby Gooley | January 19, 2016 | 12:41 PM | Categories: Material Handling

I’m definitely not a techie. Just ask the long-suffering co-workers who rescue me when my laptop, smartphone, or various Google products (I’m talking about you, GVoice and Calendar) periodically become “uncooperative.” I grumble about technology all the time. But there is one aspect of technology that never fails to hold my attention and earn my admiration: robotics.

I know little about their inner workings or the nitty-gritty details of the technologies that make them do what they do. Still, they mesmerize me at trade shows, and I can barely tear myself away from watching them while on factory tours.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had several occasions to think about robotics and its impact on supply chains. On recent tours of the factories where The Raymond Corp. and Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing make their forklifts, for example, robotic welders and laser cutters were much in evidence. These machines were unaffected by the intense heat, searingly bright light, and around-the-clock demand for perfect accuracy. And last month, my colleague David Maloney, chief editor of DC Velocity, and I toured a giant, highly automated pharmaceutical distribution facility in Japan. There we saw brawny robotic arms picking up individual packages of medicines and gently, precisely placing them on conveyor belts. At a demonstration center showcasing the latest products developed by Daifuku, the company we visited in Japan, we saw a robot that can pick up, deposit, and locate totes and boxes anywhere on a floor, without racks or storage structures; it can also remove individual items from a tote and place them on a conveyor or in another container.

Without these and the many other types of robots, manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution would be slower and production and shipment volumes diminished. More people would be required to carry out dangerous, exhausting, and mind-numbingly repetitive tasks. In conditions like those, people get hurt, quality inevitably becomes inconsistent, and the need for rework grows. Yet many people still view manufacturing and warehouse robots as competition for jobs.

Last month, Joseph F. Engleberger, a robotics pioneer who developed a robotic arm for use on assembly lines (way back in the 1960s!) that greatly accelerated production in many industries, passed away at the age of 90. Engleberger had an answer to those who charged that robots were taking good jobs away from people. In a 1997 New York Times interview, he asserted that the belief that robots stole jobs was “unjustified.” The robots, he pointed out, “take away subhuman jobs which we assign to people.” Based on what I’ve seen in factories and distribution centers, it’s hard to dispute that argument.

University on wheels

By David Maloney | October 20, 2015 | 3:29 PM | Categories: Lift Trucks, Material Handling, Supply Chain, Warehousing

Last month I attended the Material Handling and Logistics Conference in Park City, Utah. In my opinion, this is always one of the better industry events held each year. It always has high caliber content on supply chain operations, with the emphasis on distribution and material handling systems. And the mountain scenery is also easy on the eyes.

 

The MHLC is organized and sponsored by the folks at Dematic. One of the events in the conference program this year was a tour of the Dematic manufacturing facility in nearby Salt Lake City, which featured the latest lines of Dematic material handling systems.

 

Dematic used the tour to also showcase its Dematic University Mobile Training Unit, which had arrived in Salt Lake City to coincide with our visit. The Mobile Training Unit basically consists of two tractor-trailers that are stuffed full of conveyor and sortation modules designed to train the operations and maintenance personnel of customers using Dematic equipment. This technical training center on wheels travels the country between customer sites. Each equipment module is mounted onto its own wheels so that it can be quickly offloaded and wheeled into the customer site for the training sessions.

 

A key benefit for the customer is that they do not have to shut down their own conveyor and sorting units in order to conduct training – operations can hum along as normal while the training occurs in a space that is away from causing disruptions.

The equipment modules are also designed to work on standard 110-volt outlets so that no additional power needs to be run for them. They can quickly be put in place and powered without extra assembly or installation. The modules are also self-contained with everything that might be needed typically by a conveyor or sorter system, such as air, motors, electronic sensing, and controls.

 

According to a Dematic brochure, the units brought to a customer site include transportation and accumulation conveyors, motorized rollers, segmented belt on roller, right angle transfers, and curves. We also saw a sliding shoe sorter module there. The units can be disassembled to demonstrate belt changes, motor replacement, preventative maintenance procedures, and more. The training program can be customized according to the needs of the host company and the equipment they have installed or are about to install. Dematic says that the training is also augmented with video and e-learning instruction.

 

In an age where keeping systems up and running is crucial to any operation, having this type of mobile training available for customers just makes a lot of sense. It is a good example of a systems manufacturer responding to the needs of its user community.

Distribution across the Pond

By David Maloney | September 02, 2015 | 7:43 PM | Categories: Material Handling, Supply Chain, Warehousing

I was in Europe last week looking at five effective distribution centers, three in Germany and two in Belgium. While DC Velocity primarily reports on things going on here in North American distribution, it is also important for us to share the worldview.

 

Europe has always been very advanced in warehouse technology. Many of the industry’s leading automation companies are based on the continent and there tends to be more automation overall in Europe than here at home. There are two important reasons for this. First, land is more scarce and expensive there, especially in Western Europe. Automation helps companies reduce the footprint of their buildings. Secondly, labor is also more costly. Automation helps there too to reduce manpower and save on overall distribution expenses.

 

Four of the facilities I visited store products very densely in several variations of automated storage systems, including shuttle systems, miniloads, and automated storage and retrieval systems. Two of the facilities operate AS/RS systems inside freezer environments, saving people from having to work in such harsh environments.

 

I also saw a couple of iterations of goods-to-person picking systems that handle a variety of products from cosmetics to auto parts.

 

I will be sharing these stories in future issues of DC Velocity. I also shot videos in four of the facilities, which will be used in upcoming episodes of our popular Move It! program. This will allow you to see some of these sophisticated systems in action.

 

And speaking of seeing distribution operations from elsewhere, Toby Gooley and I will be visiting some facilities in Japan later this year – again, with the goal of helping our readers to see what is going on elsewhere in the world. Stay tuned.

TMS is driving forward

By David Maloney | July 27, 2015 | 8:03 PM | Categories: Material Handling, Supply Chain, Transportation

A research survey released earlier this month shows just how important transportation management has become. The survey, conducted by InMotion Global (the folks behind the AscendTMS transportation management system), reveals that the use of TMS has more than tripled in the last 10 years.

The report details that 54 percent of logistics professionals currently use transportation management software in some way. InMotion Global says that is up from only 15 percent in 2005. And to show further how TMS is growing, the research also explains that of the remaining 46 percent not currently using a TMS, more than half say that they expect to use transportation management software within the next 12 to 24 months.

 Among other findings taken from the report: 

  • The two most common reasons for not using a TMS are cost (43%) and complexity (32%).
  • Trucking companies were most likely to use a TMS if they had more than 20 trucks in service (89%). For those with under 10 trucks, the percent using a TMS falls to just 31%. For those with under 5 trucks in service TMS use was only 16%.
  • Shippers and manufacturers used a TMS system primarily for LTL shipments (47%). However, that number rises to 73% if the shipper moved an average of 30 or more truckload shipments per week.
  • Home-grown TMS systems accounted for 6% of TMS systems in use today, and 3% of survey respondents use a freight module as part of another system (such as an ERP or sales management system). 

 Clearly transportation management systems are playing a more crucial role than ever before in managing the flow of goods. Companies have learned through experience and through their competition that decisions need to be done in a smarter way using available data. A good TMS fills that role.

J.B. Hunt study shows ways to boost trucking efficiency

By Ben Ames | July 27, 2015 | 7:28 AM | Categories: Material Handling, Transportation, Warehousing

Logistics partners in every part of the supply chain are in a constant hunt to increase driver utilization and optimization in trucking fleets—whether their own, their partners’, or their 3PL’s.

Now a white paper from J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. says one solution for wringing maximum efficiency out of the Hours of Service regulations covering the legal driving limits for commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) may be right under our noses—inefficiencies at the loading dock.

Breaking down the math around the DOT-regulated driver’s “on duty” day of 840 minutes (14 hours), the report shows how quickly those minutes can drain away. The rules require a 30-minute break and 150 minutes for everything else a professional driver does, including pickup, delivery, safety inspections, and shutdown.

A quick calculation shows that leaves just 660 minutes of actual driving time per day, but surveys show most drivers fall far short. The J.B. Hunt report cites figures showing that a typical driver loses valuable time on activities such as empty drive time, appointment inflexibility, and time spent at the shipper or receiver location. Multiply that over many loads, and there’s no mystery what happens to missing capacity.

The paper points out ways to avoid those wasted minutes, such as:

  • shave down loading and unloading times
  • utilize a drop-and-hook strategy strategy instead of live unloading
  • push back against rigid pickup and delivery times
  • shrink shut-down time by asking shippers to provide onsite parking and amenities
  • furnish a more predictable schedule to avoid cancellations, short lead times, multi-stop loads and other headaches

To read the full whitepaper, check out https://blog.jbhunt.com/wp-content/themes/files/pdf/660_Minutes.pdf.

A merger of material handlers

By Ben Ames | July 24, 2015 | 1:53 PM | Categories: Material Handling, Supply Chain

Two companies made news in the material handling sector this month when Inmar, the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based firm that operates supply chain, promotions, and healthcare platforms for retailers and manufacturers, announced it had acquired Scanner Applications. 

Inmar’s core business is supplying technology to help its clients operate intelligent commerce networks, connecting offline and online transactions in real time for retailers, manufacturers, and their trading partners. More specifically, the Inmar Supply Chain Network combines the unique transaction processing of returns with real-time analytics to enable supply chain improvement and facilitate reverse logistics.

Scanner Applications, of Cincinnati, supplies turnkey solutions for trade promotion management and tracking services. Combine that with Inmar’s offerings—such as digital and paper coupon and rebate processing and settlement, digital coupon distribution, promotion analytics, and shopper behavior research—and the new partners think they have something special.

The two companies plan to join forces to create a broad suite of consumer and trade promotion solutions for retailers and consumer packaged goods manufacturers, as shoppers increasingly demand both flexibility and personalization from retailers.

 As part of Inmar, the Scanner Apps team will continue to operate from its Cincinnati location, enabling Inmar to extend its presence in that area of the U.S. For more information, check out www.inmar.com.

Why supply chain managers should care about material handling equipment

By Toby Gooley | July 14, 2015 | 1:23 PM | Categories: Material Handling, Supply Chain

Back in March, I attended the biennial ProMat trade show in Chicago. ProMat, produced by the trade association MHI, boasts more than 800 exhibitors and largely focuses on material handling equipment, technology, and services for warehouses and distribution centers (DCs). I was there in my role as a senior editor for DC Velocity, but could not help thinking about what the show had to offer readers of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' member magazine of which I am editor. Among all the forklifts, conveyors, and other material handling equipment I found much that could—and should—pique the interest of supply chain managers and executives.

Why should someone who lives in the world of inventory management, demand forecasting, and network optimization devote time to learning about material handling equipment? Because that equipment is what makes it possible to implement supply chain strategies. Without efficient warehouses and distribution centers supported by new equipment and technology, all you have is a plan on paper (or a computer screen). And with supply chains undergoing increasingly rapid transformation influenced by disruptive technology, this has become an area supply chain managers can’t afford to ignore.

Here are just a few examples of the intersection of material handling and supply chain strategy from the show:

  • Much of the more sophisticated equipment on display, such as goods-to-person systems and automated storage and retrieval systems, could play a role in helping companies address broader supply chain concerns—for instance, speed to market and bringing consistent performance to global operations. Vendors are providing complex solutions designed from the customer back—that is, starting with a problem or a new market imperative, and developing equipment and technology that not only address that need, but also revise upstream and downstream processes as needed.
  • E-commerce appears to be the single greatest factor influencing material handling equipment development. The design, or redesign, of everything from packaging equipment to conveyors and sortation systems to order picking and storage systems is being heavily influenced by the unique needs of e-commerce fulfillment. Software, too, is under the microscope; warehouse management systems (WMS), for instance, are being retooled to keep up with e-commerce’s faster pace and its focus on individual piece picking and shipping.
  • Robotics has matured from a gee-whiz novelty to an important tool for bringing consistent, reliable, 24 x 7 performance to an array of tasks in high-throughput distribution centers. Robotic equipment—including some that is designed to work alongside human order pickers and packers—could mitigate the effects of labor shortages and allow more workers to shift from ergonomically challenging, repetitive activities to those that truly require human input. With labor availability, training, and management expected to become more problematic in the future, it’s time to look at robotics as a viable solution.

For more examples, as well as commentary on how this important subject fits into the big supply chain picture, be sure to read MHI’s Material Handling & Logistics U.S. Roadmap report at www.mhlroadmap.org. We've also covered the report at DCV.

On track in Texas

By David Maloney | June 25, 2015 | 8:17 PM | Categories: Lift Trucks, Material Handling, Supply Chain, Transportation, Warehousing

Yesterday I was in Pharr, Texas working on a print story and a video at a company called McCoy’s Building Supply (look for this story in an upcoming issue of DC Velocity). As the name implies, McCoy’s provides lumber, hardware, shingles, blocks, and a full range of other building products to construction firms from over 80 locations throughout five southern states. I was there to look at their use of Toyota lift trucks, particularly in moving the heavy loads within their yard.

 

The Pharr facility does a little of everything. It serves as a distribution point for other McCoy stores in south Texas and there is also a retail store attached to the lumberyard that provides hardware and other home improvement products to do-it-yourselfers.

 

What struck me as uncommon about this facility was that it had a rail spur in its yard. While rail is often used to supply manufacturing facilities, few distribution operations in the U.S. have rail connections. Two flatbed rail cars had been dropped off onto the spur the night before I visited. Heavy-duty pneumatic-tire lift trucks were used to quickly unload the cars the following morning, taking advantage of their ability to access the rail cars from both sides.

 

Of course, a lot of freight moves by rail in North America. It is the most cost-effective ground transport available to shippers. Most rail loads, though, have to transfer to trucks to reach a D.C. Having a rail spur in their yard allowed McCoys to purchase full train car loads, which gave them better pricing and saved on freight. The product is then distributed to other local McCoy’s stores.

 

Possibly in the future we will see more distribution networks designed to better take advantage of direct connections to rail, gaining the efficiencies and cost savings found with being on-track.

New for you

By David Maloney | May 18, 2015 | 7:00 PM | Categories: Material Handling, Warehousing

I am writing this blog from the Spring meeting of MHI being held in Charlotte, N.C., where today two new industry groups were created to better serve you.

For those not familiar with MHI, it is the largest trade organization serving the material handling industry. That is its traditional role, but MHI has expanded its borders over the past couple of years to extend to all facets of the supply chain. The two new groups owe their incarnation to the realization that the industry has changed and so have the needs of end users who rely on solutions from system providers.

While MHI is the entity that encompasses many disciplines, within the organization are sub-sets known either as Product Groups or Solutions Groups. The Product Groups are composed of member companies that make similar specific technologies, such as automated storage systems, racking, hoists, lifts, and conveyors. Though competitors, they collaborate together within MHI to conduct research into industry trends and customer needs, as well as they provide education and resources to strengthen their portions of the industry as a whole and to independently develop products that better serve the marketplace.

Similarly, Solutions Groups consist of competing solutions providers who cooperate to share knowledge and information, while addressing trends and challenges facing their customers.

The two new Solutions Groups birthed today came from former product groups that had moved beyond their initial scope. Recognizing a need to better serve and interface with end-users, these groups were established to be the “go to” authorities for customers seeking solutions to their problems.

The former Integrated Systems and Controls (ISC) group has now become the Automated Solutions Group (ASG). More than a name change, the new direction of the group is to identify needs through research, educate the industry and end users about automation, and provide solutions that address industry trends.

Similarly the former Supply Chain Execution Systems and Technologies (SCE) group has been shuttered to make room for the Information Systems Solutions Group (ISSG). These folks will focus on educating the industry on software trends and how information systems connect the varied data streams of the supply chain.

Both new industry groups will be conducting industry research and thought leadership in the coming months and both plan educational presentations as both the MHI Fall meeting held in October in Ponte Vedra, Fla. and at Modex in Atlanta next April.

DC Velocity is a member of both of these Solutions Groups. Look for further updates from us on how these two new groups are designed to better serve you.

A healthy industry - for sure

By David Maloney | April 06, 2015 | 4:01 PM | Categories: Lift Trucks, Material Handling, Warehousing

It has been just over a week since all of us at DC Velocity have come home from ProMat and we’ve had some time to reflect on this year’s show, which is always one of the top conferences in the supply chain industry.

This year, more than 800 exhibitors were on hand to show off their wares in the huge hall at Chicago’s McCormick Place, and over 30,000 people attended the four-day show. The biggest impression I walked away with this year is that we are in a very healthy industry. Supply chain has shaken off the rust of the Great Recession and has more than made up for six years of barely keeping above water. I believe we are poised for great things ahead.

Plenty of intriguing technologies were on display during ProMat, as well as the latest in software offerings. During the show, DC Velocity editors held over 80 meetings with exhibitors and attendees. We produced more than 60 articles of ProMat coverage. If you could not make it to the show, you can find information on many of the leading technologies on display as well as select conference sessions held at ProMat here:

https://www.dcvelocity.com/conference_reports/promat2015/

We also produced 10 videos highlighting some of the latest solutions found in the exhibits. You can view those videos here:

https://www.dcvelocity.com/dcvtv/profiles/

Additionally, DC Velocity recorded video interviews at our in-booth studio with many industry leaders as part of our continuing Meet the Rainmakers series. These will be released over the next two months. Look for those videos in our This Week on DCV-TV newsletter.

I would like to express my thanks to the many people our editors met with during ProMat for helping us to provide such extensive coverage to DC Velocity readers. See you all at Modex next year in Atlanta.

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

Thoughts from our editors.



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