Flexible automation, labor augmentation and longer lead times for project delivery are among the major trends in material handling, says Christian Dow, executive vice president of leadership and membership at MHI.
Some material handling projects have some very long lead times, Dow notes, but intermediate implementations can help quite a bit. “A lot of these projects now are not only measured in months but years. It might take two or three years for your full-scale project to be implemented. So there are a lot of solutions that can help you bridge the gap between the full installation of a complete project and augmenting the resources that you have today.”
Some solutions can certainly be a part of the long-term project, but in the meantime are flexible and scalable. They can be used temporarily and then repurposed later. Flexible sortation systems, for example, might help in the short term but become a part of an extended project once it has been completed. Similarly, automated mobile robots can help with one’s labor issues now and be integrated into a project portfolio at a later date.
Citing MHI’s 9th Annual Supply Chain Innovation report, Dow says the labor shortage is particularly acute for warehouse and fulfillment operators, as well as others in supply chain. Utilizing tools like augmented reality and wearable devices can also help with labor issues.
Dow says flexible technology is a major trend partly because it can be moved from one location to another, in line with peak seasons in a company’s business, and partly because the permitting process is shorter. Moreover, such technology can be depreciated differently than that of permanent equipment, he says. “So it becomes a cost savings for a lot of companies.” In any event, Dow stresses, companies can benefit greatly from temporary installations.
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