ProMat 2013:  Tempered enthusiasm

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If the findings from our 2012 Warehouse and Distribution Center (DC) Operations Survey are any indication, my guess is that the show floor at ProMat 2013 will be steeped in tempered enthusiasm.

The responses revealed that as we continue to slog through the slowest recovery on record, warehouse and DC decision makers are pretty much split into two camps heading into 2013: those taking a conservative position on materials handling equipment spending and those who are ready to turn on the jets and do something truly revolutionary inside their operations.

In fact, the majority (52%) told us that they’re going to continue to be cautious and remain focused on fundamental improvements such as process reconfiguration, racking, and software upgrades with a concentration on labor management. This statistic reveals that the cost control efforts put forth during the heart of the recession are still in play with many—and perhaps burnt into our collective consciousness.

However, we did find a more aggressive group at the other end of the spectrum: the 17% who reported that they spent $1 million or more in 2012 and another 16% who are planning to spend the same or more in 2013. “That’s money planned for significant projects and an indicator that these companies are doing more than just replacing worn out equipment,” says Don Derewecki, senior consultant with our survey partner TranSystems.

It’s also an indication that many of those managers have done their best to shave points off their operating costs over the past few tough years—and now the low-hanging fruit is gone. “So, they’re starting to get more aggressive and finally looking to squeeze the trigger on investments in mechanization and automation,” says Derewecki.

And, when the doors open next month at ProMat in Chicago’s McCormick Place (Jan. 21-24), we’re projecting that the mixed signals emanating from our readers will set the tone for the event.
While there may be a fair amount of “tire kicking” from that 52% working on a wish list, I have a feeling that there will be more strategic conversations happening this year—more warehouse and distribution center decision makers sitting down with systems integrators, automation and technology vendors to discuss how to piece together the “game-changing” solution.

“This will be a breakthrough year for many organizations in terms of upgrading systems,” says Derewecki. “According to the findings, corporate is making its presence felt inside the warehouse and DC now more than ever, and there’s an increasing recognition of the importance of the operations inside the four walls and how much money needs to be spent there.”

So, expect McCormick Place to fill with a warm glow of enthusiasm next month. While it may not be enough for a January thaw, it should be enough to foster the growth of fundamental change inside the warehouse and DC operations of many of today’s supply chain visionaries.

About the Author

Michael Levans, Group Editorial Director
Michael Levans is Group Editorial Director of Peerless Media’s Supply Chain Group of publications and websites including Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management Review, Modern Materials Handling, and Material Handling Product News. He’s a 23-year publishing veteran who started out at the Pittsburgh Press as a business reporter and has spent the last 17 years in the business-to-business press. He’s been covering the logistics and supply chain markets for the past seven years. You can reach him at [email protected]

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