The mobile supply chain

Materials handling no longer stops at the dock door.

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I don’t know about you, but it seems like there has been a lot of news coming out of the materials handling industry in the last few weeks.

Toyota introduces a new electric lift truck. Dematic plans to acquire HK Systems. MHIA launches Modex, a new trade show in Atlanta. AIRDEX is bringing out a GPS-enabled pallet.

You might be asking: Who the heck is AIRDEX and what are they doing in the same list as Toyota, Dematic & HK and MHIA?

I’m glad you asked, because I think all four announcements are related to what I think of as an increasing focus on mobility in the products that service the supply chain. Let’s call it the mobile supply chain.

First, who the heck is AIRDEX? They make very lightweight but strong pallets constructed from a coated foam material. The technology originated in Australia, Vance Seagle, the company’s CEO, told me this week. He patented it in North America. The primary application is in air freight. The pallets cost about $25, or 3 times what a comparable wood pallet would cost. But they weigh about 7 pounds, depending on the size and design, compared to 35 to 40 pounds for a comparable wood pallet, and if treated right, they’re reusable. If you’re shipping product by air freight, that 30 pound difference can add up quickly. “We guarantee that you can save money on one air cargo trip,” says Seagle.

But that’s not what intrigued me. At the end of the call, Seagle told me that AIRDEX is working with AT&T to introduce a new pallet with a GPS-enabled tag with a 45-day battery life – about what it takes for an ocean shipment from China to Long Beach. “We’ll be able to tell you where a pallet of your product is located in real-time at any time,” Seagle said. “It will not need to go through an RFID portal because the tag can communicate all the time.”

So, what is AIRDEX doing in the same list as Toyota, Dematic/HK and MHIA? Like the new AIRDEX pallet, each of those other three announcements illustrate how materials handling is increasingly not just about the movement of goods within the four walls of a facility; it’s also about linking information about those goods as they move through the supply chain. In other words: mobility.

AIRDEX not only wants to enable the movement of your pallet of product, Seagle wants to provide you with 24/7 information on the location of your product in motion.

Toyota’s new lift truck is about moving stuff, no doubt. But Toyota, along with its competitors, is increasingly focused on providing you information about the operation of your lift trucks. It’s information that you can access on the go, no matter where you might be located.

Dematic and HK? Well, last summer Dematic visited Modern’s offices to tell us about a new slogan: Four walls and two windows. The idea was that their systems optimize what happens within the four walls of your facility, with an eye into what is coming into the facility from upstream and where the product is going downstream when it left the facility. Now, with HK’s manufacturing-focused products, Dematic can offer solutions to optimize what happens upstream at manufacturing and with HK’s transportation management solutions, Dematic can optimize what happens to a product when it leaves the distribution center. That too is mobility.

As to Modex, well, I could make the cheap joke and say it illustrates the movement of a trade show from Cleveland to Atlanta, but with a new emphasis on logistics, it too will make the link to mobility – with solutions about the movement of goods inside and outside the four walls.

At the end of the day, I think they illustrate that in materials handling, our job no longer ends at the dock door.


About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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