Green Materials Handling; Industry Outlook Survey

From conveyors to pallets, industry leaders make the case for how their products can make a difference to companies focused on the green supply chain
By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
April 01, 2010 - MMH Editorial

How green are your materials handling systems? That may not be a question you're currently asking your materials handling suppliers or one that your customers are asking you today. After all, most certification groups don't yet factor in materials handling systems when they're looking at the impact of a distribution center or manufacturing plant on the environment.

That, however, may soon change. Ninety-two percent of the respondents to our annual Industry Outlook Survey said they expect environmental sustainability to be very (48%) or somewhat (44%) important in the next two years. It is already a priority in the board rooms at Fortune 500 corporations and a requirement for doing business with state and federal governments.

Most companies launch their sustainability initiatives in those areas of their business where they can have the most impact, like fuel consumption for a transportation company. But just as lean initiatives started in the factory and migrated to the warehouse and the office, it's only a matter of time before sustainability efforts filter down to the warehouse.

“I think most of our clients already have sustainability on their radar,” says Paul Evanko, a senior vice president for St. Onge (717-804-8181,, a design and consulting company. “It may not be No. 1 on their list, but it's become a corporate priority.”

What's more, Evanko adds, there are plenty of areas in a facility—from efficient storage and picking to carton cubing to smart controls on equipment—where materials handling can enable a sustainable operation once someone starts asking the question: How green are your materials handling systems? (For those attending NA 2010 this month in Cleveland, Evanko will be one of the presenters on sustainability.)

To get a snapshot of where the industry is today, Modern asked more than 20 suppliers of materials handling products and systems how they are going green in their manufacturing processes and products, and how they can enable sustainable materials handling.

Conveyor, sortation and storage

Engineered for efficiency
One way to reduce the consumption of energy in an automated materials handling system is to operate in the most efficient manner while still meeting throughput requirements, says Jerry Koch, Intelligrated's (866-936-7300, product director of software and controls. Intelligrated recently implemented a system that allows the customer to enter in the demand for the day. With that information, the control system can calculate the least amount of energy usage required to run the system and meet that demand. Although it has not been implemented, Intelligrated also designed a system that integrates with a building's infrastructure. “If we no longer have product flowing in an area of the building, we can put the conveyor in sleep mode and tell the building to turn off the lighting in that area,” Koch says. “As the cost of energy rises, we believe the technology will become viable.”

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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