The state of automation in materials handling

Despite the recession, our industry is reaching an inflection point for automation.
image
By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
December 15, 2010 - MMH Editorial

In August, Modern featured Office Depot’s new distribution center in Newville, Pa., on the cover. At the heart of the DC is an integrated piece-picking solution that combines mobile robots for high-density storage and conveyance; light-directed picking to ensure that the associate picks the right item; and a high-speed conveyor and sortation system to get the product to the packing zone.

While this level of automation has been common on high-speed assembly lines for years, it represents a new level of sophistication in distribution. Although the technology allows Office Depot to get a significant amount of throughput from a relatively small labor force, labor savings within the four walls of the DC wasn’t the primary driver behind choosing a highly automated system.

Rather, the solution represents a broader supply chain play; it is an enabling technology that will allow Office Depot to completely retool the way inventory is replenished at the stores serviced by that DC. “We believe that the future belongs to the brave,” Brent Beabout, Office Depot’s vice president of global network strategy and transportation, told Modern. “We are in a commodity business and the supply chain is a differentiator. We plan to be on the front end of that.”



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.


Subscribe to Logistics Management magazine

Subscribe today. It's FREE!
Get timely insider information that you can use to better manage your
entire logistics operation.
Start your FREE subscription today!

Recent Entries

While many industry analysts contend that distribution centers near U.S. East Coast ports will see a surge of new business after the Panama Canal expansion, real estate experts say this phenomena is already underway.

A new Government Accountability Office report on the effects of changes to truck driver hours of service rules has sparked a war of words between the American Trucking Associations and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the arm of the Transportation Department that is in charge of making those rules.

The Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reported this week that U.S. trade with its North America Free Trade Agreement partners Canada and Mexico in May dropped 10.8 percent annually to $92.7 billion, following a 6.8 percent annual decline to $93.3 billion in April.

Carloads headed down 2.5 percent annually to 286,660, and intermodal containers and trailers remained on a growth path, up 2.3 percent to 270,952.

Rumors of transportation and logistics titan UPS acquiring Chicago-based transportation management services provider Coyote Logistics for $1.8 billion have become a reality, with UPS announcing today that the deal is now official.

Comments

Post a comment
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.