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

So far, so good may be the best way to describe the current state of progress in the negotiating process regarding the announcement made last month by FedEx that it plans to acquire Netherlands-based TNT-NV and a provider of mail and courier services and the fourth largest global parcel operator for $4.8 billion.

A new study, “Understanding Risk Assessment Practices at Manufacturing Companies,” uncovers complex business risks and disruptors facing manufacturers, and a pressing need for the industry to evolve its risk assessment capabilities.

Led by perennial earnings champ Old Dominion Freight Line, the nation’s LTL carriers as a group are enjoying a particularly strong earnings season—especially when one considers the first quarter usually is the slowest period for trucking in general with harsh winter weather bearing down on earnings.

A mixed bag may be the most appropriate way to characterize the current state of manufacturing based on the most recent edition of the April edition of the Manufacturing Report on Business issued by the Institute for Supply Management today.

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (FRA) issued its long-awaited Final Rulemaking for “Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains.”

Comments

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