The state of automation in materials handling

Despite the recession, our industry is reaching an inflection point for automation.
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

Seasonally-adjusted (SA) for-hire truck tonnage in October at 135.7 (2000=100) was up 1.9 percent compared to September’s 133.1, and the ATA’s not seasonally-adjusted (NSA) index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment was 139.8 in October, which was 0.9 percent ahead of September.

The average price per gallon of diesel gasoline fell 3.7 cents to $2.445 per gallon, according to data issued today by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). This marks the lowest weekly price for diesel since June 1, 2009, when it was at $2.352 per gallon.

In its report, entitled “Grey is the new Black,” JLL takes a close look at supply chain-related trends that can influence retailers’ approaches to Black Friday.

This year, it's all about the digital supply network. In this virtual conference, we will define the challenges currently facing supply chain organizations and offer solutions designed to transform linear operations into dynamic, automated networks that offer seamless communication, visibility, and the ability to respond and optimize processes at any given time.

In his opening comments assessing the economy at last week’s RailTrends conference hosted by Progressive Railroading magazine and independent railroad analyst Tony Hatch, FTR Senior analyst Larry Gross said the economy continues to slog ahead at a relatively tepid pace, coupled with some volatility in terms of overall GDP growth. And amid that slogging, Gross said there is currently an economic hand-off occurring between the industrial sector and the consumer sector.


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