An Inside Take of ProMat 2013

Innovative material handling solutions unveiled during the show address main DC and warehouse challenges


As ProMat 2013 came to a close in Chicago yesterday, there was one key takeaway that warehouse/DC operators and other attendees were able to walk away with—the material handling industry’s technology and software solutions providers hear your pain points, loud and clear.

From complete, integrated software solutions that provide TMS, WMS, WCS and ERP on one software platform; to sustainable, plastic wooden pallet protectors; to more user-friendly and ergonomic forklifts—the tradeshow floor was packed with vendors showcasing how their solutions are a fit for the warehouse and DC. And with numerous developments expected to heat up in 2013, warehouse and DC executives may possibly expect to see a downturn in their supply chain challenges (dependent, of course, upon software and services adoption rates). In return, technology and services providers in this space may see an increase in technology demand and face their own battles in meeting production and development demand.

Suffice to say that it may be too soon to tell for such predictions. Nonetheless, certain cases in the industry point in that direction. For example, one end-user Supply & Demand Chain Executive spoke to during the show mentioned that they’re growing at such a fast pace that by the time they’re ready to implement a software solution and deploy it, the company is already on to the next level in its business/customer growth. Thus, it continues to use certain manual processes to deliver upon its supply chain strategies. Hard to believe, since the movement is clearly towards more intelligent, automated solutions. Perhaps most evident of this is the fact that both Automate 2013 and ProMat 2013 are co-located across from each other within Chicago’s McCormick Place. On top of that, several in the industry already pointed out that in the next five-to-10 years, we can see both shows no longer co-located but combined for attendees. Fanuc Robotics’ booth—which demonstrated a number of different automated, robotic picking solutions—at ProMat 2013 is one precursor to a potential new show down the road stemming from ProMat 2013 and Automate 2013.

While the discussion around 100-percent automation in the warehouse and DC (i.e., total elimination of workers) is far off, with some of the technologies on the tradeshow floor, it comes as no surprise that it leaves some food for thought.

But let’s not turn away from the material handling vendors who continue to drive innovation into the DC and warehouse space right now.

Introduced to the North American market for the first time in Q4 2012, Jungheinrich AG and Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America Inc. (MCFA) housed the Jungheinrich Warehouse Navigation system technology on the ProMat show floor, even allowing attendees to demo the operation (with staff on-hand). The system, which is designed to increase efficiency and productivity in narrow-aisle applications, uses transponder Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to control guided Jungheinrich very narrow-aisle lift trucks within the aisles of a warehouse. Utilizing the system, customers can expect an up to 25 percent increase in productivity, depending on the application environment. Transponders are placed in the warehouse floor at specific distances and are used to communicate with an RFID reader/writer in the lift truck to identify warehouse aisle locations and distances. As a result, the system knows its location within the aisles at all times and can be programmed to reach specific pallet positions by selecting the most efficient combination of traveling and lifting.

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