3 Material Handling Issues That Should Be On Your Radar

“The art of prophecy is very difficult,” noted Mark Twain, “especially with respect to the future.” With that in mind, we’ve been reading up on new-year insights offered by a range of industry experts, then borrowing from our Pickologists’ expertise to put together our own educated guesses about which material handling issues we might expect to contend with in over the next few years. Here are the three we found most interesting:

  1. Labor: Who’s going to do the work?

The boom in e-commerce is fueling the need for more – and more qualified – warehouse workers, especially in picking and packing operations. But even at about $15 per hour, the industry average, warehouse labor is difficult to attract and even harder to retain. Fulfillment is an intense, demanding job that requires technical skills that most of the labor pool does not possess. At the same time, the increasingly complex warehouse environment demands flexibility across job functions. Turnover is high and onboarding is expensive.

In a growing economy with low unemployment, will you be able to find, recruit, train and retain the volume of qualified workers you need to staff your operations?

manufacturing labor shortage material handling

  1. Technology: Not just better tools, better systems

Automation has been inching into the material handling industry for decades, but the trend toward advanced technology is just beginning. Expect the pace, reach and relevance of technological innovations to explode:

  • Will ARC (autonomous mobile robots) morph into RaaS (Robot as a Service)?
  • Will blockchain applications merge with RFID, IoT, cloud capabilities, and other mainstream technologies to build trusting supply chain relationships through transparency and traceability?
  • Will AI – including iterations such as chatbots, autonomous vehicles, collaborative robots, and virtual reality motion controllers – be able to incorporate sensory abilities and deep learning techniques to tackle real-world challenges?

These futuristic advances are not far in the future. Since 2015, Amazon has hosted an annual robotic picking challenge “to develop robotics hardware and software that can recognize objects, grasp them, and move them from place to place,” says IEEE Spectrum, which a team from the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision at Queensland University of Technology won in 2017 for its custom Cartesian robot named Cartman.

The world’s largest retailer is putting its resources into creating “a smarter, faster, more consistent customer experience….” Shouldn’t you be doing the same?

  1. The Perfect Order Index: When expectations meet reality

Ah, perfection, the unicorn of the fulfillment industry. We think we know what it looks like but has anyone ever actually seen it? In fact, how do we even know if is an order perfectly executed? Is it:

  • When it is delivered on time and to the correct location?
  • Undamaged?
  • Complete and correct?
  • Confirmed and documented?

Yes, at least according to the typical POI definition. But there’s more to consider:

  • Is the customer happy?
  • Was order placement seamless and confirmation timely?
  • Was tracking data communicated clearly and correctly?
  • Was the order delivered in full in a single shipment?
  • Was the quality satisfactory?
  • Is the return process easy?
  • Is reimbursement fast and credited accurately?

Equally important, examine the order from a different perspective:

  • How much did it cost to fulfill the order?
  • Was expedited shipping or handling required?
  • Was adequate inventory available and accessible?
  • Was excess inventory on hand?
  • Was payment processed accurately?
  • Were there delays in transit?
  • Were profit margins met and maintained?

The balance between performance and profitability is increasingly delicate and precarious. What steps are you taking to align expectations with reality at every stage of fulfillment?

So, what’s on your radar for 2018? What material handling challenges do you foresee and how do you plan to contend with them? What will perfection look like in your operation?

Growth in American Manufacturing

American manufacturing growth rates slowed somewhat in April 2017, but don’t count the US out yet when it comes to strength in the manufacturing sector. The Institute for Supply Chain Management reported a dip in its manufacturing index – to 54.8% in April – but that’s from a three-year high of 57.2% in March, and…

UNEX Manufacturing Pickologist Selected as Supply Chain Pro to Know

UNEX Manufacturing, Inc., the trusted industry leader in providing innovative order picking solutions, announces that Craig Moberg, Flow Cell and Roller Rack Product Manager, has been selected as a 2018 Supply Chain Provider Pro to Know by Supply & Demand Chain Executive magazine. The Pros to Know Awards recognize supply chain executives, and manufacturing and non-manufacturing enterprises,…

Manufacturing Trends: 2018 & Beyond

Manufacturing around the world is undergoing some of the most innovative changes since the Industrial Revolution, and these emerging technological innovations have the potential to be just as transformative by enabling exponentially greater speed, transparency and accuracy throughout the supply chain. According to IDC FutureScape, a global survey, some of the manufacturing trends you can…

Great Expectations in the Retail Supply Chain

Based on 2017 sales, a robust economy and growing consumer confidence, retailers are looking forward to 2018 with a level of optimism and enthusiasm they haven’t shown in years, and with proof in their pockets. According to NRF (National Retail Federation) figures, the 2017 US holiday shopping season (November 1 – December 24) showed the…

UNEX To Exhibit Redesigned Roller Rack at RILA Conference

UNEX Manufacturing, Inc., the trusted industry leader in providing innovative order picking solutions, will showcase their innovative material handling products and accessories at the upcoming RILA Retail Supply Chain Conference 2018. Top executives in the retail supply chain space attending the show are encouraged to visit UNEX in Booth 452 to learn about the latest, most…

How to Limit Employee Injuries

This article first appeared in Industrial Distribution Magazine In any work environment, as noise and activity levels increase, the risk of danger also increases. In a busy warehouse environment, filled with conveyors, forklifts, rack systems and other moving parts and multiple shifts running at high volumes, the danger of serious workplace injury or even fatality…

Warehouse Operations & Trends

In September 2017, the Peerless Research Group surveyed roughly three hundred DC professionals on behalf of Logistics Management and Modern Materials Handling magazine. Responses were then compared to previous surveys conducted in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The results, released in October and titled, “An Evaluation of Warehouse Operations & Trends,” offer some interesting insights into…

Pick Plank- Shoes for the Cobbler’s Children

Have you ever heard the expression “The cobbler’s son wears no shoes?” How about “A plumber’s house always has a dripping tap?” Whatever version of the proverb you’re familiar with, the message remains the same: craftsmen simply do not enjoy the benefits of their own craft at home or in their workplace. At UNEX, we’re…

UNEX Manufacturing Posts Second Consecutive Year of Record Growth

UNEX Manufacturing, Inc., the trusted industry leader in innovative order picking solutions, celebrates its second consecutive year of record business growth in 2017, adding dozens of new products and solution patents, major industry awards and global sales throughout North America, Central America, Europe and Asia. UNEX now employs over 100 people, making the company one…

Unex Logo

UNEX Manufacturing, Inc.
691 New Hampshire Avenue
Lakewood, NJ 08701

Join Newsletter