Like any other industry, material handling has changed and changes with each passing year. And of course, the main reason and source of said changes in technology and the internet. The internet speeds things up, it connected everybody, it leads to the sharing of ideas and of knowledge… We communicate with each other over the internet, it even serves as a platform on which we can do business. And of course, the tech itself, new advances, new pieces of equipment, this all leads to a breakneck transformation of the industry.
Now, the thing here is that all of the issues we mentioned are not new. The internet has been a strong presence for some time now, and technological advancement is part and parcel to for any company. But, it seems 2019 is presenting some interesting trends and changes. Let’s dive into this article and find out.
The advent of online shopping and efficiency
Online shopping has taken root, and it is not going anywhere. The rise of eCommerce companies, the ease of which we can shop online, and this all changes the landscape of the material handling industry. People now shop from all over the world, they can access one company in a matter of minutes through their phone, make a purchase, and have it sent to them in no-time. This means a wider audience, a larger market, and interesting logistical issues. Material handling will need to adapt at every level to this change.
The time between responding to a purchase and sending it through the proper channels is minimal. You need the right equipment, you need to act fast, and you need to know where to send it. Furthermore, due to the global facet of this type of shopping, you will most likely have several delivery services working with you (or for you).
The need to rethink your systems
People want to get their stuff as fast as possible, you will need to be as efficient as possible. Online shopping forces you to think about three areas. First, how will you set up your storage and retrieval systems? As we’ve said, you need to deal with many more suppliers and delivery services – you need to respond to every single one of them quickly.
Furthermore, this same need for speed reacquires you to think about how your conveyor systems are set up. Do you need to update, are you going to switch to robotics (see below)? How much of it will be operated by your employees, and how much by a computer?
Similar things go for sorting and picking. Will you have your employees do it, for hours on end? Or will you invest in an advanced machine that scans whatever barcode, sign, code, labels, or general signifier these objects have?
Robotics and automation
If you want to keep up with the breakneck pace of the new, online world, you need to get the right equipment. Now, getting the basics is a must, don’t get us wrong. A hood company, like Sitecraft for example, will get you the right gear, at a good price. A strong conveyor belt, a solid pallet jack, winches, and links, whatever – these are the foundation on which a material handling business is built. However, you can’t run away from automation.
Automating systems, robots, and anything in between is necessary for growth. These machines speed up the entire work process significantly. Furthermore, they can handle certain parts of the job that pose a safety risk for your employees. Now, we are talking about everything from a simple conveyor belt that makes everybody’s life much easier, to an automated system that tracks certain goods and cargo units.
This can also include logistical issues. Dealing with several companies, both for delivery and for supply will become a nightmare. An excel sheet is not gonna cut it, you need specialized software, with properly trained people with you at all times. Also, think about whether a machine can do some of this stuff for you. An automatic scanning system, for example, based on labels and signifies you put on the cargo can do you a world of good.
The demographics are changing
Aside from new technology and platforms, the material handling industry is changing in a more personal, human sense. Namely, we are talking about the fact that women may enter this part of the workforce. While material handling and warehouse storage have for a long time been a pretty exclusive boys club, things seem to be changing. To put it bluntly, most women lacked the physical capacity and strength to do this kind of work. But, with the advance of technology, the need for raw physical labour in this industry seems to be dwindling.
Namely, while a typical woman can’t really pick up a large container and move it from one area of the warehouse to the next, there is nothing stopping her from driving a forklift. Furthermore, many other basic machinery, like conveyor belts, have added functions and features that make it easier for you to place a container on them. Essentially, even the basic tools and objects are becoming less reliant on physical strength.
This is rather important since the material handling workforces seems to be ageing. Many people are retiring soon, or have already retired, leaving vacant positions for people to take on. Of course, an issue here can be that people are not willing to do this kind of work. It’s not known as glamorous work, but technological advancement may remove some of the stigma.
Material handling, like any industry, is being transformed by technology. The appearance of a viable global market means you also have global competitors. Speed and efficiency have never been more important. Technology begets more technology, you need to invest in automated systems, autonomous scanners, and you need to rethink some very basic logistical elements of your work.
Furthermore, you will notice this all leads to less raw physical labour needs and more technical operations. This, in turn, will change the demographics of the industry and your warehouse. Of course, these are all changes that we expect in the following decades, but we also expect that 2019 will serve as a prologue to these transformations.