I spent the first two days of the week at the North American Material Handling show in Cleveland, and I’ll do a bit of a review and comment here, combining both my observations on the show and new products, and summarizing two excellent presentations by The Limited Brands’ Paul Mathews and John Wettstein of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.
As most know, the Material Handling Show is a sister event of the larger ProMat event in Chicago, both produced under the Material Handling Institute’s umbrella. Each show runs every other year, but the crowds and vendor activity are always somewhat less in non-ProMat years.
Monday was lightly attended, as usual, but the crowd seemed fairly brisk on Tuesday. In a few informal conversations with both vendors and attendees, my sense was that interest in material handling automation is strong, but that decision and approval cycles are longer than ever. As someone from a large industrial company told me, “We have to go through so many layers and approval levels now for any significant project that it takes a real act of perseverance to keep the energy going to get the project approved.” A material handling consultant told me about a consumer direct distributor they were working with that almost literally had DC workers on top of each other in a small DC, leading to tremendous throughput and customer service issues, but the board wanted data and then more data and then more data still before they will approve the project.
It’s no secret corporations are very tight with capital even in these fairly robust times, but when really high ROI projects take that long, I think things have gone too far.
The major MHA vendors, such as HK Systems and FKI Logistex, had scaled down booths compared to last year’s ProMat show, and Siemens was a surprising no show, which was attributed in part to the material handling unit potentially being up for sale by the global industrial giant.
As a result, there were comparatively few new products of note released at the show, though I certainly may have missed a few things.
That said, below are my “Best of Show” picks for NAMH 2006. Not all of these products were specifically released at the show, but all are at least fairly new to market. You’ll find more detail on each and some photos on our web site.
- The Smart Loader by Jervis B Webb: This is a combination AGV and fork truck, which I believe is the first on the market to actually be able to place loads in a trailer unattended. The floor demo was pretty impressive, and a booth representative told me a major beverage company, which after a few piercing questions wasn’t too hard to deduce as being Anheuser-Busch (I think), is using something like 25 of the units in a DC for trailer loading, and a smaller number to do floor stacking. “Lights out” warehousing?
- The Smart Dock software application from BGI International. This is a new web-based version of the company’s dock door management system used by many grocers and some companies in other industries. The web-native element of the new release makes it especially appealing for companies to easily provide for management and visibility of door activities, and to enable carriers to schedule appointments over the web. This is representative of the increased emphasis in the dock and yard management areas by both companies and software vendors, as others such as HighJump Software, Manhattan Associates and RedPrairie all had visual yard and/or dock management systems prominently featured at the show.
- A new ceiling-mounted pallet dimension scanner from Cubiscan/Quantronix. Like many of us, in the past I’ve used traditional gear from Cubiscan to get accurate carton dimensions. This new device provides a 3D profile of pallets to improve load building and other shipment planning.
- Softeon’s new interactive voice capability in its WMS: This new feature from the WMS/SCE provider adds the ability to easily create voice notifications or instructions to workers as events occur. Interesting potential now, but will perhaps be essential in an RFID-based world where automated reads, rather than operator-initiated bar scans, create transactions or alert the system to errors or opportunities.
More details on all the above at our NAMH 20006 Best of Show article.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Paul Mathews’ presentation at the executive forum on linking supply chain management thinking and efforts with board room concerns and strategies. This really was an update of a presentation Mathews has made in the past, but it keeps getting deeper and better. The essential point – SCM professionals far too often fail to really understand how to align their activities and language with CEO and board room concerns. We provide a detailed summary here (Aligning Supply Chain Strategies with the Boardroom).
Jon Wettstein, VP of Supply Chain Operations for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, gave an interesting presentation on how the small but fast growing coffee manufacturer took a big bet with heavily automating its DC. Look for our case study early next week (visit the web site or subscribe to the RSS feed to get early) on how the company achieved excellent results but came away from the project with some lessons/learnings worth considering by others. Here’s one: don’t underestimate start-up costs when projecting the timing of planned cost reductions.
I’m out of room as always. We would welcome your thoughts on the show and/or our review of new products and the forum presentations.
Did you attend NAMH 2006? What were your thoughts? Did we miss any cool new products? Are more “lights out” type technologies distribution’s future? Are approval processes overly extended for your company?