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Top Story: North American Material Handling Show 2010 Day 1 Video Review and Comment
Top Story: North American Material Handling Show 2010 Day 2 Video Review and Comment

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What are the top five countries from which the US imports crude oil?

Click to find the answer below
NA 2010 - Full Review and Comment

Ok, back from the IX Center in Cleveland this week and the bi-annual North American Material Handling Show, which trades off each year with the larger ProMat show in Chicago, both put on by the Material Handling Institute of America (MHIA).

The trade show business has been tough for most everyone in the past few years, for a variety of reasons, and that had an impact here as well. Crowds were very light Monday, but recovered pretty well on Tuesday, though from my view down from previous years, as with most events these days.  I left before the last day on Wednesday, which is usually a slow one.

Exhibitors were buoyed by the pop in visitors Tuesday morning, and several told me they talked to more people with real projects than at ProMat in 2009, which was held in very dark economic times.

It is hugely expensive for materials handling vendors to put up large displays of working equipment, and decisions for the NA 2010 show had to be made in the depressing days of 2009, so its not surprising many limited their committments. Some of the largest materials handling vendors, such as Dematic, HK Systems, and Intelligrated, had little or no equipments in their modest booth areas. It will be much different next year at ProMat, you can be sure.

We covered a number of new or interesting products in our Day 1 and Day 2 video reviews, and received many nice letters thanking us for putting these together. You are welcome. You can see those videos here if you missed them: NA 2010 Day 1, NA 2010 Day 2.

Gilmore Says:

"I was frankly taken aback by the number of new or relatively new WMS providers at the show - you are going to have more choices in this area than you might have imagined."

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your Feedback here

Clearly, the "robotization" of the materials handling process in distribution continues to move forward. As we have noted many times, the world of distribution for many is going to look much different in 2020 versus 2010, with much greater use of very new tyoes of automation by many companies.

Axium, for example, a vendor out of Montreal, introduced a new mixed-case palletizer that combines a robot (shown using an ABB robot but it could be anyone's) into an interesting system in which the Axium control system tells the WMS/WCS how the cases should be sequenced to build the perfect pallet. The cases are split into separate in-feeds (left and right), and the robot then builds pallets on each side at a rate of some 2000 cases per hour.

As we've noted in our Automated Case Picking 2009 report, the line between automated case picking (ACP) and automated palletization is sometimes a bit blurry, and/or ACP often naturally lends itself to auto palletization.

Thought it apparently has been around for a few years, I had never seen a very narrow aisle automated guided vehicle (AGV), but HK Systems featured one on video, a technology that is being used by retailer Canadian Tire. So, the AGV picks up a dropped pallet at the end of a very narrow aisle, moves to the storage bay, and lifts the pallet to its proper storage location, as well as the reverse for pallet selection. This eliminates the need for an operator in the aisle running a traditional VNA turret truck. Probably need a two or three shift operation to justify the cost of this, however.

We were similarly intrigured by the new Auto Store system from Swisslog, which is almost like a type of mini-load AS/RS, except it stores totes vertically, then retrieves them by a set of shuttle-like devices and brings them work cells for piece picking. If the needed tote is fourth down in the stack, it sets to the side, if you will, the first three  totes, grabs and delivers the fourth one, than puts the other three back in place. The system was actually developed by a European electronics company for its own use a decade ago, and Swisslog later acquired the rights to it. Some 10 systems have been deployed in Europe, but it is just now being introduced in North America.

Konstant displayed a pallet putaway shuttle system that can increase productivity and storage density in the right circumstances. The shuttles, which are store by the racking, are brought by drivers to deep pallet storage locations to putaway or retrieve pallets automatically. This can enable locations that hold as many as 20 pallets, versus maybe a maximum of 4-5 if the driver has to push back the pallets with the truck. As such, it improves both driver productivity and storage density, as much aisle space can be converted to prouctive storage. Won't be for everyone, but companies with SKUs that have large demand at the pallet level may want to take a look. Its almost like something in between traditional pallet flow rack and an AS/RS.

Mercifully, there  were relatively few "battery management," vendors, which seemed to be everywhere at ProMat 2010. What there were a lot of, however, were fork truck asset management suppliers - this appears to be a fairly major waves, as more and more companies get serious about managing their DC vehicle fleets in a formal, technology-driven way.

We featured the solution from I.D. Systems, which uses a small on-board computer which ties directly in to systems and sensors on each vehicle, and spits out a whole bunch of data about asset use and driver productivity. We liked the fact that you could go back and pick any day from the past and see how the fleet actually performed that day (say, peak days versus average days). There is a visualization component that allows users to actually view how a given truck moved through the DC for a given set of tasks. Many say you will significantly reduced total fleet sized, and improve driver productivity from the analysis. I can also see the oportunity to use this insight to improve DC layout and even WMS task management configuration.

Knighted Computer Systems and several of the truck manufacturers themselves, such as Raymond, offer related solutions to one of the last "un-managed" areas of the DC. The intersting "Visible Edge" solution from Rush Tracking, which is more focused on inventory management, could also be used for vehicle management as well.

After not a lot of excitement in the Warehouse Management System (WMS) market for some time, as most of the leading vendors primarily focused on building out more comprehensive logistics suites, suddenly there is a surge of new market offerings. This is very interesting.

There used to be some 200 WMS providers, but the field narrowed substantially in the 2000s through mergers and bankruptcies. But there is a new wave of entrants, most touting an on-demand solution and/or flexible SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) technology. I was frankly taken aback by the number of new or relatively new WMS providers at the show - you are going to have more choices in this area than you might have imagined.

Synergy is one example, which has clearly one of the most impressive look and feel of any on-demand type software I have seen, WMS or not. It claims tier 1 WMS level functionality, and offers an intriguing "rules engine" technology that provides operational flexibility.

There were a number of other such vendors. Established WMS player HighJump Software also announced a new "cloud computing" version of its WMS.

TECSYS has been around for a long while, but introduced a very cool "visual" WMS that uses a flexible series of images and icons - rather than the traditional text-orientation - for delivering tasks via mobile wireless devices. It's a very different approach for sure, though not a surprising development at one level. We can expect to see more of this in the market, I believe. We show some actual screens in the Day 2 video, but here is another example: if you need to scan lot numbers on incoming receipts, and different vendors use different labels with the bar code in different locations, the RF screen could show an image of the label for each vendor and highlight where the right bar code is for each.  Or, the device might show a pick cart image and highlight specifically in which box a given pick should go in.

Companies have been deploying Windows CE-based terminals for years now, but still sticking with text-based UIs. Maybe it is time for a change.

I was also surprised a bit at the creative approaches going on right now with Voice technology in Distribution - many of them using so-called multi-modal approaches combining voice with bar code and even RFID.

Systems Application Engineering (SAE) was there with a very cool system that provided pickers with a lot of visuals on a handheld or wearable terminal (such as upcoming picks) and then delivered the task via voice but then used bar code scans for rapid pick confirms. Others are doing this as well, but the SAE solution seemed especially well-designed.

The botton line is that there are a growing plethora of different and interesting voice-based solutions out there - take a look around. More on this soon from SCDigest.

Also noteworthy on the software side: A new 'logistics hub" technology from Softeon being used a by division of Sony, and RedPrairie's new solution for optimized TMS planning for multi-compartmental trailer/containers, and then the ability to pass those assignments to truck loaders in the DC to enable direct loading.

Most of these solutions were highlighted and in many cases shown in the videos. Take a look.

Do you enjoy these show reports? What technologies if any did you see at the show that we haven't highlighted? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.


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We received a number of letters on our First Thoughts piece on China - Friend or Foe? Frankly, many asked that there letters not be published, as they were working for companies with major China sourcing or market development efforts. But we print a few below.

That includes our Feedback of the Week from Rosemany Coates of Blue Silk Consulting, who agrees there are issues but says that global economic integration can't be stopped.

There are several others, including some who think we need to player tougher ball with China, and one reader who thinks we jumped too much into politics versus supply chain on this one.

You will find all these below.

Feedback of the Week - China Friend or Foe?:

You make many good points in your column, but I think you are missing the biggest point of all…the world is no longer a country-centric conglomeration.  We are all tied economically and in cause-and-effect relationships politically. Even informationally (Google or not) we are tied via the global Internet.  Because of all these integration points, we must consider the whole world when we make business Supply Chain decisions.  It’s pointless to keep looking at our own navel…heads up! The US is a significant part of the world economy, but not the only part, and soon, not the predominant part.  The economic center of the world is now shifting to Asia and it is time we start truly thinking globally. Instead of asking, “why are we losing US manufacturing jobs?” we should be asking, “where in the world is the best place to manufacture and sell products?” 


You are correct in tying low-cost China manufacturing to the market potential for selling products to the burgeoning Chinese middle class and industrial complex.  China represents the single largest potential market in the world.  We need to think strategically about operating where it makes the most sense for our businesses to source and sell.


I am biased, of course.  Much of my consulting business focuses on sourcing and manufacturing in China.  But I have traveled and worked on Supply Chain projects all over the world for the past 25 years and I can tell you there is no place that compares to China manufacturing.  It is the most amazing place you can imagine and it is improving (techniques, design, infrastructure and management) every single day.


Rosemary Coates

President, Blue Silk Consulting


More on China Friend or Foe?:

The problem: U.S. corporations do not have U.S. nationalism among their plans or agendas.  This is largely due to short term thinking and no long term awareness.  America is giving away all of it's resources, in every form, for short term gains only.  America's near economic collapse in 2008/2009 is the best example.  I fear for the legacy we are leaving future generations. The federal government is in a position to influence this problem but it is suffering from the same lack of understanding and vision.  

The solution: The federal government needs to require companies in critical resource industries to run trade and supply chain decisions through a long term planning assessment filter before contracts with countries like China (Saudi Arabia is another example of a two-faced regime) are approved.  

Charly Davis

Logistics Professional


I think you should send your article to all of the major newspapers across the country and ask them to reprint it.  My thanks to you (and Google) for acknowledging the elephant in the room.    This "hear no evil, see no evil" charade is not sustainable.   Google deserves great praise and respect for what they did. 

Now let's hope they aren't left twisting in the wind by our government and other companies that have a similar capacity for drawing a meaningful line in the sand and sending a unified message about the importance of ethics and integrity in a functioning free market.  

On the other hand, China neither has, nor appears to be interested in having, a truly open, free market.  So maybe it will simply be a matter of each company deciding for itself an appropriate level of compromise between ethics, integrity, Corporate Character.....and revenue growth.   

Name withheld by request

I agree in principle that the Chinese government's involvement in private enterprises is a cause for concern, although I'm less concerned about China's military at present. Counterfeits and seemingly state sanctioned espionage are also concerning, but I believe China is perusing all avenues to acquire resources in fear that rising commodity prices may ultimately starve their industries, lower their competitiveness and drive civil unrest.

At present, China is growing primarily due to exports and global consumption, so China needs the world much more than the world needs China. I think much of your article and your opinions are inappropriate for this forum.  

Peter Wilson




What are the top five countries from which the US imports crude oil?


1. Canada, 2. Mexico, 3. Saudi Arabia, 4. Venezuela, 5. Nigeria, based on 2009 data.