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About the Author

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

March 4, 2015

Logistics News: Automation Projects Sponsored By Top Management Have The Best Chance For Adoption

Automation Projects Require Executive Level Leadership

Holste Says:

It is important to understand that while a company's business model may be unique, the logistics system concepts and material handling equipment technologies that will be most beneficial for their operation is not unique.
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Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Sorting It Out: The Chances for Project Approval Just got Better

Sorting It Out: DC Storage Systems Must Support Sales Objectives

Sorting It Out: The Importance of Innovation as a Competitive Factor

Sorting It Out: A Different Way of Looking at DC Automation

Sorting It Out: Understanding Future Job Creation Issues – More Questions than Answers



ProMat 2015 is rapidly approaching. Over 800 exhibitors will be on-hand to promote the latest manufacturing and logistics technologies. Much attention will be focused on the application of automated processes for warehousing and distribution. For the most part, the target audience is anyone looking for ways to improve their operations. However, for an improvement project to get the attention of top management it will most likely need to provide ROI in areas such as:


Improved shipping capacity and productivity


More efficient utilization of facility space, energy, and human resources


B2C Omni Channel order fulfillment processes


Increased order fulfillment speed and accuracy especially as related to e-commerce


Higher throughput without incremental increases in labor


Greater system flexibility and agility


Reduction in overtime hours


Reduction in errors, damage, shrinkage, and back charges.


Improved methods for returns processing

Still, projects that will accomplish the above will not be adopted unless top management actively promotes an environment that encourages associates to come forward with creative cost effective improvement projects.

This point cannot be emphasized too strongly. Because, all too often astute individuals eager to start projects involving the application of advanced concepts, new methods or technologies are discouraged by business managers who tell them that “the timing is bad” or its “too risky - the front office won’t buy it”.

To correct this impression, top management must spell out long-range objectives in terms that mean something to operation managers, engineers and planners. A top executive who has never received even a preliminary proposal involving creative approaches to improving processing operations should look for answers to the following introspective type questions:



Is the company’s production expertise in balance with its warehousing and distribution capabilities?


Has the company’s approach to materials handling remained static?


Is there any indication that warehousing and distribution managers automatically turn-off discussion of improvement projects involving application of advanced technologies?


Is the company’s IT department adequately staffed to handle improvement projects?

Final Thoughts

The track record for technology based logistics projects has been very good over the last few decades, which has gone a long way towards overcoming the FUD factor – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. It is important to understand that while a company’s business model may be unique, the logistics system concepts and material handling equipment technologies that will be most beneficial for their operation is not unique. In fact, it is most likely already providing cost and operational benefits to their competitors every day.


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