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Jan. 12 , 2007 - Supply Chain Digest Newsletter
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First Thoughts by Dan Gilmore, Editor


I am fresh back from Chicago and McCormick Place, the site of ProMat 2007, the material handling and logistics show managed by the industry's trade group, the Material Handling Institute (MHIA).

In general, this show has faired much better than many other trade shows in the past few years, which have seen, for a variety of reasons, declining vendor (consolidation) and attendee (it's all on the Internet) participation.

This year's show had the most activity and energy I have seen at the event in awhile. The crowds were big, and it was hard to get down the aisles on Tuesday because so many attendees were talking to the vendors.

There is no question we are seeing a renewed interest in automation. As MHIA has long noted, material handling demand is very cyclical, tied both the economic and its own natural cycles, but both at the show and from other conversations I've had over the past year, the interest in automation is very high right now. This is especially true in distribution, where automation lost some favor for awhile.

I spoke to one logistics exec of a Fortune 100 company at the show, and he told me they are experiencing turnover rates of 50% at their DCs, despite being on the higher side of the wage scale. They are looking to automation to help solve the problem.

More on that in a future column.

I looked at lots of products. Here's what I liked (watch our video review, with action right from the show floor, here - you will enjoy it):

I was impressed with the new sortation controller software from FKI Logistics and its new Unisort MXt shoe sorter. The company says the software can now run at 650 feet per minute with a gap between cartons of only 4 inches, down from the 12 previously required on most sorters. This gap reduction would significantly improve throughput in terms of cases per minute.

I also liked the new Case-a-Matic storage and sequencing solution from HK Systems, designed to automated mixed case order. It’s basically an ASRS for cases and totes. There is simply no question we will see increased focus on automating case picking by both vendors and shippers over the coming 5 years.

We actually wrote last year about a new truck loading AGV from Jervis B Webb. It was back this year, along with a video on the use of the technology by Anheuser Busch. Webb said it had a good pipeline, but companies had to really think through new processes, which takes time. Webb had some competition this year from Egemin, which also had a product on the floor, and I liked the open approach that company was taking to the control system.

The controls in general are the big break through here, both in cost and performance. Laser controllers, for example, have dropped in price by thousands of dollars in recent years, while providing along with other sensors the control necessary to dynamically map a trailer and accurately load pallets.

Corrugate pallets have been around for awhile, but don’t have a great reputation. I was impressed with the design from, no surprise, a company called Corrugated Pallets Inc.        


At larger sizes than standard 40 x 48, these pallets offer a nice economic choice, and are often needed to meet international shipping requirements. The unique design from this company adds hardboard in the runners to provide the strength that has been missing from many alternatives users may have experience with.

I was also impressed with LXE new HX2 wearable wireless terminal, which I thought had an outstanding design.

Symbol technologies also featured a new version of its wearable gladiator unit that competes with the HX2

I also liked LXE’s new concept around what it calls ARIA, short for Adaptive Recognition and Information Assurance That’s a mouthful, but the concept is solid. It involves use of many technologies to change how we think about distribution activities, but what was featured at the show was a demo showing case picking combining voice technology with RFID verification through a fork truck pallet reader. I think this makes a lot of sense, and that LXE is really on to something with this concept. The way we’ve picked orders in the warehouse has stayed the same for too long.


We saw lots of announcements by software vendors…HighJump featured a new open voice solution and added new TMS capabilities to it Supply Chain Advantage platform, while RedPrairie was showing significantly enhanced global logistics and trade management capabilities as part of its TMS solution suite. Manhattan Associates also had a strong emphasis on the transportation components of its suite, and announced  Ingram Books was saving big dollars using its freight audit and payment capabilities.

In terms of new software products, I also really liked the virtual warehouse product from Softeon. It’s the closest thing I have seen yet to a concept I have called for the last several years “execution planning,” that sits between traditional planning systems and execution focus warehouse and TMS solutions.

I also liked the latest automated lift systems from Gorbel. While this highly ergonomic approach (no buttons - the lift moves smoothly with the operator's arm action) has been available for a few years, a new programmable display and ability to more easily integrate the lift system and related operator activities and cycles with manufacturing or even distribution systems seemed beneficial to me.

Finally, with the increasingly prominent trend towards the green supply chain, we started to see some emphasis this year on that message from some vendors, mostly in the plastics pallet and tote area, and even hydrogen driven lift trucks. Expect more of that in the future.

Again, you can see something about all these products on my video review.

Did you attend this year's ProMat show? What is your review? What new products, if any, caught your eye? What would you like to see coming to market that you didn't?

Let us know your thoughts.


Dan Gilmore


Supply Chain 

Videocast Series

Optimizing Transportation and Distribution Performance

You simply can get more goods on each truck.

How optimization at the order demand level will deliver lower transportation spend 4-10% and significant gains in productivity, and how leaders like P&G and Nestle are achieving real bottom line results.

It's an outstanding, highly educational presentation.

More information and to register.

Stock Report

It's back! Our supply chain and logistics stock report is back for 2007. See the performance of top software, hardware, transportation, 3PL and other public companies by week, month quarter and year.

Technology action was mixed, while logistics and transportation companies were up last week. See the compete results, available every Monday on scdigest.com

See stock report.


Didn't Get to Chicago? See our top hardware and software picks.




Jan. 12 , 2007

This Week’s Supply Chain News Bites – Only from SCDigest

Wal-Mart Gets New Head of Global Procurement

Wall Street analyst Says Manufacturing Job Loss to Offshoring May be Ebbing

Supreme Court Ruling Weakens Patent Protection, Gaining Cheers from Some Quarters

Behind Nardelli Exit at Home Depot, Inability to Get Customer Service Right is a Factor

Analyst Company Presents Pessimistic View of RFID Market in 2006, says 2007 May be Better

Jan. 12 , 2006

From the RetailWire: Wal-Mart Wants Vendors to Pursue Data Synchronization

Reduced admin costs, better in-stock positions, seen as main benefits

Jan. 4 , 2007

Top 10 Supply Chain Trends of 2006

How do our picks compare to the trends you saw impacting supply chain in 2006?



Q. According to MHIA and government statistics, 2005 saw the highest level of conveyor sales in the U.S. since what year?

A. Click to find the answer below


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Feedback is coming in at a rate greater than we can publish it - thanks for your response.

We're still behind - be patient if your letter has not yet been published

We were racing this week to get our ProMat review and video done, so an abbreviated selection of letters this week.

Our feedback of the week is from Ron Johnson on Computer Sciences, commenting on our piece about "Dynamic Supply Chain Alignment." There's another good letter from Enis MacSweeney of Henkel in Ireland, who wonders how much project management a consultant should own, coming out of our piece on the Aldo shoe DC automation project. Finally, Debra Bennett of the U.S. military says real-time dashboards sounds great (referencing our summary of Mike Brooks of Chevron's excellent presentation on the project he has been leading at his company), balancing real-time versus historical data is hard.

Keep the dialog going! Give us your thoughts on this week's Supply Chain topics. As always, we’ll keep your name anonymous if required.

Feedback of the Week – On Dynamic Supply Chain Alignment

While there are many supplier customer models (e.g. agile etc), all models benefit from collaboration, i.e. open and responsive communication of demand up the supply chain. There is arguably varying benefits to this collaboration. Some models that are more static, predictable, the responsive communication represents the same, repetitive message. In market environment where demand is erratic and lead time long, the value of responsive communication is very high. So the question is not is there value but rather is the value greater than the cost to implement and maintain?

Ron Johnson

Computer Sciences Corp.

On Aldo DC Automation Project:

I read with interest the article on the Aldo / DC automation project.

Of particular interest was how the project was managed and structured from Steering committee down, etc. I saw many parallels with our successful ERP / SAP implementation project in Henkel Ireland back in '04.

However, I was curious to learn that the DC Automation project was headed up or "project managed" by Deloitte, and not by someone from within the Aldo organisation. One of the key elements of our ERP success I think, was that it was managed as a "Business project" (not an "IT project") first and foremost by Henkel management, with the necessary technical support, etc provided by consultants.

Sometimes I think it's just politics at work, but I do think when working with consultants, the more successful projects are usually driven and implemented from within the organization.

Keep up the good work at SCDigest!

Enis MacSweeney

Supply Chain Manager
Henkel Ireland Ltd


Feedback on Real-Time Dashboards:


He [Chevron's Mike Brooks] mentions "focus on now," not historical data.  He also states that you should look at trends over time.   If you are developing metrics and looking at trends over time, how is that different from applying historical data to today's decisions?  We get criticized constantly for the fact that our trend lines are from information in the past so our data is not actionable because the future may not be like the past.  How do you overcome those criticisms? 

Debra S. Bennett

US Military


Q. According to MHIA and government statistics, 2005 saw the highest level of conveyor sales in the U.S. since what year?

A. 2005

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