60 seconds with Bob Babel, Forte

Modern spends 60 seconds talking to Bob Babel at Forte about the changing face of retail.

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Bob Babel, Forte
Title: Vice president, executive consultant
Location: Mason, Ohio
Experience: 43 years in the materials handling industry
Primary Focus: Materials handling system consulting and engineering, from design through customer acceptance

Modern: At ProMat, we saw a number of solutions to bring automation and technology to processes that aren’t usually part of an automated process. Some of the examples are technologies to make boxes on demand or to automatically unload trailers. Are we beginning to integrate processes at the docks and the packing stations into the overall system? 

Babel: We are seeing that and as a systems integrator, we are looking at that. One of the challenges to these solutions is that they can be hard to justify. They may not provide a return on investment in the time frame that someone is looking for. Or, they get chopped in the capital allocation process. The client needs to trim the budget, so the automatic truck unloader gets cut in favor of picking technologies.

Modern: What is driving this change? 

Babel: One is that ergonomics is becoming more important than ever. Clients are beginning to quantify the medical costs related to back injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome. And, there are labor savings.

Modern: Is e-commerce playing a role?

Babel: E-commerce is definitely playing a role. The volumes are growing and that’s driving people to look at areas such as automating the manifest process. There are some amazing technologies that automatically print and fold a packing slip, insert it into an envelope, and apply it to the outside of a shipping carton. That may only save a few seconds per order, but when you get to a certain level of volume of orders, those seconds are starting to add up. We’re all working to quantify what the volume of orders is to get a payback.

Modern: With all the handling associated with e-commerce, is the packing station one of those areas that’s getting a second look? 

Babel: It is. We did some engineered time studies of the packing station as part of our last few projects. For an apparel accessories client with a rapidly growing e-commerce business, we ended up re-engineering their processes from the workstations back. We designed one workstation for their single-line orders and a different workstation for their multi-line orders. That was a result of creating some mocked-up workstations and getting out there with a stop watch as we packed different types of orders. You wouldn’t think that there are three or four different ways to design a workstation, but we learned that there are more efficient ways to pass an item from one person in the process to the other. In the case of this client, the designs we came up with allow them to handle their cyber-week business without adding additional workstations. It was a little thing that made a big difference.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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