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NA 2010: A fresh start in Cleveland

By Michael Levans, Group Editorial Director
March 01, 2010

If our recently completed 2010 State of the Materials Handling Industry report is any early indication, the show floor at NA 2010 should be rocking next month in Cleveland.

The survey was fielded last month via e-mail across Modern
's readership—those materials handling professionals involved in the purchase decision process for equipment and technology. A quick, high-level glance at the overall findings from the 353 qualified respondents reveals that readers are now harboring a cautious optimism. That's a clear improvement over the grim spending outlook shared with us in early 2009.

Once you dig a little deeper into this year's results, you'll find that one out of three are moving forward with equipment and technology plans as intended, with nine out of 10 saying their materials handling spending will either increase (37%) or remain on par (55%) during the course of 2010. Only 8% told us that their spending will drop.

Bottom line: More companies are feeling upbeat about their future materials handing spending. This leads me to believe that the booths should be buzzing next month, as battle-weary vendors entertain inquiries from attendees who've pushed their warehouse/DC equipment to the breaking point over the past couple years.

According to our findings, more and more of those conversations on the show floor will be revolving around automating materials handling and integrating that automation into supply chain processes related to inventory, shipping, order fulfillment and labor—all with the goal of greater operations visibility.

In fact, many savvy companies are already striving to develop this type of ideal operation. You need to look no further than Bob Trebilcock's thought-provoking report on the new 227,000-square-foot service center located under the parking garage of the Cleveland Clinic (page 22), one of the premier medical institutions in the world. While not set in a traditional warehouse or plant setting, this state-of-the-art distribution and fulfillment operation, and its integration of technologies, tells a story that would certainly resonate with readers no matter which market they serve.

After visiting a number of leading medical facilities in Europe, Jeff Pepperworth, senior director of materials management for the clinic, was inspired to centralize more than 3,000 SKUs—everything from meds, to surgical kits, to meals, to linens—to better serve a variety of vastly different departments in buildings across the 168-acre campus.

As a result, Pepperworth tossed the clinic's manual process and rolled out an automated system driven by a new ERP that integrates 80 RFID-enabled AGVs with automatic battery charging, light-directed picking from seven horizontal carousels, and a vertical carousel. The system is capable of handling 70,000 picks a day and services the needs of more than 14,000 employees.

“Too often, we limit our thinking about materials handling to what happens in a traditional warehouse or plant setting,” Trebilcock told me after he finished the story. “But our industry is innovating, and many of those innovations can solve problems for businesses not in our traditional markets.”

In fact, if you're on your way to the NA show, this System Report is required reading. Cleveland Clinic's transformation story may be all you need to put a spark into your innovation plans for 2010.

About the Author

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Michael Levans
Group Editorial Director

Michael Levans is Group Editorial Director of Peerless Media’s Supply Chain Group of publications and websites including Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management Review, Modern Materials Handling, and Material Handling Product News. He’s a 27-year publishing veteran who started out at the Pittsburgh Press as a business reporter and has spent the last 20 years in the business-to-business press. He’s been covering the logistics and supply chain markets for the past 11 years. You can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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