Subscribe to our free, weekly email newsletter!



Automation: The automation revolution rolls on

By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
January 18, 2012

If you didn’t see it, Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal included must reading for anyone in the materials handling business, or for our customers in manufacturing, warehousing and distribution.

Man vs. Machine, a Jobless Recovery, tells a story that is familiar to readers of Modern – the tremendous improvements that can be realized with automated equipment, such as robotics, and industrial software.

One of the companies highlighted is Sunny Delight Beverage, which is making great strides in productivity and competitiveness with automation. Sunny Delight is spending $70 million to upgrade five U.S. juice factories. Much of the automation is centered on filling lines. But next year, the Journal points out, the beverage maker is replacing its fleet of lift trucks and drivers with automatic guided vehicles. The result, the Journal writes, is that the company will operate one of its main facilities with 30% fewer workers.

It also points out that Stihl is using robots to manufacture chain saws in a Virginia Beach plant that requires just seven workers per shift to keep the operation running. A planned $10 million investment, the Journal adds, will allow the plant to double its output while adding just six more workers.

We are seeing similar achievements in productivity and throughput at the facilities we highlight each month in Modern. Last month, for instance, we described how Skechers (/article/skechers_tones_up_distribution_center/ ) is operating a new 1.8 million sq ft automated with just 300 employees – 500 at peak – compared to about 1,200 in its old model. Next month, we’ll feature Preferred Freezer Services, a New Jersey 3PL that recently went live with a highly-automated DC that operates 24 hours a day with just 30 associates.

Some see automation as a factor, maybe even a culprit, in the jobless recovery. There’s no question that automated equipment and software systems have made all of us more productive in our jobs. That is allowing companies to do more with less. But it’s also making the companies we work for stronger. In the long run, I believe that the automation revolution we appear to be experiencing now is the key to industries that can compete anywhere in the globe.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.


Subscribe to Modern Materials Handling magazine

Subscribe today. It's FREE!
Find out what the world’s most innovative companies are doing to improve productivity in their plants and distribution centers.
Start your FREE subscription today!

Recent Entries

Though the variations are endless, the right system is best achieved with careful planning toward a goal.

Dallas-Fort Worth-based regional operation offers service and support for key logistics hub.

This complimentary white paper addresses areas of potential benefit to a grocery distributor considering an investment in automated case picking technology.

In 2015, a new era in shipment pricing will go into effect when major carriers implement dimensional ("dim") weight pricing for all ground packages regardless of their size. This complimentary white paper, "Dimensional Weight: Don't Let it Weigh You Down", can help you optimize your packaging operation to minimize the financial impacts of dimensional weight pricing.

Replacing older, less-efficient lift trucks at the right time can reduce your maintenance costs, improve your productivity and, most importantly, save money and maximize your return on investment. So how do you determine the right time to make a new, significant purchase? Download this complimentary white paper for guidance on how to determine the ideal time to replace lift trucks and how planned replacement can benefit your operation.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. Contact Bob Trebilcock.


© Copyright 2013 Peerless Media LLC, a division of EH Publishing, Inc • 111 Speen Street, Ste 200, Framingham, MA 01701 USA