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

Pick or sort? It may seem like a simple decision, but in reality, you need to take multiple factors into consideration when choosing a strategy to meet rapidly expanding retail fulfillment needs.

R. Keith Harrison, former global supply chain executive, to provide CPG expertise.

Company's total managed square footage to increase 10% to 7.5 million square feet.

The relationships between third-party logistics (3PL) service providers and shippers are seeing ongoing developments due in large part to the continuing emergence and sophistication of omni-channel retailing. That was one of the key findings of The 19th Annual Third-Party Logistics Study, which was released by consultancy Capgemini Group, Penn State University, and Korn/Ferry International, a global talent advisory firm.

Annual survey illustrates optimism resulting from increasing profits.

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