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Big Picture: The state of automation

More companies are looking to materials handling automation to improve processes and lower operating costs. Modern asked 10 leading systems integrators what the future of automation might look like.
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Conveyor and sortation systems are using software and controls to manage the flow of goods while distributing work in a way that eliminates bottlenecks.

By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
May 01, 2012

TGW Systems: A technology renaissance
“The amount of automation being requested here in the United States is unprecedented,” says Larry Strayhorn, president of TGW Systems. “Our engineers question whether there are diminishing returns, but we’re being pushed by our customers to automate the last processes.”

What’s behind this technology renaissance?  Strayhorn believes it’s related to the pain of downsizing that accompanied the last recession. “The cost of labor has always been the most important factor in automation projects,” Strayhorn says. “But I don’t believe it’s just the current cost of labor. Instead, it’s the cost of going through labor cycles, including the negative press that goes along with downsizing. Automation is one more way to deal with the speeding up of the business cycle.”

As with other industry leaders, TGW is seeing an increasing demand for piece-picking solutions. “Our focus is on using shuttle and mini-load technologies to bring the material from buffer systems to a workstation in the right sequence to do the picking, or full automation to a robotic work cell to do the palletizing,” says Strayhorn. “Technologies that are able to operate at 1,000 cycles per hour out of one aisle and deliver products in the right sequence are enabling us to create the kinds of solutions that customers are looking for.”

Beyond better mechanical solutions, today’s automated materials handling solutions are all about the software. “Yes, you have to have these great mechanical systems,” he says. “But in order to take advantage of the capabilities of the equipment, you have to have new levels of software. We’re investing heavily in our warehouse control and warehouse management software to keep pace with the mechanical technology.”

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.


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