It’s all about labor

A churning labor market could be good news for automation

By ·

Last week, I wrote a column on the prospects for materials handling automation over the next four or five years.

In part, I believe our opportunities lie in labor-related issues. Wages in China and other emerging economies are rising, which makes moving manufacturing back to the United States more attractive if other costs make sense. At the same time, American manufacturers and distributors are grappling with their own set of labor issues, including the silver tsunami, a shortage of skilled labor for manufacturing and a shortage of labor willing to work in a distribution center.

Then, there’s the cost of labor. This was driven home to me by a conversation I had last week with two systems engineers from a leading 3PL. They contacted me in response to a column I’d written about lift truck manufacturers getting into the AGV business. They had a lot of very detailed questions about which lift truck manufacturers were offering hybrid trucks and what kind of processes and applications they were targeting in distribution centers.

As it turns out, these guys weren’t just picking my brain. One of their customers was willing to fund a pilot study on the feasibility of using lift truck/AGVs in a distribution environment.

But AGVs are just the starting point. The customer, as it turns out, has recently completed labor negotiations with its unions and has asked the 3PL to review all of its distribution processes and look for areas where there is an economic justification to apply automation.

Based on things I heard at MHIA two weeks ago, I think variations of these conversations are going on at companies across North America. How and whether we can tap into them will say a lot about how our industry grows in the future.


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.

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!

Article Topics

Automation · Lift Trucks · · All Topics
Latest Whitepaper
Totes keep produce fresh from field to store
A two-part reusable plastic tote features a frame that cradles produce in a recyclable, replaceable sleeve.
Download Today!
From the December 2017 Modern Materials Handling Issue
Confronting an aging materials handling system and new channels of business with new customer expectations, Rocky Brands installed a put-to-light and sortation system to ramp up fulfillment.
The Big Picture: Navigation Gets a Reboot for Automatic Vehicles
Top 20 3PL Warehouses 2017: Growth amid change
View More From this Issue
Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter
Sign up today to receive our FREE, weekly email newsletter!
Latest Webcast
The State of the DC Voice Market
A lot has changed in the last 10 years, especially in voice technology. This webinar will cover the state of the voice market, review two leading voice solutions and help you gain a better understanding of the options and capabilities available today.
Register Today!
EDITORS' PICKS
System Report: Rocky Brands Sees the Light
Confronting an aging materials handling system and new channels of business with new customer...
Top 20 industrial lift truck suppliers, 2017
The top lift truck suppliers list is changing with industry acquisitions causing a dramatic...

Lodge Manufacturing: Distribution Cast in Iron
In a new facility, iPhones and a new WMS allowed cookware manufacturer Lodge to double its business...
Rochester Drug Cooperative: Robots ready for work
It’s still early stages, but Rochester Drug Cooperative is proving that mobile robotic piece...