Subscribe to our free, weekly email newsletter!



It’s all about labor

By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
May 31, 2011

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
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

Dassault Systèmes, the 3DEXPERIENCE Company, a world leader in 3D design software, 3D Digital Mock Up and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solutions, today announced the signing of a definitive share purchase agreement for Dassault Systèmes to acquire Quintiq, a leading provider of on-premise and on-cloud supply chain and Operations Planning & Optimization software, for approximately €250 million

During this complimentary webcast you'll learn the 6 reasons your operation could benefit from voice and multi-modal solutions and exactly how The Container Store did it. They were able to improve efficiency, safety and accuracy, without a complete WMS overhaul and their employees find it faster and easier to use.

Study suggests solutions for filling the talent gap, including the development of robust ties with the education system.

Global business optimism reaches highest level in survey history.

Mentor-based program aims to help students develop STEM skills and foster innovation, self-confidence, communication and leadership.

Article Topics

Blogs · Automation · Lift Trucks · All topics

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