Subscribe to our free, weekly email newsletter!


The state of automation in materials handling

Despite the recession, our industry is reaching an inflection point for automation.
By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
December 15, 2010

In August, Modern featured Office Depot’s new distribution center in Newville, Pa., on the cover. At the heart of the DC is an integrated piece-picking solution that combines mobile robots for high-density storage and conveyance; light-directed picking to ensure that the associate picks the right item; and a high-speed conveyor and sortation system to get the product to the packing zone.

While this level of automation has been common on high-speed assembly lines for years, it represents a new level of sophistication in distribution. Although the technology allows Office Depot to get a significant amount of throughput from a relatively small labor force, labor savings within the four walls of the DC wasn’t the primary driver behind choosing a highly automated system.

Rather, the solution represents a broader supply chain play; it is an enabling technology that will allow Office Depot to completely retool the way inventory is replenished at the stores serviced by that DC. “We believe that the future belongs to the brave,” Brent Beabout, Office Depot’s vice president of global network strategy and transportation, told Modern. “We are in a commodity business and the supply chain is a differentiator. We plan to be on the front end of that.”

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

MHI announced the MHI 2015 Innovation and Young Professional Award winners last night at their 70th Anniversary Celebration during ProMat 2015.

Today marks the conclusion of ProMat 2015, four days of comprehensive problem solving and networking to provide solutions to the complex manufacturing and supply chain challenges faced by industry today.

With a record 155,000 square feet of exhibit space reserved by nearly 350 companies back in December 2014, Modex 2016 will continue the show’s expansion in both solution offerings and popularity.

Doosan (Booth 662) highlighted the new BR18/20SP-7 narrow aisle reach truck, its first product in the class. It also showcased its first engine, which replaced third-party engines and is now used in all Doosan products.

During Wednesday’s afternoon keynote address, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, affectionately known as “The Woz,” suggested the future of technology now is every bit as uncertain to him as it was 30 years ago.