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

Transportation & Logistics companies are winning customers and improving profitability by taking a fresh look at their operations. Don't miss this brand new ebook from Barcoding, Inc. and Honeywell, "Automating Transportation and Logistics: How automation and assessment programs are helping T&L companies cut costs, increase cash, and improve customer experience."

After 53 years in Jonesboro, Ark., the company will add new manufacturing capabilities and 75 permanent jobs.

Loscam, Asia Pacific’s leading pallet pooling service provider, recently opened a new depot in Kota Kinabalu, capital city of the state of Sabah Malaysia, further extending its services to East Malaysia.

The PMI, the ISM’s index to measure growth inched up 0.7 percent to 53.5 over May’s 52.8 (a PMI of 50 or greater represents growth). This reading marks sequential growth for the third month in a row.

More than 30 leading suppliers of reusable products and services will be available in the Reusable Packaging Pavilion. The exhibitors include manufacturers, material suppliers, providers of washing and other specialty equipment, and service providers of reusable packaging systems and solutions.