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This month in Modern: Take time for the big picture

By Michael Levans, Group Editorial Director
June 01, 2011

Today, we’re consistently bombarded with little bits and pieces of information that, by nature, are only capable of telling a very small part of any story. We IM, Tweet, and chat, but lost in the noise is the broader context we seek to make true business decisions.

In an effort to help materials handling professionals cut through all this clutter and gain true insight, Modern’s executive editor Bob Trebilcock has rolled out a series that we’re calling The Big Picture. In this body of work, Trebilcock breaks out of the traditional “how-to” and “case study” mold to offer an objective, broad-sweeping look at how materials handling technologies and best practices are making an impact on overall business strategy.

Last fall, Trebilcock served up three terrific Big Picture stories: one that offered the market the closest look yet at how and why robotics are being applied inside the warehouse and DC; another that several technology analysts called the best examination of RFID’s current and possible impact on the materials handling market; and in December, he took us inside the automation market to help managers make smart decisions and build a stronger ROI case—if, in fact, automation is the proper fit for your operations.

However, to take advantage of the results of this hard work, The Big Picture is going to force a Modern reader to sit back and sink into the pages. So, as you’re making your way through this month’s issue, I’m going to suggest you close your laptop and shut down your smart phone for about 25 minutes.

Starting on page 22, Modern dives into the evolving world of automated guided vehicles (AGVs), a market that’s been evolving faster than most over the past six or seven years. In fact, both established and new players to the AGV market are wrestling with just how to define their products as they roll them out.

“We define an AGV as a computer-controlled mobile robot used to move materials around a facility,” Mark Longacre, marketing manager for JBT Corp. and chair of the AGV product section at the Material Handling Industry of America, tells Trebilcock this month. “The way AGVs look and what they’re capable of doing may have changed, but there’s nothing in that definition that didn’t apply 10 years ago.”

Some in the market may take exception to Longacre’s point; but Trebilcock contends that no matter what we call them, the new technology driving today’s vehicles and the innovative partnerships being forged between the new guard and the established OEMs are putting AGVs on the brink transforming warehouse and DC operations in ways not dreamed of when they first hit the market.

“I think this is an iPad moment for AGVs, especially carts, mobile robots and hybrid lift truck/AGVs,” Trebilcock told me. “Tablets were around for years and no one cared. Then Apple realized the time was right for something different. Likewise, some of these AGV solutions have been around for years; but, like the iPad, I think the focus on reducing overhead and grappling with labor issues means the time could be now for them to take a greater hold.”

About the Author

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Michael Levans
Group Editorial Director

Michael Levans is Group Editorial Director of Peerless Media’s Supply Chain Group of publications and websites including Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management Review, Modern Materials Handling, and Material Handling Product News. He’s a 23-year publishing veteran who started out at the Pittsburgh Press as a business reporter and has spent the last 17 years in the business-to-business press. He’s been covering the logistics and supply chain markets for the past seven years. You can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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