This Month in Modern: Looking back, stepping forward

Around this time of year it’s natural to want to look back at the last 12 months to gain perspective on where we’ve been and where we’re going as an industry.

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Around this time of year it’s natural to want to look back at the last 12 months to gain perspective on where we’ve been and where we’re going as an industry.

For Modern readers, I’ve always found that gathering a list of top news stories was a helpful way to put some context around the year’s events. And Modern’s editorial team has done this by compiling a list of what we believe were the key news stories that shaped the year in materials handling (page 12).

But perhaps the single-best way to wrap your arms around where we are in the application of materials handling systems and equipment is to spend some time reading through the year-that-was in System Reports—Modern’s cover stories that truly set us apart in the market.

In the System Reports, Modern takes readers inside the four walls to see how some of the world’s savviest operations are applying the latest theory, equipment, and technology and putting it to work to increase productivity. Not only does executive editor Bob Trebilcock’s deft reporting deliver you to the facility floor, but our team of photographers neatly punctuate each story by walking readers through the system in vivid detail.

Our collection of reports from 2013 included an online retailer (Gilt Groupe) that literally built its business around its lightning-fast automated fulfillment system; a leading mid-western beverage distributor (Wirtz Beverage) that transformed itself from a manual to a highly automated operation; and a woman’s accessories designer (Vera Bradley) that opened a new automated DC designed to meet every aspect of the multi-channel fulfillment challenge.

Every one of our System Reports illustrates a how your peers are innovating to meet today’s challenges, and we’ve packaged all of our 2013 reports at in what I would call the “ultimate year in review.”

And while these stories pretty much cover the gamut of materials handling solutions in use today, the application of robotics inside warehouse and DC operations was one area that really gained momentum over the past year. In fact, this month in Modern Trebilcock wraps up the year by taking us inside Genco’s substantial Fort Worth, Texas, campus where the 3PL is integrating piece-handling robots in an effort to gain new efficiencies and take its operations to the next level.

At the Fort Worth campus, which comprises 1 million square feet of distribution space devoted to return and repair of consumer electronics, Genco has put Baxter, the robot developed by Rethink Robotics, to work side by side with team members on a packaging line.

Baxter has eliminated the need for a new conveyor line to feed downstream processes and has revealed opportunities to combine or cut tasks within the existing process. And according to Trebilcock, the bold move to integrate Baxter has put Genco one very important step into the future.

“What I found exciting was the fact that Genco has rolled out a robot in production that is working side by side with associates,” says Trebilcock. “There has been a lot of discussion about the promise of piece-picking robotics in materials handling, but this is a first step to actually fulfilling that promise.”

About the Author

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 [email protected]

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