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From Stuck to Smooth: Navigating Material Handling Industry Roadblocks with Radical Solutions

The material handling equipment industry is a niche, complex and fast-growing sector, with many stakeholders involved in its planning, implementation and maintenance. With rapidly evolving technologies and demands, keeping up with all of the latest trends and findings becomes increasingly difficult.

Based on my research and conversations with R.J. Safranek, Managing Director at SellSide Group, I aim to provide an overview of some major challenges and solutions facing the industry today.

Status Quo

There are a number of problems that can arise in the material handling equipment industry, including:

  • Equipment costs. The cost of manufacturing and transporting products has risen over time, which means that customers are paying more for their goods. This is due to factors such as higher fuel prices, higher wages and insurance premiums for employees (which have increased due to health care reform). Higher costs have an adverse impact on EBITDA especially if you are a privately owned company with limited resources.

  • Inflation and an unstable economy can create a challenging pricing environment for material handling companies. This can make it difficult for companies to price their services competitively and can lead to decreased profitability.

  • Lack of skilled labour. With baby boomers retiring from the workforce in recent and coming years, there's been a shortage of skilled workers who can fill these positions--and this shortage will continue into 2030s due to demographic shifts in our country's population makeup (more older Americans) as well as technological advances like robotics replacing certain tasks previously performed by humans at work sites around the world today!

  • Labour costs are a significant challenge for many material handling companies. Skilled workers are often in short supply, and companies may struggle to attract and retain qualified employees. This can lead to increased costs for training and turnover, as well as potential delays in completing projects.

  • The rise of e-commerce has put significant pressure on this industry. Customers increasingly expect quick and immediate delivery of their orders, which can be challenging for material handling companies to accommodate. Additionally, trucking challenges such as driver shortages and rising fuel costs can make it difficult to transport goods efficiently.


  • Automation technology. The use of automation in material handling equipment has been a major trend over the past decade, and it's expected to continue growing as companies look for ways to improve efficiency, reduce costs and combat a diminishing labour pool. The advantages of automation include: increased efficiency - automated systems can move materials faster and more precisely than human workers can; reduced labour costs - automated systems don't require salaries or benefits, so they're cheaper than hiring people. By embracing new technologies like AMRs, AGVs, and robotics, companies can improve efficiency, reduce errors, and stay competitive in an increasingly challenging market:

  1. AMRs, or autonomous mobile robots, are becoming increasingly popular in the material handling industry. The main difference between an AGV (automated guided vehicle) and an AMR is that AMRs use free navigation by means of sensors or lasers, while AGVs are located with fixed elements such as magnetic tapes, magnets, or beacons. This means that AMRs are more flexible and can adapt to changing environments more easily than AGVs. AMRs can be used for a variety of tasks, from transporting materials to performing inventory checks.

  2. AGVs have been around for a while and are still used in many material handling applications. These vehicles are programmed to follow a specific path and can be used to transport materials throughout a facility. They are often used in manufacturing plants and warehouses to move materials between different stages of production.

  3. Robotics are also becoming more common in material handling applications, particularly in picking applications. Companies like Locus Robotics are using robots to help workers pick items more efficiently and accurately. These robots are equipped with sensors and cameras that allow them to navigate through a facility and locate items using barcode scanning or other technologies. By automating the picking process, companies can reduce errors and improve efficiency, ultimately leading to cost savings and improved customer satisfaction.

  • Good to Picker solutions. Goods-to-person (GTP) solutions are a modern order fulfilment approach that combines automated storage and retrieval with precise, ergonomic selection methods. Some benefits include:

  1. Goods to Picker solutions can increase efficiency and accuracy of the picking process by eliminating wasteful walk time and offering accurate inventory and pick data. This can lead to a reduction in order errors and an increase in operational uptime, as well as improve overall customer experience.

  2. Goods to Picker solutions are easily scalable to match growing demand or an increase in SKUs, and can be integrated with other automation technologies and warehouse software for even greater efficiencies. This can help businesses optimize space utilization for a small footprint and flexible layout, and easily increase capacity by adding robots, modules, or workstations with little to no downtime.

  • Warehouse Management Software solutions. Understanding the benefits of a warehouse management system is critical for growing firms. A warehouse management system can tremendously help growing enterprises with on-hand goods (WMS). By monitoring work processes at multiple levels, boosting productivity, and increasing asset utilization, the WMS will improve their operational efficiency for both labour and physical space.

  1. Implementing a WMS can help businesses streamline their warehouse operations, reduce inventory carrying costs, and improve customer satisfaction. With a WMS, businesses can automate and optimize many warehouse processes, including inventory tracking, order fulfilment, and shipping.

  2. WMS software can provide real-time visibility into inventory levels, order status, and warehouse operations, which can help businesses make data-driven decisions that improve efficiency and reduce costs. By having a better understanding of their warehouse operations, businesses can better allocate resources, optimize order picking, and improve overall warehouse performance.

Final Thoughts

The material handling equipment industry is constantly evolving, so it's important to stay on top of the latest trends. As you can see from this article, there are many issues that need to be addressed within this field. However, we have also seen some solutions that have been put into place and have helped improve the overall efficiency of how we store and transport products. As I continue my journey in further exploring this field, I will undoubtedly encounter more problems and solutions along the way!


From A Student's Perspective


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