Several years ago, I had the opportunity to set up exhibits and manage trade media relations for a previous employer at what was then the material handling industry’s annual NA expo in Cleveland.
To say the least, I was quite impressed with what was literally unfolding around me.
With little previous knowledge about material handling, I was stunned at the sheer size and scope of what this industry entails. I quickly became enthralled with the impressive array of products and systems on display. They included complex conveyor systems (including those intriguing spiral concepts), robotic pods that move storage shelves along a pre-determined route following a line of sensors on the floor, automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) and automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS).
Up until that time, I had never even given fork lifts much thought. But after visiting my first NA show and seeing what the industry had to offer, I've never viewed lift trucks the same again!
A whole new world
Just by attending that first NA show, I really gained a thorough understanding of just how critical material handling is to our nation’s economy and the entire country’s supply chain. I’ve since become quite familiar with the industry’s current annual trade events – MODEX (hosted in even years in Atlanta) and ProMat (hosted during odd years in Chicago).
Experiencing the material handling industry in such an up close and personal way opened a whole new world for me. I enjoyed my first NA show so much, I returned the following two years in a row. The big difference though on those visits? I was representing my own business.
Based on my nearly 10 years of experience now helping clients in the material handling industry generate content for their prospects and customers, five distinct areas stand out about the industry that I find the most fascinating:
1) Sheer size and scope
Currently, material handling is a $156 billion industry employing 700,000 people (source: MHI). It’s the ONLY industry that touches every product as it moves through the global supply chain to the consumer.
2) Significant consumer impact
Even though the public has never heard of most material handling companies, consumers are impacted by them every day. Nor do they realize how the world’s most successful companies use material handling solutions to gain a competitive edge by improving their customer service efficiency and productivity.
3) Vast mix of solutions
Material handling uses a broad array of equipment, systems, services and expertise to move products through the supply chain such as: automation, information technology, automatic identification, lifting equipment, storage equipment, conveying equipment, facilities design and planning, ergonomic and safety equipment, as well as sustainable and green solutions.
4) Range of product applications
Material handling products and systems are everywhere you look in manufacturing operations, warehouses and distribution centers (DCs).
Assembly lines use fork lifts, automated guided vehicles, and conveyors to move product from one place to another in industrial plants. And front offices rely on automated computerized control systems to stock, identify, store, retrieve, move and account for products in manufacturing plants, on the road, and in stores. This helps to ensure the right product is available when needed.
Warehouses function efficiently using storage and retrieval systems, shelving, racks, mezzanines, carousels, bar coding, radio frequency identification devices and data collection. And loading docks depend the latest in wrapping equipment, packaging and unitizing systems that all help companies protect and ship valuable products and materials.
5) Great people to work with
The material handling industry (including the customers who use the products and solutions it produces) is full of extremely intelligent and genuine people who really have a passion for their careers. From plant and operations managers, to engineers and senior level management, they can all offer their own unique perspectives on the material handling industry and its importance to them as individuals.
The material handling industry is certainly one that keeps on giving, especially in terms of ingenuity and innovation. I find it very rewarding to be involved in helping companies in this field. It’s also always exciting to see what’s on the horizon that promises to make the industry even better in the years to come.
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