We have summarised the five hottest trends in materials handling right now. These trends are already having a big impact on the sector and are likely to continue to influence and shape it. Materials handling equipment suppliers will need to ensure that they’re clued up to stay ahead of the competition.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) certainly holds great promise for the materials handling sector, though many are put off by the perceived expense. A 2015 Accenture survey revealed that two-thirds of respondents believed cost to be a significant obstacle to implementation. Nonetheless, an increasing number of companies are adopting the technology.
When we attach sensors to materials handling equipment, we enable connectivity – and intelligence. Modern IoT-enabled forklift trucks, for example, can signal when they need to be serviced, monitor speeds and communicate with other machines, and operators. These advances ensure maximum efficiency on both an individual and fleet-wide level.
Although many existing warehouse control systems are not optimised for the technology, investing in it is a no brainer. Consider the anticipated gulf in profits between IoT – enabled companies and the rest: one report puts it at around 10% over the next ten years. Businesses that don’t adopt will be at a competitive disadvantage.
Self-driving cars, once thought the stuff of science fiction, are now becoming a reality. However, it’s been 60 years since the first Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) was introduced to handle product in a grocery warehouse. AGV technology is now commonplace in warehouses, but advancements in automation are continuing to benefit the sector, from robot piece picking systems to drones for palletising.
Automation is becoming more affordable, and promises increased accuracy and efficiency. As before though – in order to get the most out of this equipment, companies will also need to invest in upgrading their warehouse control and management software.
Rise of ecommerce
The internet’s share of UK retail sales is – at 12% – the highest in the developed world. Increased use of mobile purchasing and the rise of ‘fast fashion’ retailers like ASOS and Boohoo will ensure this market continues to grow. Reflecting this trend, the 2016 UK Forklift Truck Market Outlook notes that last year’s traffic growth was fastest for light goods vehicles, up around 12% since 2014, compared with rises of 3.2% for heavy goods.
E-commerce may bring big profits but it also brings big logistical challenges. The shift to online purchasing is increasing pressure on retailers to expand their fleets and upgrade their materials handling equipment in order to support next day, same day or even one-hour delivery.
Focus on sustainability
Environmentally friendly practices are becoming increasingly important, and there is a growing commitment to sustainability in the materials handling sector.
Access to new environmentally friendly technologies can also help businesses make savings, as well as reduce their carbon footprint. Fuel efficient forklifts, for example, produce fewer carbon emissions and save money on fuel. Similarly, electronic and hybrid models are now available that can increase both financial and environmental sustainability.
Predictive analytics is an emerging technology that is projected to radically alter the supply chain. ‘Big data’ refers to the wealth of data that we can now collect on everything from equipment to staff. The increased use of the IoT has only increased the amount of data that we can access.
Using new analytics technology, logistics managers can examine this data to identify patterns and predict the likelihood of future events based on past events. In turn, this enables businesses to refine their decision making – for example around what equipment to invest in – and become more competitive as a result. According to a 2016 MHI/Deloitte study, 70% of companies will adopt this tech over the next three to five years.