Same but Different

It’s always fun to play with a new version of a favorite toy. What’s even more fun, though, is when the upgraded toy looks just like the one you know and love, but offers a slew of snazzy features that aren’t apparent at first glance. So it is with today’s warehouse forklifts and articulated trucks — they may not look much different from what you’ve used in the past, but they contain sophisticated, task-specific enhancements.

At NA 2002, the Material Handling Industry of America’s annual conference and expo held April 8-11 in Detroit, the 400-odd exhibitors displayed wares with “a lot of evolutionary changes, but nothing really revolutionary,” said Frank Renshaw, president of Keogh Consulting Inc., based in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. A member of the Association of Professional Material Handling Consultants (APMHC), Renshaw spoke at a session describing the newest material handling technology developments and how to identify them at the show. Attendees could expect small but meaningful changes, Renshaw said, adding that “the technology may look the same, but many bugs may have been ironed out. You need to look deeper to find out what the difference is.” For instance, shelving fixtures may offer unusual dimensions and configurations, and rack protection systems may provide improved safety and stability. Information systems carry an increased variety of add-on modules, such as apps for yard management, pick slot assignment, and maintenance management.

The growing emphasis on technology has in turn upgraded the industrial, shop-floor image of material handling. “We’re taking the new-technology world to the old-technology world of fulfillment,” said Chris Cole, CEO of Intelligrated Inc., a material handling and logistics company exhibiting at the show. “It’s putting the power of the microprocessor on the shop floor.”

Thinking smaller applies to suppliers as well as to technology enhancements. Although, like most other industries, the $60 billion material handling business has seen its share of consolidations, a growing number of smaller firms are beginning to supply merchants who cannot afford or do not need complex, multimillion-dollar technologies, according to the Material Handling Industry of America.

The APMHC surveyed over a hundred exhibitors to determine the new equipment and technology displayed at NA 2002. Products fell into five major functional groups (move, store, control, protect, and other), with 12 technologies emerging as leaders, as shown in the table on page 36. More information about the survey is available from the APMHC at or by calling (704) 676-1184.

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