Future Looks Bright Ahead

Permeating throughout this year’s HK Systems (Milwaukee, www.hksystems.com) Material Handling & Logistics Conference, was a feeling of well being. John Splude, president and CEO, said business has been good this past year and he foresees no slowing in the economy until 2008. “Our customer base is changing a bit,” said Splude, “and that’s reflected in the attendees of this conference.”

About 60% of the attendees were from non-Fortune 500 companies. “These are companies looking for smaller systems, a reflection of the increasing need for piece, rather than pallet, handling,” said Splude.

At this year’s event, held in mid-September, 173 companies were represented, 81 for the first time. Total attendance was about 400. Exact numbers were a challenge to pin down since one day of the event was devoted to a special program, material handling in automated library systems, so some folks came just for that day.

During the conference, a benchmarking survey was taken. Forty-five percent of the attendees were from product-producing companies, with another one-third (29%) from the distribution segment of the supply chain.

The primary supply chain business challenge these managers cited was labor management and efficiency. Thirty-five percent said the coming labor shortage, along with educated and trained employees, would be the thing requiring most of their time. Coming in a distant second in challenges were quality of operations (13%) and cost containment (15%).
When it’s time for technology research, 60% of the producers and distributors get their information from print media, while 25% rely on on-line services.

Asked where the opportunities for supply chain excellence were in the future, 85% of the attendees predict it will come in automation of some form. Because multiple responses were allowed for this question, 55% will be looking at the areas of personnel efficiency and accuracy as ways to make business better.

As a reflection more on the customer-base attending this event rather than what’s happening in the supply chain in general, 46% reported they are fulfilling orders in palletload units. This is actually up 1% from where their businesses were five years ago. Twenty percent are fulfilling orders as “eaches” or about the same as they did five years ago.

How the supply chain is viewed and achieving ROI brought out some mixed results. Fifty-six percent of the respondents said they are currently more interested (compared with five years ago) in leveraging technology, however, 72% said they will only apply new technologies when the ROI makes sense. Interestingly, 19% claimed they always embrace leading edge technology to sustain a leadership position.

This survey was far from scientific. The results, however, provide an interesting snapshot of what material handling managers are doing today.
Source: HK Systems.

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