What Keeps You Awake At Night?

March 1, 2010
Material handling managers endure many sleepless nights so the rest of us can sleep soundly.

You can learn a lot of things about material handling managers from a salary survey if you ask the right questions, and I'm not just referring to the dollars-and-cents breakdowns that suggest, for instance, that warm-weather states are paying better than cold-weather states.

While the salary-and-benefits responses clarified the basic economic state of the industry, we were just as interested in discovering your state of mind. In short, we wanted to know what motivates you and what keeps you up at night.

One of our open-ended questions was: “What is the biggest challenge facing material handlers today?” The most frequently given answer, not surprisingly, was simply “the economy.” Equally terse in their responses were those who answered “costs.” When it comes to causing sleepless nights, those two challenges are by far the leading culprits. But they're certainly not the only sources of concern for material handlers. Below is a representative sample of some of the other issues weighing on the minds of material handling and logistics managers:

  • Getting the money people to foresee the future and invest in the same.

  • Increasing service and value-adds while simultaneously reducing costs.

  • Developing programs to gain significant savings without incurring any substantial disruptions.

  • Ensuring adequate visibility to customer demand swings so production and shipping can coordinate to optimize flows through the plant.

  • Aging equipment that cannot be replaced due to financial constraints.

  • Keeping up with changing distribution points due to freight being moved by rail instead of truck.

  • Compliance with environmental issues (e.g., warnings on all materials that include lead in them).

  • Maintaining profit margins while retaining skilled workers to be prepared for improved economic growth.

  • Coping with ever-emerging technologies; continuous training and education should be facilitated for material handlers to learn new ways.

  • Cyclical nature of capital investments causing boom/bust cycle in industry.

  • Raw material vendors carrying less on-hand, thus increasing initial lead times.

  • Buyers who overstock warehouses with bargain products that are slow sellers or don't sell at all.

  • Finding cost-effective IT solutions that improve speed, accuracy, or both.

  • The movement of manufacturing offshore.

  • International movement of parts and ensuring that material is movable in the plants after long ocean transit times.

  • Properly training people in keeping equipment maintained and getting business people to buy into more automation.

  • Finding qualified and sober equipment operators.

  • Competitors selling through direct channels to end users.

  • Lack of recognition in the corporation.

  • Developing strategies to maintain adequate packaging throughout our domestic and foreign operations.

  • Being able to effectively adjust inventory supply and demand issues in relation to production and lead times.

  • Downward pressure on rates while expectations for service levels are increasing.

  • The changing needs of customers, with every industry gunning for economies of scale.

  • The importance of material handling in the manufacturing process needs to be included in the initial design process for production lines.

You can read all of the comments, more than 350 of them, at www.mhmonline.com/salarysurvey, but the above selection should give you a pretty clear idea of how restless many material handling executives are these days, due to the responsibilities of planning and running their company's supply chain processes.

It is a testament to how well you do your job and how passionate you are about your industry that the United States enjoys such a high standard of excellence for material handling and logistics. On behalf of all of those who, like me, benefit from the steady stream of goods you help manage throughout the global supply chain, thank you.