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Irving Footlik Dies at 88, Standard Bearer for the Material Handling Industry

June 1, 2006
Irving M. Footlik, founder and chairman of Footlik & Associates (Evanston, Ill.), died after a short illness on June 5 at Rush North Shore Medical Center
Footlik & Associates (Evanston, Ill.), died after a short illness on June 5 at Rush North Shore Medical Center in Skokie, Ill. He was 88 years old.

“Irv” to his many friends and industry colleagues, Footlik was a licensed professional engineer, an author, college instructor, and material handling and plant layout consultant. After graduating as a mechanical engineer from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Footlik’s career spanned more than 50 years in all types of industries. He served on numerous industry committees and was instrumental in establishing the 48 x 40 in., four-way pallet standard, as well as standards for palletization and unit loads for the office products, electrical and plumbing industries.

He designed thousands of warehouses, distribution centers and factories throughout North America and in Europe and was known for his palletless warehouse designs and the development of the first fully automated warehouse in the world at the Kitchens of Sara Lee.

“He would sketch out a design on a placemat or the proverbial cocktail napkin, and the facility would be built almost exactly the way he had laid it out,” recalls his son, Bob Footlik. “My father was controversial at times because he placed the needs of the situation and ethics and a consideration of the personnel, often above what a client wanted to hear.”

Footlik was dedicated to materials handling education throughout his life. Richard Muther, chairman of Richard Muther & Associates (Marietta, Ga.), an industrial planning firm that he founded in 1956, recalls how Footlik dropped everything to help him organize a five-day seminar on materials handling analysis in the late 1950s. Muther also recalls Footlik’s efforts to establish material handling as a profession through his work to establish the Association of Professional Material Handling Consultants,

“We were able to bring a recognition to materials handling as a legitimate consulting practice,” recalls Muther. “We promoted the idea and demonstrated that we could be a consulting and training organization for the best companies in the world.”

Muther’s deepest respect for Footlik came from his ability to combine theory with real-world applications. “He was highly practical, but at the same time a great innovator of all kinds of material handling solutions. That’s the tribute and respect that I have for him,” says Muther.

Starting in 1950 Irving Footlik taught material handling at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He taught an evening course in warehousing and material handling at Northwestern Univ. He was a guest lecturer at universities and trade association events throughout the country, and lead courses for top material handling people at the Industrial Management Center for 35 years.

As a requirement for renewal of his Professional Engineer license, Footlik recently studied from a materials handling course that incorporated material that he wrote in 1952. He received an "A" on the test.

Active in many industry trade associations, Footlik was a founder of the College-Industry Committee on Materials Handling Education (now the College-Industry Council on Material Handling Education) and the American Materials Handling Society (now the International Material Management Association). He was a member of the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers, Professional Engineers in Private Practice, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Industrial Management Association and The Institute of Industrial Engineering.

When he could no longer travel as frequently, Bob reports that his father brought his ample supply of energy and talent to bear on a wide variety of philanthropic endeavors, organizing resources to establish materials handling engineering laboratories at a local community college and in Israel, as well as efforts in support of the local hospital and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

His diverse experience and contributions to the material handling industry made him the frequent recipient of industry awards, including the International Materials Management Society Certificate of Merit, the Illinois Institute of Technology Award for Professional Achievement and induction into the Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning Industry Hall of Fame.

“Materials handling was my father’s life,” says Bob Footlik. “There are a lot of plaques on the walls, but the legacy my father really leaves is in the training and the hearts that he inspired. That’s his real legacy.”