See the guy on our cover? He's a material handler inside a trailer. Such a simple image. Yet what he's doing and where symbolizes two disciplines that are critical to the physical and fiscal well-being of economies around the world. The logo above his head says it all: Material Handling & Logistics.

This magazine's new name represents the forces that make global supply chains work. They're what the leaders of companies, both large and small, rely upon to counter the forces keeping them awake at night — labor issues…fuel price volatility…regulatory compliance…economic turmoil…an aging transportation infrastructure, etc.

Read any newspaper on any given day and you'll find a story that has a direct impact on our cover guy. “Supersizing Hits Freight World,” read one recent headline in The Wall Street Journal. The story quotes Kraft's associate director of transportation planning as saying a proposed 20% heavier truckload weight limit would allow him to load trucks more fully, thus reducing the number of trucks used by 6%, saving 6.6 million gallons of fuel and eliminating 73,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

The same story quotes a road-safety official: “This is insane,” he says, “I can actually feel bridges bouncing up and down when trucks go over them.”

That yin and yang will drive Material Handling & Logistics — both the disciplines and this magazine. Never have these fields been more inextricably linked. What happens in one has consequences in the other. For example, if larger unit loads were to become the next transportation trend, many shippers and receivers would have to reexamine:

  • their lift truck styles/capacities;

  • their storage/handling area footprint;

  • storage style/arrangement/capacity

  • dock equipment/arrays

  • cross-docking protocols

  • pallets and unitizing protocols (load containment/confinement with larger loads)

  • inventory holding practices/policies

The conjoining of material handling and logistics has been on John Nofsinger's mind as much as it's been on ours. He's CEO of the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA), which just announced a new trade show that will debut in Atlanta in 2012 and every other year after that (ProMat will take the odd years in Chicago). Modex is its name, and its motto is “Solutions that move supply chains.” Part of the idea is to attract companies to this fold that had never associated their business with material handling.

“We've had a hard time convincing some of the people who are clearly in our world — such as Oracle and Microsoft — to hitch their wagon to a star called material handling,” Nofsinger told me. “To them that's street level tactical stuff. But they have WMS and enterprise systems that are in our world. Oracle and Microsoft routinely use words like ‘solutions’ and ‘supply chain’. The movement piece of it will elevate the role of the material handling side more clearly.”

This magazine's motto is “Make, Store, Move, Compete.“ We've always been about “make, store and move,” but mostly inside four walls. MH&L's focus will still follow those moves, but it will continue to follow their physical and data flows beyond the dock, over the roads and into every other node in a supply chain network.

Our story on “Automation's ROI” on page 13 is a good example. Many more influences, up and down a supply chain, are factored into the return on investment in material handling software and hardware. It used to be only hard, measureable, visible factors inside a facility's four walls could be considered in any ROI calculation. Now the impact an AS/RS could have on trailer loading efficiency and delivery routing makes transportation cost reduction a key ROI criterion.

The “compete” part of our motto means supply chain vs. supply chain. That's our universe. The guy on our cover, and the executives who lose sleep over what he does, are at the center of it.

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