Mhlnews 1409 Witts01001

Witts End: It's Never Been Done Before

Aug. 1, 2007
Industry leaders gather in Montana.

"There's never been anything like this," exclaimed Brian McNamara, president, Southworth International Group. He was speaking in his capacity of executive chairman, MHIA. And he was referring to the Material Handling and Logistics Summit, held this June in Whitefish, Montana.

The meeting brought together more than 30 of the top thinkers, providers and doers in material handling. It was by invitation only, and sponsored by the association's College-Industry Council on Material Handling Education (CIC MHE).

I was honored to be there as a facilitator, although at times it felt like I was herding cats. When you get that much high-powered talent in the same room, ideas take on a life of their own. Reality gets pushed out. Time seems meaning less when someone says, "what if …"

For three solid days (Okay, full disclosure: There was a little golf, a little fly fishing and a little hiking.) participants from academia, consultancies, equipment providers and end users, brainstormed ideas and identified things that will impact our industry far into the future.

Ben Montreuil, Canada research chair in enterprise engineering at Universite Laval in Montreal, and vice president of CICMHE, created a way of weighting ideas and determining, regardless of the participants' biases, which themes and initiatives ranked highest among all participants. Fourteen major themes and 52 initiatives (which have become action items) emanated from this talented group.

It wasn't all talk. John Nofsinger, CEO of MHIA said "the agenda has been set in Whitefish which allows us to respond to real-world changes."

So, what are some of the big ideas? Here is a handful, not necessarily in order of importance; just things to watch for and plan on:

  • Developing the workforce of the future for distribution, warehousing and manufacturing;
  • Creating a funding source that supports material handling and logistics initiatives in research, education, innovation and development;
  • Building a vision and roadmap for next generation supply chains and material handling and logistics strategies that support them;

That's a mighty big To-Do list. Maybe that's why an event like this has never been attempted. I found it interesting that in all the discussion, I did not hear anyone speak of some yet-to-be-defined breakthrough technology that might save the day. No silver bullet. Discussions almost always circled back to people. It's the human side of our industry that is going to have the greatest impact, in my opinion.

Asked what he liked best about the event, Jim Tompkins, CEO, Tompkins Associates said, "It's the inclusiveness of all the stakeholders in material handling that are at this event."

From that inclusiveness has grown a plan that might eventually answer the question I heard asked early in the week: Would you want your kid to work in a warehouse?

Clyde E. Witt