Year in review: Top materials handling stories of 2019

Digitization, connectivity, efficiency and customer demands continue to drive innovation.

Digitization, connectivity, efficiency and customer demands continue to drive innovation.

On the heels of historic growth, the materials handling industry is set for another strong year, even as the broader economy shows signs of softening. Although not known for rapid technology adoption, the industry seems to be gaining a firmer footing amid the digital transformation as a clearer picture of a path forward emerges.

A recent report forecasts the global next-gen supply chain market will more than double to $75 billion by 2030. Adoption will be particularly rapid, disruptive and beneficial in warehouses and DCs who face an existential threat to provide speedy and perfect orders. To create solutions, partnerships between disparate technology suppliers are driving innovation and value.

Adoption of mobile and collaborative robots, autonomous or semi-autonomous material handling equipment continues to grow. Along with significant innovation in forklift data capture, these assets are serving as early mappers of industrial space and activity. Digitization will significantly improve data collection and analysis – including previously untapped data streams like real-time location systems (RTLS), which could reshape how mobile equipment is managed as well as the design and optimization of processes.

The growing trend of micro-fulfillment could fundamentally change how we think about supply chains. Small and automated facilities close to customers are an enticing solution to last-mile challenges, but require enterprise-wide visibility and nimbleness.

Software of all kinds increasingly leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence to self-improve. It’s one thing to use this data to optimize the movement of goods, materials and assets, but it’s another to consider what a fully-automated facility could achieve when it is constantly teaching itself. The future is thrilling, but 2019 was no snooze. Here is a sampling of the biggest headlines and most telling developments of the year:

Mergers, acquisitions and partnerships
Balyo announces 10-year renewal of contract with Hyster-Yale Group
I.D. Systems and Jungheinrich AG sign global technology agreement
Teradyne to acquire AutoGuide Mobile Robots
Sealed Air acquires Automated Packaging Systems
Hyster-Yale Group to collaborate with Honeywell
Shopify acquires 6 River Systems
Dematic announces strategic partnership with OPEX
Locus Robotics announces technology collaboration partnership with RightHand Robotics
After acquiring MHS in 2017, THL acquires AutoStore
GreyOrange partners with eight supply chain industry leaders in the United States
Tompkins Robotics partners with Bastian Solutions

Research and economy
Robotic unit orders show growth over last year
CBRE report: Online returns expected to total $37 billion for 2018 holiday season
Deloitte industrial manufacturing outlook tracks digitalization’s steady march
North American robotics orders to non-automotive companies surge to new records
BDO Survey: Majority of middle market manufacturers recognize Industry 4.0 opportunity, but only 5% ready to execute
Deloitte/MAPI Study: Smart factories key to tripling stalled labor productivity growth rate by 2030
ITA reports fourth consecutive year of record-breaking forklift sales

In other news
MHI’s annual report sees inflection point, investment spike, for digital technologies
Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM) and Toyota Material Handling, U.S.A. (TMHU), to become Toyota Material Handling
MIT and ASU serve up an online Master’s in supply chain management
RFID companies innovate to harness growth opportunities
ProMat 2019: Nearly 50,000 attendees set 34-year record
Pack Expo Las Vegas and Healthcare Packaging Expo 2019 break multiple records
MHI announces formation of new robotics industry group

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