3 Steps to Choosing Material Handling Technologies that Last

Written By: Marvin Logan

Keeping up with cell phone technology

Choosing solutions that truly meet and can grow with your needs is a great way to avoid getting stuck with outdated technologies.

3G, 3GLTE®, 4G…ugh!!! Nowadays, it seems as though anytime you turn on the television a newer version of a product you’ve JUST purchased has come out.  For those of us attempting to keep up with the latest technologies, it can be very frustrating.

To keep up with the rapid pace in which gadgets, software, and computer technologies advance, you’d have to scrap your equipment every 18 months! So the question becomes, how do you provide your company with equipment that is scalable but won’t be out grown in the next few years? Whether it’s a new tablet PC, smart phone, or state-of-the-art conveyor system, there are several factors that one should consider when looking into a new technology:

  1. Can this product suit my needs?
  2. Does the product justify the investment (or project drivers)?
  3. How long will the product be relevant?

1. Will this product meet or exceed my needs?

At the 2011 WERC (Warehousing Education and Research Council) Conference in Orlando, Marvin Logan and I were able to speak on the emerging technologies within the material handling world (stay tuned for that blog article). There, we showcased innovative solutions such as:

  1. KollMorgen Pick-n-Go® in which a picking associate never has to deal with non-value added work. They continuously pick as their company’s retrofitted pallet jacks act as AGV’s (Automated Guided Vehicles) retrieving new pallets, driving to the next pick face location, and delivering full loads to staging areas. There is never any picking downtime.
  2. Kiva’s Mobile Robots create a “moving shelf” environment; wherein, robotic units bring shelving units or pallets to a pick station in the correct timing and sequence necessary for order fulfillment.
  3. Automated Case Flow conveyor systems dispense product from densely packed conveying modules in an exact arrangement. The products are then sent to automated pallet building machines to satisfy orders.

The presentation discussed MANY other types of new technologies as well, but the key point is that all these advancements are making it easier to find a technology that truly satisfies your businesses requirements. There are plenty of available options out there, so find what works best for you.

2. Does the product justify the investment (or project drivers)?

You must understand what the project drivers are and where stakeholders’ concerns lie. These are often evaluated using metrics such as the system’s ability to meet rate (i.e. cartons per minute, etc.), quality control management, or alleviating ergonomic concerns.

As some of my colleagues often say, “you can have the Chevy or the Cadillac.” There is a wide variety of products available, and they all have a corresponding price tag. You can opt to get a system with the bare-bone requirements or with the upgraded DVR, real-time HMI (Human Machine Interface), and fully integrated Warehouse Management System (WMS). The sky’s the limit, but the question becomes, what’s really necessary? Typically, a company will only consider systems that meet some financial return on investment (ROI) delegated by corporate. While this makes a lot of sense, there are other factors to consider.

Recently, I worked with a company that couldn’t justify a project solely on monetary return, but instead, wanted to use the new system as a way to boost employee morale and lessen heavy picks manually performed by operators. This in turn saved on future safety concerns and failures as well as positively affected the bottom line.

3. How long will it be relevant?

In the midst of so many options to choose from, within each facet of material handling, you have to be careful of the equipment and technology you choose. Some areas of concern include:

  • Will the supplier be around in the next 10 years+?
    You wouldn’t want to join a partnership with a company that isn’t very secure, especially in these hard economic times. A company that has a solid foundation, excellent customer support and a great warranty on the product help ensure some stability.
  • How scalable is the product/system?
    You want to be sure that the system has the ability to grow with your company. You don’t want to have to scrap a portion of your line because you can’t add to it later. By studying growth projections of your company, you can either build the extra capacity into your initial design or choose modular components that can easily be retrofitted. You should also consider your software’s (Warehouse Control Systems, etc) ability to handle additional growth and its upgradability.
  • Is your product relevant?
    Sometimes when a company has many products, some of them become obsolete due to lack of demand or a newer version is available. How long do you foresee your product maintaining relevance? Will future products replace the existing and can the equipment or software easily handle this change-over?

With so many technologies in the market, and the rate at which they become outdated, it can be extremely difficult to find a solution that not only works for you, but will also remain relevant and viable for several years.  Nevertheless, if you do your research and follow these steps, you should be well on your way to finding a technology that meets your needs and provides a better return on investment over its lifetime.


Marvin Logan is Director of Consulting Services at Bastian Solutions. He and his team of consultants provide engineering studies, system simulations, slotting analysis, and system layout and design.

Tags: , , , ,


  1. Bill says:

    Great article. Thanks for the post!

  2. Nice one Peter!
    I deeply agree with your 3 steps.
    Knowing one’s needs is definitely the first thing everyone must consider for choosing material handling technologies.But of course the price and the product warranty also counts.
    Good job Peter! Keep the ideas coming…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.