MODEX 2014 – From Material Handling to Supply Chain Design

I had the pleasure of attending MODEX 2014 last week. It was the second MODEX show, which alternates biannually with it sister show, ProMat. Similar to ProMat, MODEX centers on material handling but differs by extending its focus to include the end-to-end supply chain. The core MODEX show included about 600 exhibitors, while the co-located Supply Chain and Transport USA (SC&T) included an additional 100 exhibitors. Omni-channel commerce and/or e-fulfillment appeared as the most common theme iin the educational sessions. Warehouse automation technology was omnipresent on the exhibition floor. Included were numerous automatic guided vehicles (AGVs), automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), and emerging technologies such as collaborative mobile robots and augmented reality glasses. I took a few iPhone video clips while at the conference and created a brief 2 minute video compilation that I have attached to this post. Please take a quick look to view some of the automation in action.

I had a chance to use demo models of augmented reality glasses at both the Knapp and Dematic booths. I briefly used Knapp’s product, KiSoft Vision, for the picking process. The Dematic demo leveraged Google glasses (integrated with its CMMS system from recently acquired Upturn Solutions) to facilitate an inventory audit process. I found both product demonstrations to be interesting and impressive. However, I did have some difficulty adjusting my focus to the translucent text and symbols projected on the glasses. Also, I can imagine that repetitively transitioning one’s depth perception from the images on the glasses back to one’s environment could wear on an individual’s eyes throughout a work day.

I attended a number of educational sessions at the conference. Omni-channel commerce and e-fulfillment were common themes. However, I found these concepts to be more prevalent in the titles than they were in the content itself. Many presentations discussed general fulfillment and warehouse design challenges, rather than those specific to omni-channel initiatives. Regardless of the session titles, the presenters displayed notable expertise in their domain areas. Rather than discuss presentations in detail, I have outlined a few of the interesting points from these sessions:

  • In-store fulfillment is a highly important capability to retailers and solutions to support and integrate this process with traditional fulfillment and order management are in high demand from software vendors.
  • Collaborative autonomous robots are still an emerging technology, but innovators are working through the potential liability issues that could emerge from robots and workers colliding.
  • There were discussions about companies using shared resources including labor, systems, and inventory, to support traditional and e-commerce channels from a single facility. At least one case study was presented, and there are potential efficiencies gains from executing on this process configuration. However, inventory and resource sharing to this degree is currently uncommon and poses numerous practical challenges.
  • If your company is confronting warehouse design and configuration challenges, there are plenty of experienced industrial and systems design professionals at MODEX to assist you with your needs.
  • Finally, I attended a Supply Chain and Transport USA session on network design. This session discussed a network redesign initiative by UPS for Fossil, Inc. The initiative analyzed the company’s Asia Pacific supply chain network and focused on brand integrity and margin preservation in this rapidly evolving region. The inputs included projected sales growth for 2018 and considered variables such as current free trade agreements, port connectivity, air cargo connectivity, taxes, and regulatory constraints on imports from various countries. This was an initial step in an ongoing process. Going forward, additional variables such as 3PL availability will be considered, as well as cost benefit analyses of manufacturing and export licenses. I found this presentation to be extremely interesting. It bridged the gap between the high level globalization trends discussed in everyday news  and the operational material handling processes. Perhaps mist importantly, it demonstrated the importance of location, accessibility, customs and duties, input costs, and other variables in the strategic supply chain network design process.

 

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