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January 2018
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Mary Glindinning
Mary Glindinning

We asked people in varied sectors of material handling what trends are on the horizon for the New Year and beyond. Here are their insights:

The industry that moves product has made its own mobility a high priority. That means using tablets or other devices on lift trucks or other machines. “Customers want to extend applications to wherever and whenever the work is done. This results in more accurate real-time information,” said Jim Rimay, vice president of sales for Handheld. “Everyone in the facility can be connected so that everyone can see what everyone else is doing. Just-in-time inventory in material handling really drives the need for real-time information.

“We’re finding that customers are looking to drive increased productivity with devices that allow multiple applications,” Rimay said. “They want to support legacy applications via terminal emulation, client server ERP apps and also newer browser-based cloud systems.”

“Applications are being migrated from single-use devices to multi-function ruggedized tablets. Tablet devices can be used for pick-n-pack or inventory cycle counting, and can be forklift-mounted, carried, or used kiosk-style,” Rimay said.

“Since Handheld offers a wide product line of rugged mobile computers, we work in many different industries. Some markets, electric utilities for example, have adopted mobile technology early and extensively. Others, say waste management and forestry, are just now widely deploying these types of devices to harness the productivity gains,” Rimay said. “Material handling industry has seen early wide-spread adoption, but is now fine-tuning the process and changing to newer cloud-based applications.”

“Offering multiple hardware platforms allows us to find the best ergonomic fit. And supporting both Windows and Android simultaneously provides the customer both flexibility and migration capabilities,” Rimay said. “By creating devices with broad appeal, we’re able to offer our rugged devices at prices that make them a great value.

On the horizon, “applications will develop that communicate in real-time with better endpoint connectivity and intelligence,” Rimay said

Ergonomics will continue to drive the industry, and look for automotive to start strong, according to officials from Herkules Equipment.

“Equipment cost may be higher but system speed can increase efficiency, requiring fewer units/lines and less operating requirements,” said Scott Priest, senior account manager for Herkules Equipment. Customers want “equipment that is flexible and more easily updated, equipment that is smarter and has fewer maintenance needs, and focuses on user return on investment.”

Customers are also looking for “ergonomics, definitely; aging capital requires updates, and ergo was not high on many lists in the past. Now businesses recognize that keeping the work force happy and healthy is good business sense,” Priest said.

Because material handling serves so many industries, it needs to “be on top of trends across the board--a difficult assignment,” Priest said.

Changes on their way include  “‘data-driven’ processing – collecting and using data – analytics -  to drive improvement and efficiency, for example, operator efficiency,” Priest said, and “autonomous vehicles – not track or sensor driven – that can make decisions based on environment conditions.”

The growth in ergonomic demand is the biggest change Mike Jenner, senior account manager for Herkules Equipment, has witnessed.

 “Automotive will be ‘hot’ until the summer of 2017,” Jenner said. “Budgets are tightening, and most customers are waiting for their 2016 budgets to start purchasing.”

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