The industry that moves product is moving toward mobile.
Say you’re a warehouse manager who needs to place an order with a vendor you’ve used before. You’re standing in the warehouse with your tablet, needing a part, supplies or a product. “The website knows who I am, what I usually order and gets me there as quickly as possible,” said Bob Canaway, vice president of marketing for Ektron, a website content management company.
Materials handling websites, as well as those in many other industries, are taking cues from consumer websites. Just as Amazon recognizes you as a returning customer and directs you toward products you’ve purchased in the past, material handling websites are making a website visit personalized. A website can be tailored for different regions, and match the “right content and the right product in the right language,” Canaway said. “If you have customers in a dozen or so different countries, you have to provide content that is going to resonate with those web users.”
Ektron made the websites nimble, responsive and able to update images and brochures across sites. “The marketing group can do things we couldn’t do before without IT getting involved. We immediately had results,” Reaves said. A customer who types a keyword into a search engine is taken directly to that product, “drawing them further down the sales funnel,” she said. “We can collect information about the user, and determine where to direct them the next time they visit the site.”
Refinements include customizing the content to the size of the screen the customer is using. “They should be looking at mobile right now. Everybody is going mobile, no matter what industry you’re in,” Canaway said. “The Amazons and Netflix of the world have made everybody an expert on a great customer service experience, whether they interact with customer” on a phone, tablet or computer.
Customers who are using tablets like to see vendors using them also, said Sean Phillips, vice president of business development for Yosemite Software Solutions. “Yosemite's Sales Rep's Assistant or SRA has helped sales professionals come a long way from creating equipment quotes on a yellow legal pad using a thick price book."
The software significantly decreases the possibility of creating errors in equipment proposals and orders. “Integration is becoming more and more important, having all the different software solutions talk to each other,” Phillips said.
From technology to packaging, the Material Handling industry is seeing advancements in product design that will add convenience and offer labor-saving features.
If you’ve ever walked around a pallet with shrink or stretch wrap so many times that you became dizzy, Reusa-Wraps will resonate with you. It is a durable, reusable polyester mesh wrap that is “the opposite of shrink or stretch wrap,” said Rich Sklena, co-owner and chief executive officer.
The company, started in 2013, holds the only patent for reusable wrap. It can be used up to 1,000 times, reduces labor cost and waste and has a “very quick return on investment,” Sklena said. It increases workplace safety because workers only need to walk around a pallet once and they don’t need knives to slice through the wrap. Reusa-Wrap reduces carbon footprint and is 100 percent recyclable. It also increases stability and protection for pallets.
Looking for ways to save money and increase safety also seems to be keys to the future. United Pallet Services’ pointGUARD can extend the life of a pallet up to five times, according to testing at the Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design at Virginia Tech. “The idea for this product came from one of our customers who told us that they were having issues with product damage due to pallet failure caused by forklift damage,” said Callen Cochran, business development manager for United Pallet Services. “That got our owner thinking of ways to protect the entry points of a pallet, which is where 90-95 percent of pallet damage occurs. He partnered up with a plastics expert and an engineer and the idea was born.
“There are other products that are plastic/wood hybrid pallet designs, but our product is the only one that doesn’t change the design of a pallet. For the most part, you simply attach ours to the existing pallet. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, just improve upon it,” Cochran said.
“Right now, we are developing a pointGUARD protector that is specifically engineered for shipping pallets. It’s lighter and about one-third the cost of our regular pointGUARD products, which are designed for captive or in-house pallets. We designed the shipping version so that it can protect a pallet (and therefore the product) from point A to point B, like a distribution center to retail warehouse. Once it makes the trip, it can be pulled off and the pallet can be reused. If the pointGuard is still in good shape, which is very likely, it can be left on and the pallet can make another trip. Given the price point, if it only makes one trip, the ROI is still very good,” Cochran said.
Also protecting pallets and employees are cushioned bumper guards from American Permalight. “Our bumpers prevent employee injury when bumping into a protrusion and prevent damage to walls or trucks from scraping along concrete columns in warehouses, parking garages and many similar uses,” said Marina Batzke, general manager at American Permalight.
The company also manufactures photoluminescent signs and markings that help evacuate buildings during power outages, fires, or emergencies such as tornadoes, earthquakes or hurricanes. “Photoluminescent signs and markings absorb ambient lighting and when the lights are out, our signs and markings glow in full darkness and guide building occupants from their place of work around glow-marked equipment, along aisles, down steps and out to safety,” Batzke said. It is non-electrical emergency lighting.
“We started producing foamy cushioned bumper guards with a glow-in-the-dark effect in three different shapes. These glow bumpers were well-received, but were limited to indoor use. Customers started asking for more shapes and many more bumper uses. So we started inventing more shapes and bright yellow/contrast black bumpers that are not only limited to indoor use but can also be used outdoors. We expanded our foamy bumper product line from initially three shapes to now 15 shapes plus two corner types. We even have foam bumpers with steel support,” she said. “In the spring of 2014, we will introduce a new line of reflective bumper guards that bounce back lighting, e.g., when a forklift or truck crosses the truck yard in the dark or passes through a parking area. These reflective bumpers will be extra sturdy to resist impact from forklifts or trucks and their silver/contrast red reflective color combination will effectively bounce back head lights.”
Mary Glindinning is a freelance writer who has worked at daily and weekly newspapers for more than 20 years. She lives in rural Shullsburg, Wis. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to contact Mary.