So with the materials handling sector in general enjoying pretty good times, and both the MODEX and ProMat shows doing very well, this has left MHI in relatively flush financial shape, which under CEO George Prest is aggressively moving to expand its focus from representing companies in the materials handling sector (hardware, software and more) to supply chain practitioners as well. It won't be an easy or inexpensive process, but MHI is in a position to make a run at it.
Cliff and I try to find some key themes from these MHI shows each year, and didn't really manage to do that this year in any significant way, other than to repeat something we noted last year after ProMat: the technical barriers to the holy grails of automating full case and piece picking are simply falling away.
If you decide not to automate such picking processes, it may be due to volume levels, the ROI, your culture, concerns about flexibility, etc., but it is unlikely to be because the technology just won't work for your situation, as was the commonly case just a few years ago.
Case in point of this perspective is a really cool new piece picking system from I am Robotics, which I will overview below.
In another minor theme, there were a significant number of what are called automated guided vehicles (AGVs) on the show floor. What is noteworthy here is that many are now using the same type of autonomous driving capabilities being developed by Google and many others for automobile navigation.
Interestingly, this not only greatly improves flexibility - an important limitation of AGVs in the not too distant past - but can actually also significantly reduce the cost of the vehicles by in a sense digitizing some of the hardware that was needed for AGVs to navigate in the past.
The big question though is whether AGVs will ever really find a place in distribution centers, instead of just the factory floor (and sometimes also then connected plant warehouses). That remains to be seen, although the Kiva-style robots (now being rethought by Locus Robotics, see below) are really a form of AGV.