MHI Roadmap paves the way to material handling future

With an accelerating supply chain, the manufacturing industry now faces 10 major issues, study finds.


PLE1403_WEB_Modex_MHI Roadmap.jpgWith an expanding and accelerating supply chain as both its inspiration and it impetus, MHI is leading a coalition of business, academic and industry leaders to look at how the U.S. will manage its delivery of goods both within the supply chain and ultimately to consumers.

The “Material Handling and Logistics U.S. Roadmap” was unveiled at the MODEX Show in Atlanta, which is sponsored by MHI, the Association of Material Handling and Logistics Professionals. The March 18 presentation played to a crowd so large they had to turn people away from the meeting space. The speed of that change was obvious when MHI convened the 100 industry leaders that stretched across end users, suppliers, educational and government leaders to take a look at the future of their industry. In looking into the future, they see a very different landscape. 

“It may not be long before people specify exactly where they need goods to be delivered today, not to an address but to the temporary location of an individual,” the report’s executive summary noted. “Such a system would require precise timing of delivery; otherwise, the recipient may have moved to another location. What may have sounded fantastical just five years ago now seems to be on the horizon.”

To prepare for that future and for the one that is yet to be imagined, the Roadmap looked at 10 areas of study for the industry in the next decade. They include:

  • The growth of e-commerce
  • Relentless competition
  • Mass personalization
  • Urbanization
  • Mobile and wearable computing
  • Robotics and automation
  • Sensors and the Internet of Things
  • Big Data and predictive analytics
  • The changing workforce
  • Sustainability

Each of these areas was explored in detail in the 68-page report, available at The interrelated nature of many of the topic areas—between sensors and Big Data, for example—make broad, sweeping conclusions difficult. But the study participants came to a couple of general thoughts that make for a unified view of how industry capability and consumer demands will fuel change in the coming decade.

“Participants in the Roadmap workshops were unified in their belief that the future of the industry will demand more value at a higher speed,” the report states. “By 'more value' we mean a greater focus on the customer and his or her needs—delivery at exactly the time desired, at exactly the right place, and in perfect condition, along with associated information about the delivery. By “higher speed” we mean the ever-increasing expectations that deliveries be made more quickly. 

As we describe here, many of these demands are being made today. By 2025, they will be the standard for material handling and logistics services.” Like any good map, the Material Handling and Logistics U.S. Roadmap simply lays out the available routes. “The goal of the Roadmap is not to prescribe solutions to future problems, but rather to point the way by describing the conditions the industry is likely to face in the years up to 2025,” the study concludes. “Our competition-based economy relies on individuals and companies to provide innovations that meet market needs. Consequently, many of the technology issues identified in the Roadmap will be addressed by individual entities.”

In reality, many of those issues already were under discussion as part of the 2014 MODEX Show, which has drawn a large throng of attendees to Atlanta for the biannual event. The logistics and material handling issues presented by suppliers at this event include roadmap topics such as data management, RFID technology, increased use of automated guided vehicles and increased data management.

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