The UNEX Blog

Material Handling Innovation- Just a Buzzword?

Every year, the material handling industry goes through a plethora of words designed as marketing speak to describe some aspect of the industry. Last year’s word (or phrase) was “game changer.” Before that, the words of the day were sustainability, disruptive and complexity. Today the word is “innovation” or “innovative.”

material handling innovation

Every vendor thinks they are innovative or have created the greatest innovation of the decade. We are all looking for the next great thing that will change the market forever. In Clayton Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, he distinguishes between two types of innovation: sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining innovations make products better through additional features; disruptive innovations “change the product by redefining the value proposition.”

James B. Rice of MIT wrote in a column in Supply Chain Management Review that “most supply chain innovations—and we suspect most materials handling innovations—aren’t truly revolutionary. Rather, they’re a clever combination of some existing technologies that have been applied in such a way that it has an impact on how things get done. What’s more, the innovation is brought to scale.”

The real opportunity for innovation in material handling is not just in new products, but in new processes that are more efficient, helping workers become more productive and cutting costs.


But do you really need the latest, innovative, automated system in your warehouse for picking orders?

Consider the return-on-investment (ROI). In an article in Logistics Viewpoints, industry analyst Steve Banker discusses the ROI of material handling equipment, saying, “If it currently costs us $7.32 to perform all the activities associated with receiving, put-away, picking, and loading pallets onto trucks, would extensive material handling allow us to drive that cost down to $5.17?” Banker goes on to discuss the risks of warehouse automation and that building a multi-million warehouse may not solve your problem of slow sales.

When upgrading or optimizing your picking operations in your warehouse, make sure you balance the risks with rewards. Can you work with suppliers to reduce lead times instead of adding some type of automation? Can you decrease the number of warehouses you have by making better use of space, cutting costs that way? Can you rationalize SKUs within the warehouse to lessen picking options and lower space utilization? Can you successfully introduce sustaining innovation into your operation? You can, and you can start by contacting UNEX.

UNEX’s Pickologists offer order picking solutions like our patented Span-Track carton flow system that makes the best use of storage, increases pick rates and drop in easily to make installation a breeze. Span-Track is real game-changer! Oops, I mean innovation!

Posted by: KCupples