Tech Trends Shaping the Future of Material Handling

September 7, 2021

Warehouse Technology

The upswing of e-commerce over the last couple of years has changed the face of material handling and distribution center warehouses. While the industry is still struggling with older challenges, such as finding and keeping good employees, online shopping and the resultant fast-paced movement of product in and out of warehouses has added another layer of new demands to an already-stressed world. New technology and innovations in the material handling and DC world have been making their entrance, but that in itself is another challenge for many business owners and managers. With so many new ideas, how do you pick and choose the ones that will be the optimum fit for you and your specific application?

Let’s take a look at some recent tech trends and explore how they might help increase your productivity and efficiency.

Jungheinrich AGV in warehouse


Let’s just jump right in with arguably the largest technological advance in material handling over the last decade. Automation, including robots, impacts a large variety of material handling and DC warehouse challenges, including:

  • Employee shortages
  • Product handling and storage
  • Repetitive tasks
  • Product damage
  • Equipment damage
  • Safety

How businesses utilize automatics in the warehouse setting can impact almost every facet of doing business. Most current companies already use some form of automation and since every business is different, tailoring automation to your application is vital.

With warehouse space at a premium and organization paramount in these days of e-commerce and same-day delivery, installing and using conveyors and automatic guided vehicles to move product around, while moving product in and out with automated storage and retrieval systems takes a load off overworked employees who can be put to better and higher use. You may see a decrease in employee repetitive use injuries, as well, which could help your bottom line.

Using automation to move and store products around your warehouse helps solve the labor shortage pain point. With a need for fewer workers, material handling and DC warehouse companies can focus on building a workforce around decision makers.

When automated systems are put into place, the human error factor is reduced. Product and equipment that is not handled by human workers is less likely to be damaged, saving money and increasing productivity. Material handling and DC warehouse owners have a substantial amount of money tied up in product and equipment. With automatics, you get consistent – and increased – throughput that decreases operating costs while improving worker safety and product handling. Meanwhile, human workers are free to problem solve and use flexibility – something a robot cannot do – when needed.

Cloud-based Software and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

What does cloud-based mean anyway? For a lot of people, talking about “things” stored or based in the “cloud” is just confusing. Even though many of us have been accessing and using the cloud for a good number of years without really knowing it, the material handling and DC warehouse industry has introduced technology that depends on cloud computing and provides options that save money and increase bottom lines. Some of the ways the material handling industry is using cloud-based software include:

  • Fleet management
  • Warehouse management
  • Delivery management

Cloud-based management systems can be used to move your material handling and DC warehouse business into a more competitive space in today’s fast-moving e-commerce world where behemoths such as Amazon and Walmart seem to rule.

Fleet Management

Fleet management incorporates the use of telematics and other software programs to deliver real-time information to your mobile phone, laptop or desktop computer. With a fleet management system, you’ll know where your equipment is at all times. You’ll know when your equipment is due for maintenance – or if it needs maintenance or repair. You’ll be able to see how much fuel is being purchased, where it is being purchased and who is purchasing the fuel. Having this important information at your fingertips allows you to make informed decisions that increase productivity and efficiency while maximizing assets.

Warehouse Management

Information that provides the opportunity to make informed decisions about your warehouse application can be worth a lot in terms of optimizing operations. With the right warehouse management system (WMS), you’ll get a comprehensive real-time look at warehouse operations for better process evaluation. With today’s technology, that means tracking inventory, as well as processing the returns that have become ubiquitous in today’s online shopping market.

Additionally, warehouse management systems provide labor guidance and, with the use of AI and its algorithms, are capable of learning how to switch tasks based on installed parameters without human intervention. WMS can extract the information you need to make decisions so you don’t have to plow through reams of data.

Delivery Management

Timely delivery is probably the most important component in today’s e-commerce world. For retailers who want to compete, delivery management systems that are based in the cloud can help with all the aspects of day-to-day delivery operations, including delivery tracking, dock management (having the right boxes ready on the dock when the truck arrives), dispatching, individual driver supervision and more.

Delivery management systems go even further – they can plan routes, learn how to load a truck for optimum delivery, combine packages for faster, more efficient delivery and encourage a smaller ecological footprint.

There are many material handling tech trends here today and more on the horizon. These tools are intended to provide companies with a faster ROI, the ability to be more competitive and an increased production output in the face of tough, new demands and heightened competitiveness. At 54 Intralogistics, staying abreast of new tech trends in the material handling and DC warehouse realm – and understanding how these new tools work – is our specialty.

Contact the experienced professionals at 54 Intralogistics to learn more about what technology can help you accomplish.