North American shipments of material-handling-control-systems (MHCS) software and services reached nearly $494 million in 2001, and the market is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of at least 13% over the next five years, according to a newly released ARC Advisory Group study, "Material Handling Control Systems for North America Outlook." MHCS solutions provide a uniform interface to a broad range of material handling equipment and promise to reduce operator training time, maintenance costs and transportation time. MHCS solutions are found in material handling systems for manufacturing plants, distribution centers, warehouses and parcel handling centers. "Optimization of the sourcing, manufacturing and delivery of goods is viewed as the next opportunity for businesses to improve profitability," says Sal Spada, ARC director of discrete industries. "A greater emphasis is on synchronization of the supply chain with customers and suppliers by improving the supply chain visibility. To be effective, extending the supply chain visibility depends upon greater reach of information on inventory in transit, work in process and inventory in warehouses and distribution centers. As a result of this increased supply-chain focus, MHCS solutions have taken on greater importance."