Like other manufacturing industries, makers of material handling equipment (lift trucks, conveyors, automated storage and retrieval systems, order-picking equipment, etc.) had it pretty rough during the recession. However, things are picking up quite nicely, with orders up 18% in 2010 (admittedly, over a weak 2009), and expected to grow another 11% to 12% this year, based on a forecast from the Material Handling Industry of America.

Chuck Pascarelli
As president of lift-truck manufacturer Raymond Corp.'s Sales and Marketing Division, Chuck Pascarelli has first-hand experience with the ups and downs of the material handling industry. He offers the following five tips for companies seeking to better leverage their supply chains through a well-considered material handling strategy:

1) Look for a partner, not a vendor.

"Choose a material handling partner who will listen to your strategic objectives and long-term goals, not just fill an equipment order," Pascarelli recommends. "A true partner will help provide solutions that are consistent with your overall mission."

2) You may have too many lift trucks.

"It may sound strange to hear that from a lift truck manufacturer," he admits, "but it may be true. Fleet optimization can be a major factor in whether a company is operating cost-efficiently. Work with a material handling partner to evaluate your lift-truck fleet and determine how to run at maximum uptime and efficiency. Obtaining accurate, real-time data is essential to making decisions about how to best manage the lift-truck fleet."

3) Optimizing your operations doesn't have to mean accepting trade-offs.

"In many companies, the purchasing and operations functions work hard to independently meet goals to minimize costs and maximize output. By taking a comprehensive approach to analyzing asset purchases and moving product, companies can better position themselves to lower costs and enhance efficiency simultaneously. To help companies accomplish this task and stay competitive," Pascarelli notes, "some lift-truck manufacturers are providing complete material handling solutions, going beyond just the lift truck."

4) Don't fear new technologies.

"Testing alternative-energy and battery-charging options remains a priority for the material handling industry," he says. "Research indicates higher productivity and more sustainable operations with these energy options. For some applications, there is an increasing interest in the potential for automated guided vehicles to lower labor costs and increase productivity. Stay on top of the latest technologies available and be open-minded about trying a new technology. It may significantly improve your operations."

5) A lift truck is more than a piece of capital equipment.

"In the lifecycle of a lift truck, the initial cost is only about 10% of its total expense," Pascarelli explains. "Maintenance and operation (including parts and labor) account for the majority of a lift truck's cost. Analyze and truly understand your lift-truck fleet to maximize the productivity of your assets. Know how each truck should be used, how each is actually used, how to care for it and how to change if necessary."

See Also:
The Recovery is Going to Cost You
Essentials of Inventory Management