As manufacturers reduce packaging to meet sustainability goals, the need for "gentler" material handling equipment will only increase, said Stephen C. Ackerman, executive vice president of manufacturing systems for the material handling company Intelligrated. "The underlying product is now more vulnerable to damage so clients are demanding gentler handling," Ackerman said at the NA 2010 Material Handling and Logistics Show.
The proliferation of stock-keeping units will also prompt distribution operations to employ material handling equipment with a softer touch.
For example, distribution centers are frequently being asked to handle both larger, store-ready size displays for larger retailers and smaller-sized packages for convenience stores. To meet the handling needs of both types of products, Ackerman said that warehouses will have to deploy automated systems that are both flexible and gentle at accommodating varying packaging sizes. To achieve that lighter touch, Ackerman said DCs may have to adopt more robotic material handling equipment in the future.