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SPRING 2013

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Distributor's Link Magazine Spring Issue 2013 / VOL 36 / NO.2

10 THE DISTRIBUTOR’S

10 THE DISTRIBUTOR’S LINK Robert B. Footlik Robert B. Footlik is a licensed professional engineer. A graduate of Illinois Institute of Technology, he has worked extensively in the fields of material handling, plant layout, packaging and management systems. The firm of Footlik and Associates serves as staff warehousing and materials consultants to six trade associations. Footlik writes for 12 trade and professional journals. Footlik and Associates is located at 2521 Gross Point Road, Evanston, Illinois 60601; phone 847-328-5644. PROMAT 2013: TRENDS AND EQUIPMENT Every other year ProMat, the national Materials Handling and Logistics Show, comes to McCormick Place in Chicago. This is the largest exposition of products, software and systems in the US with almost 1,000 vendors and over 850,000 square feet of exhibit space. For four days in January it’s the showcase of innovation, productivity and efficiency improvement for many industries including Fastener Distribution. This year there were two aspects of particular importance to your businesses future. Trends While the final numbers are not in yet it is likely that over 40,000 people attended with an especially heavy crowd on Monday, January 21, the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial holiday. But in one aspect this was the quietest show in memory. In previous years the equipment on display would bang, pop, hiss and clank. This year due to a new awareness of noise pollution previously loud conveyors made barely a hum. New motors, bearing and drive systems have dropped the noise level to almost zero. In addition, sound attenuation materials on the inside of housings and conveyors drastically reduced the decibel levels in the halls. This is great news for Fastener Distributors who use conveyors for moving loose and packaged products because along with sound reduction there is a significant increase in the reliability of the equipment and elimination of frequent maintenance. Automatic guided vehicles are not particularly news, but the increased number of vendors showing autonomous and semi-autonomous fork lifts and product movers constitutes a clear trend for the future. Typically a lift truck spends 90% to 95% of its operating time moving materials laterally and only 5% to 10% putting it away. Eliminating the operator can significantly reduce warehouse labor, especially when combined with software to optimize the paths and tasks. For those operations where a human is still necessary new Warehouse Management Systems with radio links to the personnel and vehicles were everywhere. This trend points to elimination of movements from the docks to storage with full forks and an empty fork return. If a vehicle is dispatched to perform one task it can return following a path that incorporates more work. For any single out and back cycle this will increase the time spent, but by combining tasks there can be a 40%+ increase in utilization. Ergonomics has become an increasingly important trend. Many vendors exhibited lift tables, elevating pallet jacks and other equipment to make the personnel and the task more comfortable. Individual work stations that adjust in height are now available from most of the shelving and bench manufacturers. If your operation includes people of varying stature this can be a great way to make them more comfortable and enhance morale. The Automate Show was collocated with ProMat in a second building. The major trends here were speed and “machine vision.” One robotic arm moved so fast that the eye could not follow as it picked up parts and placed them in new locations in emulation of the old shell and pea game. The motion was smooth, controlled and precise far faster than a human could react. In other displays this was coupled with “machine vision” where television cameras focused on random sized and shaped materials to provide the input that directed the robotic movement. For example one robot placed irregular objects for a second device to pick up. Robot number two then dropped the items on a 45 degree inclined surface to further randomize pick up/sortation movements that returned the pieces to the first robot. please turn to page 158

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