American manufacturing leads the world in productivity and innovation, and material-handling equipment is an area that has a tremendous impact on productivity. From strategies to eliminate unnecessary steps to “smart” machinery that can communicate over wireless networks, here are the top positive impacts that material-handling innovations will have on American manufacturing and distribution companies.

Easily Configurable Conveyors

Conveyor systems simplify material handling by moving materials between locations without requiring a human presence or manual effort. While custom designs for conveyor systems are readily available, they are usually relatively static once installed.

However, over the last several years manufacturers have been moving away from rigidly designed factories that dictate the flow of materials and create built-in wait time or other delays. Modern manufacturers prefer to have flexible, agile shops that can adapt to new products or unexpected shifts in demand, as well as the ability to provide customized products quickly.

As companies search for ways to eliminate non-value-added steps, they will be looking for modular conveyor systems that include a variety of component pieces that can be assembled to suit various products and plant layouts. These componentized conveyor systems can be rearranged quickly and cost effectively as the needs of the facility change, enabling the company to adapt its processes to eliminate waste.

Smart Containers and IoT

While not completely new, smart containers have been improving in quality and accuracy with each passing year. IoT, or the Internet of Things, enables machinery and equipment to communicate over wireless networks to report completed production operations or material transactions automatically. Whether companies choose smart bins, shelves or pallets, smart containers can integrate directly to a company’s ERP system and report material movement and transactions without human intervention.

IoT might also enable equipment to signal smart containers when components levels run low. The smart bin might route itself to the work center automatically to keep the line running. The resulting efficiency enables warehouse and shipping personnel to be more productive while simultaneously improving inventory accuracy and freeing personnel to work on more strategic initiatives.

Integrated RFID and NFC Sensors

Integrated RFID (radio frequency identification device) or NFC (near field communication) embedded on parts or containers can make any bin or pallet a smart container. RFID devices can signal the material’s location from anywhere in a warehouse, making lost inventory a thing of the past, while NFC might be used to signal material movement transactions when material passes by a specific area equipped with readers.

The ability to eliminate human interaction in recording inventory transactions eliminates a source of errors and delays. It results in more accurate inventories, reduced cost and a reduction in unnecessary activities that add no value to the product. NFC for inventory reporting promises even greater leaps in productivity than the introduction and adoption of efficient bar code readers and data collection devices.

Physical inventories and cycle counting procedures may be completely eliminated when a company introduces one or both of these new technologies. However, RFID devices may be somewhat expensive and NFC communication may require a precise setup, so they may not be appropriate solutions for every manufacturer.

Driverless Equipment

Forklifts, hand trucks and other material handling equipment has traditionally required a person to drive the vehicle or handle the truck. Newer equipment can eliminate the driver and move material to the desired location without requiring a person to drive the truck.

Driverless equipment may use one of several different technologies to perform this task. One solution is to embed magnetic strips in the factory floor that the vehicle follows on its appointed rounds, but a newer idea is to use technology similar to Google’s driverless car to help the vehicle maneuver around obstacles.


As employees continue to demand the right to use personal devices to complete their tasks, in a movement known as BYOD (bring your own device) manufacturers may choose to equip these devices with apps or scanners that enable the devices to be used as bar code or NFC readers, or to send routing instructions to smart bins, conveyor systems or driverless vehicles. The BYOD groundswell may enable manufacturers to satisfy the user’s desire to use their personal device without compromising security or data integrity. In addition, since employees will be using personal devices, the companies may realize additional savings by not having to invest in company-owned devices to accomplish necessary tasks.

The Benefits

By eliminating the need for people to move materials using traditional material handling equipment, manufacturers may reduce the headcount necessary to manage warehouses and material replenishment activities. In addition, inventory records will become more accurate, helping to eliminate delays in production due to material availability issues. Companies will find that investing in material handling technology may enable reduced material handling expenses and order cycle times. In turn, customers receive orders sooner and shipments will be more accurate.


Jerry Matos
About The Author Jerry Matos
Jerry Matos is the Product Specialist at Cherry's Material Handling. The company is the leading material handling e-commerce store for the industrial and plant warehouse industry, offering products from the best manufactures in the industry.

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