Looking Forward


Sure, savvy business professionals always try to anticipate the future. But few come together with leading thinkers in the industry to anticipate the next decade.

More than 100 participants—including end users, suppliers, consultants, academics, government officials and non-governmental organization representatives—did just that, holding sessions to discuss current issues and envisioning the future of material handling. The result is The U.S. Roadmap for Material Handling & Logistics. Partners in the Roadmap include MHI, five other industry associations and eight publications. The Roadmap envisions what the industry will look like in 2025.

The format largely followed one created by Henrik Christensen, the KUKA chair of robotics at the College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology. Christensen had explored the future of robotics in 2009 and 2013 and suggested that material handling and logistics would benefit from a similar study.

“From the beginning, it was just one of those great ideas that is apparent to everyone immediately,” said Gary Forger, MHI’s managing director of professional development and a member of the Roadmap writing team. “This industry is very much an industry that says, ‘We need to solve this problem.’ What we found in doing this is we are always in the trenches as opposed to looking at the big picture.”

One of the overarching themes of the discussions is the industry’s reliance on people—and the looming shortage of the right ones. Finding qualified workers is already at a crisis point as Baby Boomers retire and younger workers don’t rise up to replace them. Given that the field is expected to add 270,000 new jobs annually by 2018, the issue will only increase in intensity. That doesn’t negate the pain currently felt by participants.

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By Sandy Smith