Insights on workforce management and automation from ProMat 2019

By Stacey Patch and John Rosenberger, The Raymond Corp.

Every other year, thousands of innovators from the manufacturing, distribution, and supply chain industries convene in Chicago for ProMat — one of the largest manufacturing trade shows in the United States. From automation to artificial intelligence (AI) to telematics, the intralogistics solutions at ProMat offer attendees the opportunity to learn from other industry innovators. Many companies leverage ProMat to launch new products or promote thought-leadership initiatives. Most important, ProMat serves as an educational forum for industry professionals to gather key insights from industry peers on a variety of relevant topics.

This year’s event did not shy away from myriad challenges the manufacturing industry faces. Talent attraction and retention, along with optimization of warehouse operations to accommodate increasing consumer demands, were hot topics in seminars and on the show floor. Every industry organization faces these issues, but how are companies addressing them today? Let’s look at several offerings presented at ProMat 2019.

Talent attraction and retention


A recent study suggests the manufacturing skills gap will leave about 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028. This loss would be damaging to manufacturing and has the potential to cost the industry approximately $2.5 trillion. To shrink the skills gap, companies are looking for innovative solutions to attract, retain and educate talent in the manufacturing industry. And it starts with the generation that makes up more than 35% of the workforce: Millennials.

Because Millennials make up a key sector of the workforce, attracting them to the industry is part of the solution. ProMat 2019 showed a variety of solutions geared toward workforce education and attraction, but one of the most prevalent was virtual reality (VR). In a study by Penn Schoen Berland, 77% of Millennials indicated they are interested in VR, and 82% said high-tech offices would influence their decision about taking a new job.

VR has a multitude of educational benefits. Forklift operators can use VR to enhance learning, as by offering the chance to virtually drive a forklift and practice handling different warehouse scenarios. Operators can also develop additional skills through virtual scenarios, preparing them for real-life working environments. Educating operators with VR adds an element of high-tech to the manufacturing industry, and it can help operators learn best practices, effectively shrinking the skills gap.

Efficiently utilizing warehouse operations  


In a previous blog post, we addressed how to know when it is time to expand or modify warehouse operations to address customer needs. Part of making a warehouse more efficient is looking at processes that could be improved and space that could be used better. Whichever tactics for optimizing space that an organization selects, more-efficient use of warehouse space should be a high priority.

When warehouse managers need to expand their operations to keep pace with increasing demands, instead of building out, they should consider building up. Building upward instead of outward helps address a warehouse’s existing facility capacity and flow of operations. However, if building up, warehouse managers will need material-handling equipment to reach high and hard-to-get places, such as a higher-reaching forklift.

Accommodating increasing consumer demands


Now more than ever, consumers want products faster. Whether it is same-day shipping or easy returns, companies need to respond to consumer demands if they want to stay top of mind. At ProMat 2019, organizations a variety of options, including telematics, to address this challenge.

One of the biggest consumer demands is speedier delivery. One-day and overnight shipping are common asks, but facilities need to be prepared for quick turnaround times. That’s where telematics comes in. Telematics data can set a baseline to identify factors that are affecting a warehouse’s bottom line, such as fleet utilization, operator performance, and scheduled maintenance. When these operations are unproductive, it can result in lost money and time, inefficient delivery, and poor customer service. Using data, telematics can help warehouse managers easily identify areas of loss and inefficiency, ultimately saving time and money and getting products into consumers’ hands faster.

Turning insights into action


ProMat and similar events are important as they give industrial organizations a chance to take notes from peers and industry partners. Even more important for these organizations is to then act on what they’ve learned and observed.

ProMat 2019 provided a multitude of insights and knowledge for attendees. By applying these insights to a company’s operations, jobs, and warehouses, the industry can better address challenges efficiently and effectively. Increasing consumer demands, effective space utilization, and workforce education are ongoing industry challenges, but solutions such as those introduced at ProMat 2019 are providing ways to address these pressures.