Materials Handling

Trends for today

By Gian Schiava

June 2018

What 2018 holds in store for materials handling

By the time you receive this issue of Eureka, we will already have seen the year’s first major logistics exhibitions, like Logimat in Stuttgart and Intralogistics in Paris. But as Eureka’s publishing year begins, our editors have taken a look around Europe to discover what other materials handling magazines and influencers have to say about the trends that will have impacts on your business in 2018. Gian Schiava summarises.

In the last Eureka, which celebrated our 10th anniversary, we focused on larger developments in materials handling. This time, we will zoom in on what we can expect to see pretty soon. Many trade magazines, opinion leaders and even suppliers of logistic services have given their views on today’s hot topics.

We kick off with the United Kingdom, where we have reviewed several leading publications. The magazine Logistics Business, which also covers European news, talked to several industry experts and the most noticeable idea that came up was that logistics had definitively shed its old image as ‘goods mover’. Today it is perhaps the most vital business activity influencing the bottom line. Both speed and method of delivery are key to customer satisfaction and loyalty.

A new buzzword is ‘blockchain,’ which simply put is the decentralised storage of data from all the partners within a supply chain. As all parties share access to it, there is great potential for smoothing out transactions.

Gathering data is something that warehouse trucks already do whilst picking products, but with this new technology the data will not only enter the WMS (warehouse management system) but reach cloud environments. It’s a very practical and efficient way of giving further insights regarding the whereabouts of a product.

SHD Logistics, another leading UK title, talked with a company delivering packaging support services, bringing us another viewpoint on key concepts for the near future. Apparently, the increased level of warehouse automation will have an impact on load carriers such as pallets, and the  expectation is that we will see a rise in the use of plastic. This is because automated handling systems, along with AGVs, require greater uniformity in the load carrier as there is no human influence to ‘correct’ the situation.


Automated systems will tend to favour the uniformity of plastic pallets.

The other striking trend, which perhaps contrasts with the growth in plastics, is the ever-growing demand for recycling and re-use. Companies need to rethink their operations as the increasing flow of returned goods creates a whole new wave of waste materials.

Re-use even applies to materials handling equipment. Leading manufacturers are upgrading trade-in machines and giving them a new life as pre-owned trucks. Cat® Lift Trucks, for example, now even offers pre-owned trucks on a pan-European level, ensuring that good-quality existing forklifts find their way to new owners rather than ending up too soon in the scrapyard.

A neat article on the Warehouse & Logistics News blog focuses on Brexit. It claims that uncertainty over prospects for GDP (gross domestic product) will lead to increased interest in refurbished lift trucks, and players suggest that this market will be running at record highs. For the same reason, they also predict a positive outlook for short-term hire solutions.

The Dutch platform LogistiekProfs sees a bright future for logistics with lots of growth opportunities. Its article on major logistics trends for 2018 also highlights opportunities for data collection and sharing – not just on a national scale but at regional or even European levels.

The currently favourable economic climate may suffer a few setbacks. It will certainly be more difficult to find and retain good personnel to keep materials handling activity running properly. Training and personal development plans will become a must-do on the list of every warehouse manager.

Finally, the article says the key words for 2018 will be scalability, manoeuvrability and flexibility – especially when seeking a balance between operational efficiency and ever-diminishing batch sizes in the shipment department.

Italian magazine Euromerci is affiliated to ASSOLOGISTICA, the Italian association for logistics companies, and we noticed some interesting remarks from its President, Mr Andrea Gentile. In a round-table discussion about research conducted amongst key players from the logistics services industry, most attendees stressed that ‘change’ was the key word for the near future.



Coming to warehouses soon: 3D printing.

In a land that struggles to benefit from macro-economic developments, Mr Gentile warns that the logistics sector must be ready when things begin to pick up in Italy. After the bankruptcy of so many companies, he foresees a lack of resources when businesses seek extra support for their logistics activities.

The driving factors behind the changes are omnichannel development, the focus on green logistics, and increased partnerships with companies upstream or downstream in the supply chain. Gentile concludes by stressing the importance of paying more attention to added value than to the overall selling price.

A Spanish platform, Blog de la Logistica, sums up five trends for 2018. Besides warehouse automation and the rise of blockchain partnerships, which we mentioned earlier, it foresees a larger share in materials handling for autonomous vehicles. This applies not only to handling palletised loads, using AGVs for example, but to delivering smaller batches via drones. The blog also expects new technologies such as Big Data and artificial intelligence to make their mark in the logistics sector. Finally, 3D printing is expected to enter the warehouse soon. It could be used, for example, when certain components are needed to repair machines.

Companies need to rethink their operations as the increasing flow of returned goods creates a whole new wave of waste materials.

We conclude with views from an article written by the Italian Digital4 SupplyChain. This shares predictions from logistics giant DHL, which from time to time tells colleagues and customers what to expect. Even though this research was conducted in 2017, the trends described are certainly valid for the next five years.

Some of the topics above are reinforced: autonomous driving vehicles (including ParcelCopters in the air!), use of robots, green logistics, multichannel delivery and data exchange. Others identified are logistics aimed at senior citizens (delivery of medication, for instance), speculative shipping (based on accurate forecasts) and ‘delivery on the way’.

Even the entry of exoskeletons into warehousing environments is predicted. Eureka dedicated a forward-looking article to this topic in 2015, which you can always read again on our website: