Logistics and Material Handling Industry – RPA to the Rescue During the Pandemic

rush fullerton

“In the material handling industry, one can expect to see the rise of next-generation of robotic innovations designed to provide relief from labor challenges and boost productivity for distribution centers,” says Rush Fullerton, SVP of Research and Development at MHS, in an exclusive interview with Enterprise Talk.

ET Bureau: In the current world situation, what impact do you see on the material handling and logistics industry?

Rush Fullerton: While e-commerce volumes continue to climb, growing from 5.1% in 2007 to 16% in 2019, holiday peaks and the unique circumstances of COVID-19 have delivery networks expecting additional stress during the holidays

In fact, some lessons learned during previous peak seasons are being implemented to help carriers handle volumes during COVID-19. For example, FedEx placed a limit on the number of items retailers can ship from certain locations in an effort to regulate the flow of online shipments. Prior to COVID-19, competition for available labor was fierce enough to drive warehouse worker turnover at a rate of 46.1% annually.

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Now, the labor situation remains a challenge, but one of a different nature due to the heavy prioritization of health and safety as economies re-open. Guidelines for social distancing and other safe practices are emerging for the warehouse as supply chains look to scale up to meet massive demand – U.S. e-commerce spending in April rose 49% compared to a baseline period in early March before COVID-related shelter-in-place restrictions went into effect.

ET Bureau: IoT has been seen as an innovation in your sector. How do you leverage it?

Rush Fullerton: As distribution centers face increasing volumes and velocity, IoT holds great potential to address real, practical concerns, namely monitoring and maintaining critical automated systems. With larger facilities spanning hundreds of thousands of square feet, adequately staffing maintenance operations quickly becomes untenable. But the show must always go on, and incorporating the right data into an intelligent system can enable success in today’s e-commerce-driven supply chain landscape.

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MHS has a unique combination of IoT and industry expertise to drive targeted, data-driven insights that solve real problems facing distribution centers – helping boost labor efficiency, limit unplanned downtime, and address safety challenges. Rather than monitoring thousands of data points, MHS focuses on the most critical assets and failure-prone areas to provide the most value in the most efficient framework.

ET Bureau: As an R&D leader, what innovations do you see in your industry over the next year?

Rush Fullerton: In the material handling industry, one can expect to see the rise of next-generation of robotic innovations designed to provide relief from labor challenges and boost productivity for distribution centers. The growth of robotic technology and the pace with which solutions can grow from concept to viable, commercially mature solutions are happening at a faster pace than ever before.

ET Bureau: Automation can actually change the way the material handling and transportation industry works. How have you integrated it into your products and solutions?

Rush Fullerton: Earlier this year, we announced our expanded portfolio of autonomous mobile robot (AMR) capabilities. We combine access to best-of-breed robotic technologies with application design and integration expertise to help our customers leverage robotics for maximum benefit in their operation.

Automation – Robots and Advanced Technology Has Streamlined Business Processes

With mobile robots increasingly prevalent in distribution and fulfillment, parcel, and other environments, the challenge is properly integrating them with complex automated systems. Our deep experience with these systems and emerging technologies uniquely positions us to bring the theoretical benefit of mobile robots to the daily reality of our customers.

MHS provides access to a full lineup of automated mobile transportation systems, including modifications for target applications like detachable carts, robotic arms, forklifts and conveyor supplements. Sourcing best-of-breed technologies means customers are not  limited to the in- house offering of a single vendor, and instead maintain the efficiency of single-source solution design and integration, including reduced exposure to additional markups, control design, and change orders.

MHS announces expanded autonomous mobile robot capabilities

Rush has more than 35 years of material handling experience, with special expertise in the parcel industry. In his current role, he oversees system design, estimating and marketing, and is responsible for generating customer relations and sales for the parcel division of MHS.  Prior to joining the company, he started working in the material handling industry with Seamco and Sandvik, before leaving to start his own company in 1992.

In 2009, Rush sold the business to MHS and became part of the team. He graduated from the University of Kentucky with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and sat on the board of the Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association (CEMA).