With evolving technology, increased competition, and a growing market, the material handling industry has been experiencing significant changes. However, the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic has created a significant impact on the supply chain and material handling industries.

At the beginning of 2020, there were four key trends projected to move the material handling industry forward into the new decade. While COVID-19 has impacted the industry, these forecasted trends for the rest of the year remain consistent. 

At HAWKER®, we’ve monitored these trends, and despite the setbacks that COVID-19 brought this year, the material handling industry has persevered with innovation and we’re eager to see how the industry continues to pivot in the remainder of the year.

Four Trends in the Material Handling Industry for 2020

1. Robotics and Process Automation
As seen over the last decade, the introduction of robotics to the material handling industry has begun to reshape our processes and productivity. When it comes to the supply chain, manufacturing facilities are under more and more pressure to get quality products produced quickly and with fewer resources. 

We have seen this firsthand with the COVID-19 crisis heightening the demand for products such as groceries, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and other essential items. The demand for these products has placed a huge strain on manufacturers and supply chains. Ultimately, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how quickly material handling companies need to be able to pivot if a disruption occurs from inventory, sourcing, labor, and more. A key way to quickly react and increase productivity is with automated processes. 

From a conveyor belt to driverless forklifts, the material handling industry has seen a surge of technology. As the use of robotics rises, the result will be more automation throughout processes in the supply chain. This automation will then have a profound impact on many operational aspects in the supply chain, from the workforce and warehouse management tactics to quicker deliveries. 

2. The Rising Popularity of E-Commerce 
While the industry has slowly embraced the trend of e-commerce for the last decade, the rising popularity of ordering online will continue to put stress on manufacturing and distribution centers. With more online companies gaining more traction, there's a growing consumer expectation of receiving purchased items quickly and at an inexpensive rate. The COVID-19 pandemic also significantly impacted this trend, with more consumers looking to purchase essential items online without having to leave their homes. 

For those in the materials handling industry, e-commerce requires supply chains to have flexibility in their processes, the ability to handle large volume orders, and have appropriate software systems for maximum efficiency. 

Many companies and supply chains had to adjust quickly to fill the high demand for certain products during the pandemic. Overall, we have seen a strong resilience and ability to change with the new “normal” way of doing business this year.

However, for supply chain companies to embrace this trend beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, they will need to advance how they manage their data, monitor inventory, track shipments, and enhance the customer experience. 

3. Changes in the Workforce
As technology advances, automation will continue to lighten the load of physical labor needed for most employees working throughout the supply chain. As a result of these changes, material handling experts project that the dynamic of the workforce will shift. With more automation, the necessity to diversify the workforce will become more apparent and expected. 

Historically, the material handling industry workforce has been primarily the Boomer generation. However, with more opportunities for growth and technological advancement, a diversified skillset including a working knowledge of newer technologies will be key in hiring for the supply chain workforce going forward. 

This year, COVID-19 affected the workforce beyond expectation, with many facilities having to minimize their staff and evolve their work environments to comply with CDC suggested guidelines in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. These changes forced many workers to quickly adapt to new processes; and assume new responsibilities over machinery and technology to keep facilities running at a rapid pace. With watering a priority to maintaining a flooded battery fleet, having the extra personnel to perform this maintenance can come at a significant cost during these unprecedented times. Now more than ever, virtually maintenance free battery chemistries from HAWKER® are the solution to keep facilities operating at peak levels at a lower total cost of ownership. 

4. Prioritizing Sustainability
In the past, the material handling industry has not made a collective priority on managing resources with an eco-friendly strategy. With material handling, it can be difficult to perform standard procedures at a low operating cost while trying to maintain environmental safety and preservation. However, with the turn of the decade, more material handling companies are placing value on their environmental impact. 

When it comes to energy technologies, there is a trend to switch to more sustainable sources. This trend has affected the material handling industry by prioritizing cleaner battery technologies, recycling old products, responsibly sourcing raw materials, and minimizing their carbon footprint. With this shift in priorities, companies are taking more responsibility for the actions of both their corporations and their employees. 

How HAWKER® is Staying Ahead of the Trends 

Always striving to be ahead of the industry, HAWKER® has taken many steps to remain a leader in our field. So how are we staying ahead of these trends? 

COVID-19: To keep up with demand and comply to recommended safety protocols, HAWKER® has implemented flexible work shifts, as well as adjusted our operational processes with lean management. These steps are allowing us to continue the production of our industrial batteries, and chargers, while keeping our employees’ physical interactions to a minimum. Our goal is to reduce the risk of our employees contracting or spreading the virus while keeping our customers equipped.

Automation: At each of HAWKER®’s manufacturing and distribution facilities, we have employed robotic and automated systems to enhance our processes. For example, to ensure consistency within our battery plates, we utilize robotic software to measure various points on our grids to eliminate any margin for error. Another example would be how we have implemented automated pallet wrappers to cut down on time and potential safety hazards to our employees. We are continually monitoring our processes and looking for new ways to implement time and cost saving technologies into our facilities.

Workforce Diversity: HAWKER® has always been an inclusive company when it comes to our workforce. We recognize the talent and knowledge that all individuals have to offer our company, and our team is filled with customer-centric, efficient, and innovative members of different backgrounds and demographics. Over the last year, we’ve implemented a lean management strategy to heighten our team’s productivity and skillset. With this new way of thinking, we are able to have our workforce involved in the process development stages so we can tailor the processes to run at the highest efficiency while providing ease-of-job to our workers. This has shown us areas we can incorporate automated systems, new software applications, and more to assist our workers so they can perform at their very best.

Environmental Sustainability: Being environmentally conscious has been and always will be a huge part of HAWKER®’s product development and operating procedures. We approach all new products with a “cradle-to-grave” mindset to cut down on as much waste as possible. We offer recycling programs for our lead-acid batteries. We also follow strict EPA and OSHA guidelines in our manufacturing facilities. One way we do this is with our water treatment system where all potentially contaminated water is stringently treated before ever being reintroduced to the environment.

At HAWKER®, it is a priority to not only keep up with our industry and technology - but to also stay ahead of both. 

HAWKER®’s Data-Driven Hybrid Solutions

For the last several years, Hawker has been staying ahead of trends and changes to the material handling industry with our Data-Driven Hybrid Solutions. Through our on-site assessments and data management tools, we can determine which battery and charger technology is best suited for your material handling vehicles. With decades of experience, innovation, and expertise, HAWKER® is the industry leader in quality, performance, technology, innovation, and cost-savings power system solutions. 

During this year, HAWKER® was deemed an essential business during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns. With consumer demand reaching an all-time high, supply chains relied on their operations and equipment more than ever - including the batteries and chargers to power that equipment. HAWKER® was proud to support our customers and all essential businesses with our products; and see that they were a driving force in keeping necessary food, medical, and sanitation supplies on shelves throughout the United States. At HAWKER®, we continue to be ahead of the curve, making sure that our customers are taken care of. 

With authorized sales and service centers across North America, HAWKER® provides the best solution for your business’ motive power needs. From forklifts to AGVs to burden carriers, we offer a range of solutions that will bolster production while keeping your operation sustainable and environmentally-conscious. Contact your local HAWKER representative today by calling 1-877-7HAWKER or click here.