As material handling suppliers, it is crucial that we are always up to date with the newest technological advances. On the other side of the coin, it is important that distribution companies, warehouses, and storage facilities also stay informed. Falling behind technologically can drastically hurt a business, so here are some of this year’s five different trends in material handling that have caught my eye as the most profitable and sustainable ways to stay ahead of the competition.

The Internet of Things

Otherwise known as IoT, the Internet of Things is becoming a significantly more important topic every day – at work, and outside of it. Simply named, IoT refers to the addition of internet to an increasing amount of devices which allows them to collect and transmit data. It started with ATMs in 1974, and today everything from phones, planes, home alarm systems, coffee machines, cameras and even washing machines are connected to the internet. It is projected that 250,000 vehicles will be connected to the internet by 2020 for a whopping total of at least 25 billion devices.

Material handling is no stranger to the Internet of Things, as IoT-assisted forklifts are making their way into the market which can keep track of speed, communicate with other vehicles, and alert managers when servicing is needed. Many control systems have not made the switch to IoT, but the trends show that this is the next big paradigm shift. Imagine a warehouse where all vehicles and machinery are connected. Speed, efficiency, and safety will result in soaring profits and it is reported that any business who invests in IoT will soon see a 10% increase. Those who don’t may be left by the wayside.

Predictive Analytics

With the Internet of Things becoming more and more common in the material handling industry, we are able to compile statistics from a range of different vehicles, machines and even people to better analyze what the future will hold. Predictive analytics is essentially the use of this statistical data to predict patterns or outcomes within your company or in the market.

For decades, companies have used predictive analytics in its simplest form – sales history – to determine what the market demands will be. Nowadays, with the abundance of available data, the strongest and weakest links can be singled out. This leads to much richer and accurate analysis. With better inventory control, more reliable transportation networks, and a reduction in lead times, service will be improved and costs lowered. Predictive analytics can also evaluate machines and tell managers when something needs to be serviced or when it is in trouble of breaking down. It can predict product failure and design a supply chain footprint based on population and economic growth.

By looking at much more than sales history, companies are now able to sense demand, improve responsiveness, and have reduced failure rates. About 25% of companies today are using predictive analysis today and it is predicted that up to 70% will join in on the action by 2025.


Automation is not a new technology in material handling. The first automatically guided vehicles were developed in the 1960s and have since become a standard in warehousing, but that doesn’t mean that automation hasn’t taken leaps and bounds recently.

Robots are being used to automatically pick packages of all shapes and sizes based on requested SKUs and drones are flying out into warehouses to palletize. As automation becomes more inexpensive and its accuracy becomes reliable, companies should be looking towards making an investment in modern automation.


Increasingly, retailers are swapping physical stores for online stores. The United Kingdom, for example, is the world’s leader in online retailing with a whopping 12% of retail sales coming from online stores. And that number is growing. Amazon has made its name around the world as the leader in online retailing due to cutting out the middle man. No building to maintain, staff to pay, and useless shipping to and fro. Eliminating this process answers customer needs to shop from home on their computers or on the go from their phones.

Depending on the type of business you run, e-commerce can definitely increase profits, but transitioning can prove to be quite challenging. With more and more people shopping from home, making investments towards e-commerce can make your company sink or swim in the next couple decades. If you’re not opening an online store, be ready to expand your fleet to counter same day or next day shipping, currently being unrolled by Amazon’s fastest and most efficient venture – Prime. Either way, investment is necessary, and I recommend the transition to e-commerce.

Environmentally Sustainable Technologies

Societal pressure in developed countries is pushing governments to make environmental change for the bettering of our planet. It is no surprise that in order to get elected, candidates are making it part of their platforms to decrease emissions, transition to renewable energy, and punish those who don’t. In a business that revolves around vehicles and machinery, environmentally friendly technologies are becoming increasingly important in material handling operations.

Reducing carbon footprints is not only beneficial for the planet, but can also reduce fuel costs. Fuel efficiency in hybrid or electronic forklifts, for example, tackle both the environmental and financial sustainability issues. While respecting the three R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle – can prove to be a large initial investment, it could help save the planet and your business.

A variety of other technologies are making their way into the material handling industry, such as inventory optimization tools, sensors and automatic identification, wearable technology, cloud computing, and 3D printing. While all of these technologies will propel you beyond your competitors, the most crucial ones are the five in this article. Without the Internet of Things, Predictive Analytics, Automation, E-Commerce, and Environmentally Sustainable Technologies, your company will struggle in the decades to come. Stay ahead of the game and be proactive rather than reactive.