6 Material Handling Mega Trends for 2021 and Beyond

robotics and virtual reality being used in a material handling setting

December 21, 2020 | Erica Wine

In our recent webinar with Rockwell Automation’s Evan KaiserTransforming Material Handling Operations — Evan discussed 6 Material Handling “Mega Trends” that we thought our readers would like to know about. Matthews Automation Solutions has been a Rockwell Automation Solution Partner for 15 years.Logo of Solution Partner a Rockwell Automation Partner

Trend #1: Explosion of SKUs

New buying behaviors from consumers are forcing new warehousing strategies. Current material handling designs are having difficulty keeping pace with the explosion of SKUs and rate of change. The “flexible warehouse” is becoming the new standard. Highly expandable, modular systems with quick changeover will become as important as system throughput.

Trend #2: Scarcity of Talent

Skilled labor is limited and traditional skill sets are not easily transferred to current technology needs. Remote support will become more critical to end users, creating aftermarket opportunities. A good WES, like Matthews Director, can track workflow and rates of work to help managers determine where best to schedule resources.

For employee training, the new norm could become “just-in-time” (JIT) training. Just as we consumers go to YouTube to solve “how do I wire up my new dishwasher?” with a short video, automation systems will start being enabled with those type of workflows to give the operator just enough information to get the job done, and put it in their hands as a timely training element in the maintenance process. Augmented Reality (AG) and Virtual Reality (VR) solutions could become an effective training method.

Trend #3: Digitization

The promise of Industry 4.0 is not yet realized. Implementing new machines and technologies requiring additional digital solutions can create a challenge. What’s needed is a combination of the following ecosystem: end users understanding what they need, OEMs with direct involvement of how to optimize those processes, and partners in the automation space to help enable it with the right tools – “domain expertise” – to make it all happen.

Virtual tools, such as a simulation and emulation, virtual commissioning, etc. can be utilized well ahead of production or implementation to mitigate risk and reduce cost. This is a trend that we see growing rapidly and we don’t see it slowing down — as a matter of fact, we see it accelerating.

Trend #4: Increased Automation

New automation technologies are becoming needed tools, also. System throughput requirements are increasing, and the flexibility of a proposed system is becoming a major buying influence for many end users. Automation’s flexibility is not just in the programming capabilities but it’s also in the physical capability to do new movements, new “configurations of workflow” — how parcels, packages and items move through the warehousing system.

Trend #5: Personnel Safety

While personnel safety is not anything new – machine designs have always had it – if you’re going to enable more flexibility, along with improving your productivity, then the classic safety systems probably need to be replaced by more automated systems, enabling the increased flexibility and cohabitation of machinery and people that is happening today. One of the main concerns of material handling companies is retention of employees, and part of retention of employees boils down to whether or not they feel safe in the workplace.

Trend #6: Cyber Security

Cyber attacks are happening every day in all industries, including material handling. Per IBM, the average cost of a data breach is $3.86 million. While it’s not a new trend, the threat is often ignored. Smaller companies often tend to think that it can’t happen to them, but everybody is a target. Cyber attackers and their algorithms don’t distinguish between big, medium, and small users – they look for any opportunity to break through a firewall, gain access to a system, and basically wreak havoc in one way or another. And we’ve seen it across a spectrum of our customers who have been attacked; for some, real financial peril has come to them, unfortunately.

To see Evan’s presentation of mega trends in the Rockwell Automation/Matthews Automation Solution webinar, please click on the video player below.


For more information about the flexible warehouse and automation solutions that could benefit your warehouse, please contact us, email: [email protected] or call 513.679.7400



Erica Wine, Matthews Product Marketing Specialist, has experience in a variety of roles from education to systems analysis. Automation, design, supply chain, and manufacturing processes have played a central role throughout her career. She is enthusiastic about gardening, the outdoors, art, and technology.


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