Materials Handling–The Final Frontier


As the “black hole” of the printing process, where no value is added to a product—only costs—and profits simply disappear, the automation of materials handling is the final frontier for reducing operating costs and increasing productivity.

Several jetsetting printers are already light years ahead in battling the war over back-end inefficiency, where materials are handled excessively, being picked up and moved from here to there.

Companies like R.R. Donnelley, World Color and Banta have invested in legions of robotics—armed with hydraulics, pneumatics, laser-guidance systems, sensors and scanners—to save time, space, manpower and money.

However, many printers are hesitant to explore the outermost regions of their press and bindery operations and launch into materials handling automation. Rather than invest in the unknown, they’d rather ride the coattails of those who’ve gone before them.

R.R. Donnelley, World Color and Banta are just a few that have found success in materials handling automation. Their engineers are providing testimonials and tutorials to industry organizations nationwide. As these industry leaders relay their triumphant tales, the thrill of victory echoes through the air to printers everywhere.

At PRINT 97, a session was dedicated to materials handling automation. Donnelley engineers explained how the 37 robotic units at their Lancaster, PA, plant reduced the labor force by almost 200 and cut workman’s compensation costs by approximately 70 percent. (Self-guided vehicles are in use at many Donnelley facilities.)

World Color, another innovator in materials handling, recently installed 11 automatic-guided vehicles (AGVs) at its Dyersburg, TN, facility. Director of Engineering Ron Ferguson is so impressed with the results, he’s hitting the road, speaking to industry organizations about the advantages of automation.

Why Automate?
In his speech, Ferguson asks “Why Automate?” then cites some of Dyersburg’s achievements in materials handling. For example: three-year return on investment (ROI); accuracy of storage and retrieval with few or no lost loads; reduced damage to loads and racking; reduced damage to lift trucks; 20-percent faster staging of loads for shipment; and real-time tracking of product at all stages.

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