Get Started

Industry Insights

What’d You Miss at MODEX 2024

Kyle VanGoethem, VP of Network Planning

Published Date
March 20, 2024



For anyone new to the supply chain space, (and you can get plugged into all the key events by reading Stord’s 2024 Ultimate Guide to  Supply Chain and Logistics Events), MODEX and Promat are two of the biggest industry trade shows, alternating each year between Atlanta and Chicago respectively.

This year saw the return of MODEX, and given the close proximity to Stord’s Atlanta-based HQ and fulfillment center, I took a few days to experience all things warehouse - particularly warehouse technology and automation equipment like racking, forklifts, robots, WMS software, integrators, conveyor, AS/RS, and so on.

Given MODEX is one of the premier shows that highlights the advancements in warehousing and material handling, and I have been attending since around 2016, I wanted to share what I saw as the overall trends this year.

More Interest in Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS) Towers

Automation was the name of the game this year. 

There seems to be growing interest around AS/RS (Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems) towers with some level of GtP (Goods to Person) automation. These come from companies like Hai Robotics, Geek+ and Grey Orange, as well as several new competitors entering the space.

If you’re unfamiliar with AS/RS, it’s a robotics and computer warehousing technology designed to store or retrieve items - traditionally positioned as a high density replacement to conventional racking.

These solutions often tout greater efficiency and safety by utilizing more of the available space, by thinking of storage more “like a Rubik’s cube” as highlighted by Ingvar Hognaland, Technical Director, Hatteland Group AutoStore, innovator of cube storage automation.

Traditionally AS/RS systems were for pallets, but with the explosion of e-commerce and increase in building lease rates, companies are now switching to case and each storage - allowing for tremendous storage density.

AutoStore was one of the first with its cube storage solution, but now brands are moving to standalone shelving with “tower robots” that go and grab the necessary totes.

Totes are then delivered to a pick station (or a smaller “runner” robot) for a manual pick - making the system a Goods to Person (GtP) solution.

With these solutions, you get high density storage and very high throughput - up to 350-400 LPH. The downsides with these systems, because they are effectively a “closed” system, is that your total output is limited to either the system design or the number of bots in the system.  Unfortunately, you can’t really add labor to increase total output.

Take advantage of high performing warehouse and fulfillment tech without the headache!

Increase in Automated Material Handling Equipment (MHE)  Technology

A second trend appears to be an exponential increase in companies offering material handling equipment - ranging from automated pallet jacks to full reach trucks. Most companies are basically retrofitting existing MHE with “eyes and brains,” but still having human controls.  This is effectively a “self-driving” forklift, where you send the lifts on missions either via the control system or your WMS.

Some suppliers are going the fully autonomous route - with no controls or opportunity for human intervention.  They are forklifts with no seat or wheel.  In this class, there are a lot of what I would call pallet movers - which effectively look like giant ‘super Roombas’ for moving pallets around.

This technology has been around for 6-7 years but the advances in video recognition technology have started to bring this technology more mainstream. The biggest challenge is, and continues to be, ROI.

As this equipment is around 3-4x the cost of standard equipment, requires IT resources to implement, and needs technical support, there needs to be heavy usage to justify the expense.

AI’s Popularity Growing for Warehouse Operations

Predictably, many companies are jumping in on the AI rage. And predictably, many of the benefits of AI are vague and elusive at best. 

The most common place to find vendors talking about AI is with respect to warehouse management systems (WMS) offerings. The claim is AI will help with optimizing pick strategies and labor efficiencies, but it is a little difficult to justify the marketing claims thus far.

AI does appear to be more tangibly benefiting robotics offerings - primarily around vision control and decisions. Pickle Robot leverages an AI to dynamically select optimized case selection for container unloading. And Covariant developed a visual item identification system.

Increasingly Competitive Landscape

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from MODEX 2024 is the crowded competitive landscape - many of the same solutions are being offered from a myriad of companies.

Looking for On-Demand “Right Sized” Packaging? Well CMC Solutions, Packsize, Sparck Technologies, WestRock and more are available to you.

Looking for Person to Goods Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) technology? 6 River Systems (Ocado), Onward Robotics, Robust.AI, Locus Robotics, and more will try and convince you they are the right option for your business.

And pallet movers & mobile conveyance? Good luck! There are simply too many vendors to attempt to list.

It is certainly an exciting, yet noisy, time to be working in logistics, with so much innovation and competition. 

BUT it means that real tangible operational changes are coming; not thinking ahead to your long term warehouse and fulfillment solution needs will leave you in the dust.

Rely on Warehouse & Fulfillment Operational Experts

One approach to drive your business forward is to evaluate, select, purchase, deploy and integrate all these different technologies across your facilities.  

Alternatively, you can have someone else handle all of the automation, implementation, and optimization for your specific business

Stord’s operational experts already support hundreds of omnichannel brands, and are ready to build you a customized solution for both your physical fulfillment, and your warehouse management and order management needs. 

Reach out today to discuss how to apply today's technology to your own environment

More Articles