looks back on the year just ended, and gets expert insight into what lies ahead.
At the start of 2020, the biggest challenge facing the materials handling sector was the uncertainty over Brexit.
By February, COVID-19 totally overtook the plight of the UK, as factories in China ground to a halt. But the sharp, focused action of authorities had most Chinese forklift factories back in production by April.
Europe didn't get off so lightly, with factories shutting down in Italy and France in April, while the German manufacturers kept up production and moved admin staff to remote work.
In the UK, some manufacturing was halted, but the sector got a boost when it was classified an essential service, a move welcomed by the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA). James Clark, secretary-general of the British Industrial Truck Association, noted: "Workers across the whole logistics industry, including those that maintain the safe operation of forklift trucks, are an essential part of our country's efforts to keep people fed and combat this deadly virus."
According to FLTA chief executive Tim Waples, the lack of certainty in the early stages of the pandemic prompted the association to create its own knowledge base, working in close cooperation with expert colleagues from sister trade associations BITA and AITT, with safety partners Mentor Training and with the support of the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
"From the moment it was established on our website, the FLTA COVID-19 Resource Centre became an indispensable and ever-expanding source of up-to-the minute information and advice," he recalls.
The coronavirus and subsequent shutdowns around the world impacted heavily on the major forklift manufacturers, especially in the second quarter, due to the combined impact of supply chain disruptions and economic recession. However, results in the third quarter showed a significant recovery.
Brian Feehan, president of the Industrial Truck Association (ITA), notes that in the first 10 months of 2020, the industrial truck industry was down approximately 7% in factory telegraphic orders compared to 2019. "It is important to remember that 2019 was our third best year on record since ITA started keeping statistics," he adds.
Hyster-Yale Materials Handling noted a higher-than-anticipated pace of market growth subsequent to the pandemic-related global shutdowns, which combined with the impact of the company's cost-reduction programs to produce third-quarter 2020 results that significantly exceeded initial expectations.
In light of better market and business conditions than initially expected in the summer, Jungheinrich raised its forecast for 2020. In the first half of 2020, Jungheinrich said it performed well, despite the tense market environment resulting from the global COVID-19 pandemic. It noted that customer demand had been gradually picking up and predicted a slight increase in its marketshare in Europe.
COVID-19 impacted heavily on Haulotte Group, where sales at the end of September 2020 were down 32% from the same time last year. In Europe, where almost all markets continue to show a sharp decline, Haulotte's cumulative sales dropped 34%.
Following a massive slump in the global economy during the first half of 2020, recovery in the third quarter had a positive effect on Palfinger's revenue and earnings development. The company has reported increased third-quarter stability and 'solid profitability' in Europe, Russia, China and Latin America, noting that order levels are currently nearly at the same level as at the end of 2019 and look promising into the coming year.
A number of manufacturers took bold steps to stimulate a flagging market. In the United States, Toyota offered "no payments until 2021 on all new Toyota Forklift leases". The offer covered all Toyota forklift and warehouse equipment. Meanwhile, Polaris Commercial offered various financing and leasing options for Pro XD, Taylor-Dunn and GEM commercial vehicles, where commercial customers received 12 months no-interest financing or a USD500 credit on new equipment purchases. Snorkel UK, meanwhile, launched a 'Kickstart' program, enabling customers to buy new Snorkel or Ruthmann Bluelift products with no deposit and no payments for six months.
In Australia, while some sectors of the economy were suffering, the forklift market benefited from relaxed depreciation rules and a surge in demand in areas such as e-commerce and major capital projects. As part of the Government's COVID-19 response, the threshold for instant asset write-offs was increased from AUD30,000 to AUD150,000, while the eligibility was expanded to cover businesses with an aggregated turnover of less than AUD500 million (up from AUD50 million).
Equipment rental in Europe was also impacted by COVID-19, with the European Rental Association tipping a 10.4% decrease for 2020. The ERA noted that the impact differed from country to country. The Nordic countries, which did not lock down and had almost no site shutdowns, performed differently to southern Europe and the UK, which faced severe lockdowns and disruptions to activity.
One area significantly impacted by the coronavirus was training. According to Ross Moloney, CEO of the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA), "Training is a big part of what LEEA does and much of it prior to the pandemic was carried out face-to-face, with our e-learning portal offering an alternative. During the spring lockdown period, however, we pushed ahead with our Zoom-based learning and our online assessments, so we were essentially finding new ways to do what we've always been doing," he tells Forkliftaction News
Similarly, Adam Smith, managing director of the Association of Industrial Truck Trainers (AITT), says his organisation took advantage of the HSE determination that training remained essential. "Most of our members continued to provide training, particularly to support key workers who were providing essential services, which allowed many businesses to remain safe and operational," he says.
"Some of our members temporarily closed, and some operated with reduced staff, reopening once COVID-secure procedures were in place that enabled them to safely provide operator training," he adds, explaining that many members were "extremely busy meeting the pent-up demand for training" as the year drew to a close.
COVID-19 also produced some wins. Ritchie Bros., for example, adapted to online-only auctions and saw a sharp increase in bidder registrations and solid returns for its sellers. In Europe and the Middle East alone, Ritchie Bros. saw 30,000-plus bidder registrations between January and June, an increase of 66% over the same period in 2019.
The COVID-19 crisis created new opportunities for materials handling, especially as manufacturers were forced to adopt stringent health and social distancing regulations. Combilift clients, needing more space on their production floor to accommodate social distancing, sought to free up space used for raw materials or finished goods. The number of enquiries at the Irish forklift maker doubled in May as demand for warehouse space increased.
Warehouse automation also got a significant boost during the pandemic. "COVID-19 has accelerated trends that were already apparent in the retail sector," says Dave Berridge, secretary of the Automated Material Handling Systems Association (AMHSA). "With e-com orders requiring more processing in the warehouse and with the higher volume of returns associated with online orders, omni-channel and pureplay retailers are looking to automation and robotics to increase fulfilment efficiency, reduce costs and enhance customer service in their distribution operations - especially in the face of later order cut-off times and an increasing proportion of orders being for next-day delivery."
"As well as dealing with returns rapidly to make them available for resale as quickly as possible, automation can help to minimise returns through increased order-picking accuracy. Another important factor is that automation can help to mitigate the labour shortages typically experienced in the logistics sector as a result of an ageing workforce, the relative unattractiveness of warehouse work and labour migration due to Brexit," he adds.
Events on hold
MODEX 2020 went ahead when other events were cancelled
Materials handling and logistics events were decimated by COVID-19, with organisers cancelling Europe's biggest dedicated event, LogiMAT, at the 11th hour. Across the Atlantic, MHI proceeded with its MODEX event in Atlanta, Georgia, despite withdrawals by a number of exhibitors and sponsors.
Then, the dominoes began to fall, and one event after another was either cancelled or postponed.
Event casualties included the Hannover Messe show, with its significant materials handling component, the 2020 IFOY AWARD Night, bauma CTT RUSSIA, CeMAT RUSSIA, Breakbulk Europe, the FLTA Awards for Excellence, MHEDA's 2020 Convention in Orlando, Linde's World of Material Handling, and the second UniCarriers Forklift Industry Summit. CeMAT Australia was also cancelled.
The delays and cancellations stretch into 2021, with MHI cancelling its in-person ProMat event in Chicago in April 2021. This will be the first time in ProMat's 35-year history that the in-person expo has been cancelled. Instead, organisers will hold a virtual event - ProMat Digital Experience (ProMatDX).
Again, China seems to have escaped the events carnage, with a number of successful events including bauma China and CeMAT Asia attracting significant exhibitor and delegate support.
Mergers and acquisitions
In October, Cargotec and Konecranes announced that their respective boards of directors had signed a combination agreement and a merger plan to combine the two companies through a merger.
The parties say the merged entity will be "a customer-focused global leader in sustainable material flow" with a combined annual sales of approximately EUR7 billion (USD8.25 billion) and an operating profit of approximately EUR565 million (USD666 million) based on fiscal year 2019.
"The future company can unlock significant value for its stakeholders by being the lifecycle partner for its customers, solving the sustainability challenge through innovation, positioning itself well to grow in material flow and by creating and combining a team of top global talent," directors say.
Cargotec and Konecranes have obtained necessary commitments for the financing of the completion of the merger.
In September, Jungheinrich acquired a stake in the Munich-based robotics start-up Magazino.
"Magazino is a highly innovative young company that has outstanding skills in the area of navigation and control software for mobile automation," says Jungheinrich chairman Lars Brzoska. "This investment follows our strategy in the field of automation and will make a significant contribution to the accelerated expansion of our business with automated trucks."
Automation is one of the biggest growth drivers in the intralogistics sector. Jungheinrich expects double-digit growth rates in this segment in the coming years. This trend is driven, above all, by the persistently strong growth in online trade and the global shortage in logistics specialists, particularly forklift operators.
Magazino has been on the market since 2014 with a mobile order picker robot that has the ability to intelligently navigate its warehouse and precisely pick the correct boxes. The system is used in the warehouses of a variety of online retailers and logistics service providers.
"By controlling the robots in this complex environment, Magazino has developed globally unique expertise that we want to expand in the future and integrate into the world of Jungheinrich products," Brzoska explains.
In February, Mitsubishi Logisnext Europe (MLE) announced a further integration of its Mitsubishi Caterpillar and UniCarriers business in Europe.
Business and strategy execution would be "strengthened through the establishment of an operational management covering all channels and brands with corporate and sales and services functions headquartered in Almere, the Netherlands," according to a company statement.
Continued improvement of MLE's competitive product offer would be secured through group-level optimisation in product portfolio, costs and production efficiency by increased collaboration and synergies between the three supply units in Europe, MLE added.
All three entities will carry the Mitsubishi Logisnext Europe name.
In December, Hyster-Yale Group and Capacity Trucks announced plans to co-develop electric and hydrogen-powered terminal tractors with automation-ready capabilities. The collaboration leverages each company's product expertise in the global materials handling solutions market, bringing together Capacity's robust terminal truck platform and Hyster-Yale Group's vast experience in forklift electric powertrain technology and hydrogen fuel cell technology developed by its subsidiary company, Nuvera. The agreement includes exclusive manufacturing and supply provisions, with products branded separately as either Capacity or Hyster.
In dealer shake-ups, Yale dealer Chase Equipment Company was sold to Pape Group as owner Roger Ketelsleger retired. Chase has branches in City of Industry, Los Angeles, Fontana, Escondido, Valencia and Huntington Beach in California, as well as operations in Hawaii, where it trades as Hawaiian Lift Truck Inc.
In a February reshuffle, Medley Material Handling Company was appointed the Hyster and Yale authorised dealer in the portions of Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri formerly serviced by Gammon Equipment Company. Founded in 1962, Gammon was appointed a Yale dealer in 1963 for Arkansas and portions of Kansas and Missouri. It added Hyster in 2017 in portions of Kansas and Missouri. Medley was founded in Oklahoma City in 1941 and offers a wide range of materials handling and industrial solutions, aftermarket capabilities and service support through certified technicians, operating from eight branch locations across Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Medley began its relationship with Yale in 1956 and has represented Hyster products in portions of Texas and New Mexico since 2017.
In March, Darr Equipment acquired S&L Liftmasters, based in San Antonio, Texas. A family-owned business, Liftmasters has been providing best-in-class equipment and services to customers in the San Antonio area since it was founded in 1982 by Herb Shaw and Ken Laubach. Initially a Linde dealership, the business has added other brands to its line-up, including Komatsu, Big Joe, JLG and Cascade.
McCall Handling is now part of Eastern Lift Truck
In July, Eastern Lift Truck finalised the purchase of McCall Handling, one of the oldest Hyster forklift dealerships in the United States. The acquisition left Eastern as the sole designated Hyster forklift dealer (in addition to being the sole Yale dealer) in Maryland, Delaware, Washington DC, Northern Virginia and the panhandle counties of West Virginia.
In August, Kensar Equipment Company, a division of Wolter Group, serving Indiana and Ohio, acquired Integrity Industrial Equipment, a forklift and materials handling equipment provider in Dayton, Ohio. In joining forces, Kensar Equipment is able to expand its footprint further into Ohio, providing even more businesses with an expanded range of new and used materials handling equipment, service, parts, rentals and training.
In November, Wolter Group marked its 11th acquisition in 10 years, buying A D Lift Truck, a family-owned and -operated forklift and materials handling company with over 40 years in the industry.
US-based Taylor International made some inroads in South America last year, opening its Taylor de Colombia S.A.S subsidiary - its third international direct store, alongside Monterrey, Mexico, and Manzanillo, Mexico. The company also appointed Montacargas Panama Pacifico as its dealer in Panama as well as adding Landscape Management Systems as an authorised Taylor dealer on the island of Guam.
It was a big year for dealer appointments by China's LiuGong. Ranko Equipment of Des Moines, Iowa was appointed an authorised dealer of the LiuGong North America forklift product line. Earlier, Atlantic Industrial Equipment added LiuGong wheel loaders, excavators, mini-excavators, skid steers and industrial forklifts in Nova Scotia, Canada. LiuGong also welcomed Universal Lift Systems in Arizona to its network, while Warrior Machinery was added as an exclusive dealer in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area.
Meanwhile, in the UK, Briggs Equipment completed the acquisition of Gwynedd Forklifts, a leading independent materials handling equipment distributor across North Wales and Shropshire. As part of the deal, and in line with Briggs Equipment's acquisition strategy, Gwynedd Forklifts will supply the Hyster materials handling range as well as having access to recognised high-quality brands such as Hako, JLG, Combilift and many more.
Bobcat announced changes in the company's dealer network for South West England. The territory of TVE Hire & Sales Ltd (TVE) was expanded into Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Bobcat also appointed Cheltenham-based TVE Hire & Sales Ltd as the authorised dealer for the Bobcat range of telescopic loaders for the agricultural market in Gloucestershire.
BYD Forklifts (Europe) signed Translift Bendi as a dealer for its range of lithium iron phosphate battery-powered materials handling equipment in the UK. The agreement sees Translift responsible for the sale and service of BYD solutions from its state-of-the-art West Midlands facility.
European dealer appointments included Haulotte's August addition of a new distributor for the brand in the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania area: FSN Fördertechnik. The partnership aims at providing a better regional offer and service support as Haulotte expands its sales and service network in Germany.
In May, Spanish compact equipment manufacturer Ausa signed an agreement with BIA Group to distribute and provide after-sales support for its products in Belgium. BIA has an extensive range of brands in its portfolio, including Komatsu, Bomag, Cummins, Foton, Himoinsa and Sandvik.
Snorkel distributor Ahern Iberica expanded its product portfolio as the new official distributor for Dinolift Oy in Spain and Portugal. Dinolift Oy is a Finnish company which produces a range of high-specification, lightweight mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) for the rental and end-user markets. The company, which was founded in 1974, exports Dino lifts to more than 40 countries.
In July, Hyster Europe announced details of the new network of Hyster dealers in France, after the conclusion of the previous arrangement with importer Manuloc. Ten new dealers were named, supported by a dedicated team of six Hyster major accounts managers. At the same time, Hyster Europe launched a new website as it targeted the used machinery market.
Clark Europe appointed a new sales partner for Switzerland in Rohrer-Marti, a leading Swiss distributor of machines and forklifts. The experienced materials handling vehicle specialist based in Zollikofen in the canton of Berne will take over the sales and service of Clark materials handling vehicles throughout the country. The company also strengthened its market presence in Scandinavia with the appointment of Truck Tek as its new sales partner for Norway.
JLG expanded its international distribution network, adding agents in Bangladesh and Russia. Industrial EquipSol Limited in Bangladesh was appointed as the distributor for JLG's access portfolio, while SkyTech was named a distributor for the Volga Federal District of Russia.
In Australia, The North Fork Group, the majority-owned Australian subsidiary of Nishio Rent All Co Ltd, completed the integration of Fork Force Australia, Lencrow Material Handling and Hystandard Handling Equipment. The consolidated group of companies were renamed Fork Force Australia. By combining with Hystandard Handling Equipment and Lencrow Material Handling in 2019, the group has a combined forklift fleet of around 4,000 units.
Meanwhile, Hubtex's German head office took over its Australian distributor, Hubtex Australia, acquiring all the shares held by the previous owner. The acquisition, after 25 years of operation in the local market, will enable the forklift manufacturer to significantly expand its business operations in Australia and pursue an international growth strategy, even in the current economic crisis.
In a similar move, Jungheinrich dealer NTP Forklifts Australia changed its trading name to Jungheinrich Australia. "This name change will let us present ourselves as a fully-fledged subsidiary of the global Jungheinrich group, using the name and logo proudly," said a letter to customers. Jungheinrich acquired the Australian dealer in 2015, and continued trading as NTP.
Earlier, Kalmar removed its cargo-handling equipment from NTP, starting direct sales to customers.
Exide emerged from insolvency
The big collapse of the year was battery giant Exide. Exide filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. The US assets were acquired by Atlas Holdings in August.
Later, Exide Technologies' former EMEA and Asia Pacific (APAC) divisions concluded its separation from Exide Holdings, Inc. in the United States. As part of the transaction, the business received further multi-million-dollar funding from its new investors.
The new Exide, headquartered near Paris, France, retained its more than 5,000 employees across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.
The Dutch Lisman Forklifts Group ended its Asian expansion in 2020, closing its Malaysian facilities and relocating all Lisman Forklifts Asia activities to its headquarters in the Netherlands. The decision to centralise the wholesale business is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in "a huge shrinkage in travelling and visiting customers to Lisman Forklifts Asia", according to the company. A Lisman spokeswoman told Forkliftaction News
that the larger Asian forklift dealers are increasingly buying directly from Lisman headquarters in Europe rather than sourcing from Lisman Forklifts Asia.
2020 was a year of significant milestones, not least the 20th anniversary of Forkliftaction News
and the newsletter's 1,000th edition. Those achievements are detailed here
Jungheinrich dispatched the 1,000th ETV 216i in November, two years after the launch of the lithium-ion reach truck. The 1,000th unit was supplied to the Penny Market food chain in Italy, which relies entirely on lithium-ion technology. This includes an entire fleet of ETV 216i reach trucks.
Flux Power shipped its 5,000th lithium-ion battery pack. The milestone comes shortly after a move to a new 60,000 sqft. (5,600 sqm) facility with improved production lines, incorporating lean six-sigma philosophies. The company notes that it has seen substantial growth over the past several years.
The longevity honours for the year go to Still, which marked its 100th anniversary, recalling the 1 February 1920 opening by Hans Still of a repair shop for electric motors. After the end of the Second World War, Still introduced an innovative electric truck to the market - the EK 2000, marking its entry into the industrial trucks market. This was followed by the first forklift, the EGS 1000 electric forklift truck, which marked the beginning of a new era.
JCB marked its 75th birthday in October. The British company was founded on the same day as JCB's chairman, Anthony Bamford, now Lord Bamford, was born.
In March, Hyster-Yale marked 60 years of growth since its establishment in Australia and ongoing expansion throughout the Asia Pacific.
At the same time, Crown Equipment Corporation marked 75 years since its establishment by brothers Carl and Allen Dicke in New Bremen, Ohio, in 1945. The fourth generation of the Dicke family continues to lead Crown from its global headquarters in New Bremen, as well as operate regional headquarters in Australia, China, Germany and Singapore.
Also in March, BYD celebrated its 10th anniversary as a producer of lithium iron-phosphate battery-powered forklifts with the launch of a new dual-charging system, promising its customers industry-leading recharge speeds. It marked the milestone with the launch of the BYD PTP20P stand-on pallet truck.
In December, B&B Attachments marked 40 years since an entrepreneurial couple, George and Irene Bell, founded the forklift truck attachment company. Four decades later, the company has a solid reputation for its quality forklift attachments, masts and ancillary systems.
December also saw the 35th anniversary of dealer Action Lift. Under president William F. Medico and veteran managers Bernie Thoma, Chet Williams and Joe Mikiewicz, the company has enjoyed success and grown from four employees to over 80. The company is the authorised forklift dealer for Crown Equipment Corporation and UniCarriers Americas Corporation in NE Pennsylvania. It also carries Kelley, SkyJack, JLG, Genie, Taylor Dunn, and Cushman equipment.
The industry lost some significant personalities during 2020, starting in January with the passing of former JCB employee Bill Hirst. Bill joined the company as a teaboy and rose through the ranks to become a director. He was the third person recruited by JCB in 1947.
Bill, who passed away at the age of 86, was awarded the MBE for services to export in the New Year's Honours List of 1975 and became technical services director in 1981. He retired in 1991.
In April, John "Jack" Wayne Morrison, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, passed away at the age of 85. He was the founder and president of Rapidparts Inc. and founder and president of Mor-Value Parts Co. and other companies.
According to an obituary in the Grand Rapids Press
, Jack was a man of character and loved to be productive. He volunteered as a deacon, elder and finance board member at Eastminster Presbyterian Church and other organisations.
In April, we also reported the loss of two California Rental Association officials. Dale Blackwell, executive director of the CRA and owner of Sacramento-based Abba Dabba Rentals, died at the age of 65 following complications after a severe traumatic brain injury.
Earlier, the CRA informed its members of the passing of long-time member Tom Wittmer at the age of 60. Tom was the owner of Lewis Rents.
Colleagues at Mantis Cranes announced the sad passing of their friend and colleague, Andy Stewart. In a LinkedIn post, the company noted that Andy joined the Mantis team in 2013 as a regional sales executive and later went on to become UK national sales manager in 2016. "Andy took ill (suddenly) at the end of January, and despite the best efforts of the medical staff, unfortunately he lost his battle and sadly passed away recently with his family by his bedside," the company explained. "For those of you who knew Andy, you will remember his laughter, generosity and, of course, his passion for talking, not to mention cranes."
Heinz Helmut Kempkes, the entrepreneur and senior director of German crane manufacturer Kuli, died on 13 August 2020 at the age of 72. Over five decades, Kempkes used his great creative power at Kuli Hebezeuge and managed the company founded by his father in Duisburg in 1947 with responsibility and foresight. For many years, he was an active member of various VDMA committees and helped to shape the interests of the industry. Kempkes was awarded the Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2013.
In October, many in the industry were saddened to hear of the passing of Swedish logistics and transport journalist Anders Karlsson at the age of 50 at his home near Linkoping. Karlsson was for many years the editor-in-chief of Svensk Åkeritidning
and a moderator, organiser of numerous industry events and an award-winning journalist. He served on the juries of the IFOY Award and the Logistics Hall of Fame, and was also a judge for various trucking awards.
December saw the passing of AITT founding member Jim Brown. Jim had an illustrious career in materials handling, having worked for several plant and forklift companies before training as an RTITB instructor. He played an instrumental role at AITT and was chairperson of the standards committee for a number of years. Even after he retired, Jim kept up to date on the latest news in training and always maintained an interest in developments at AITT.
Another industry loss, although under much more benign circumstances, was the retirement of long-serving British Industrial Truck Association (BITA) secretary-general James Clark.
Clark joined BITA in 1996. His tenure as secretary-general has coincided with significant growth for the trade association and seen it rise to a pre-eminent position as the voice of the materials handling industry. Clark's departure came ahead of the planned merger between BITA and the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA), which he has overseen since it was announced at IMHX 2019.
The financial results from all the major manufacturers revealed significant declines in orders, unit sales, revenues and profit.
Overall, global demand for materials handling equipment declined in 2020 from 2019. Provisional figures from the World Industrial Truck Statistics (WITS) indicate orders of 1.12 million units for the first three quarters of 2020, down from 1.5 million the previous year, with sales also lagging - 1.34 million for the nine-month period (down from 1.49 million for the full 2019 year).
FLTA's Waples believe that as vaccines become widely available, "we are likely to see strong growth in the materials handling sector - not least because of pent-up demand".
"What is likely to change is the nature of the equipment as customers in many countries continue the transition from high street to online sales. The volume of goods in transit will remain the same, only the delivery mechanism will change. Everything we touch will, at some point, still have been moved by a forklift, but we are bound to see an expansion of automated sheds and warehouse facilities equipment (though I am certain that extensive use of traditional forklifts to load and unload lorries etc. will continue)."
LEEA's Moloney believes most in his industry are looking towards a post-pandemic recovery. "Contributing to that will, I suspect, be considerable investment in infrastructure, which will certainly benefit parts of our sector. But I believe that we will all rebound, possibly more grateful than before for even the small things," he says.
Of particular importance for 2021, he believes, is the need to "stay on top of Brexit developments".
"The Association has published our Guidance to UK conformity assessment, marking and documentation," he adds.
Waples is also intensely aware of the need for certainty in Brexit. "Exactly how (Britain's withdrawal from the EU single market economy) will affect the materials handling and logistics sector, no one knows for certain, but there is bound to be significant disruption with some analysts predicting that the effects could be even more profound than the pandemic itself," he says.
For AITT's Smith, the rise of automation is a trend worth watching closely. "Operators of workplace transport will increasingly be working alongside automated vehicles in the future, but there will never be a substitute for the integral duties that operators perform. Workplace transport training will always be required, and it will be interesting to see what opportunities and challenges arise. At AITT we continue to engage with the industry to discuss these in 2021 and beyond," he notes.
Berridge explains that automation can help to "mitigate the labour shortages typically experienced in the logistics sector as a result of an ageing workforce, the relative unattractiveness of warehouse work and labour migration due to Brexit".
He points out that AMHSA's 60-plus members - including seven of the world's top 10 system integrators - are "working flat out to keep the automated warehouses of sectors experiencing prolonged peaks operating efficiently, while also responding to a huge number of new enquiries for automation projects".
Looking ahead, ITA's Feehan is optmistic: "We are seeing some reassuring trends in the recent weeks and months with strong market performance; however, COVID has clearly demonstrated its ability to cause disruptions. I believe there is nearly universal recognition of the positive impacts of a COVID vaccine in 2021."
Specifically, referring to the USA, Feehan predicts some movement on "free trade", noting that "President-elect Biden has been quoted in media reports stating he wouldn't sign any new trade deal that doesn't include 'major investments' in jobs and infrastructure, or that doesn't include labor and environmental advocates in negotiations.
"The months ahead will begin to provide clarity on President-elect Biden's positions on trade and we expect to see multilateralism to play a part in shaping US foreign policy," he points out.