Innovation can be found where beauty lies—in the eye of the beholder.  So MH&L's challenge in navigating the subjectivity of an innovation awards program and to keep it from turning into a beauty contest was to focus on some substantive and tangible accomplishments. Having one Innovation Awards program under our belt, MH&L's editors and our advisory board felt we were up to the task of making it an annual event—hence, our second annual cover story dedicated to the year's most innovative practitioners of material handling & logistics.

Actually, our winners did all the heavy lifting, and you'll read all about them in our coverage. I have mixed feelings about using the term "winners," because all of the finalists we judged qualify for that accolade. Nevertheless, using a points system to separate first place from third place winners, I was relieved that there was strong agreement among the judges about which candidates landed where.

While our cover story focuses on the first place winners in the Make, Store, Move and Compete categories, I wanted to use this space to give props to a sampling of other winners and let our judges on the MH&L Editorial Advisory Board justify this honorable mention.

Make sure to read our cover story, "Innovation's Power is People."

In the Make category, Calvin Chun, manager of the Kelly-Moore Paint Company's Hurst, Texas, plant, made a good impression on our judges by overcoming the production limitations of an old plant by using robotics to smooth the output of multi-sized containers of paint. He worked with  Intelligrated's Alvey robotics on this project, as we reported in our July issue.

"They took very smart steps in developing an attractive ROI for handling a low-tech item like paint," commented Ron Giuntini.

Also in the Make category, Jon Smick, finishing manager for American Packaging Corp., used unmanned pallet trucks to his advantage working with Seegrid to automate product movement to the company's printing presses. As we reported in our October issue, this freed up operators to attend to more value-added activities.

"Instead of AGVs, Jon 'thought out of the box' using vision guided pallet trucks," commented Al Will. "This eliminated operators either sitting idle on forklifts or driving back and forth on routes—a great solution to an enduring inefficiency."

The efficiency of our nominees was a common theme, especially as demonstrated by Matt Olson, an industrial engineer at Parts Now, who used Sealed-Air's molded foam packaging system to help him protect remanufactured printer components while cutting scrap. Jim Tompkins called this October story "an excellent example of implementing several manufacturing concepts (lean, 5s, cellular, integrated material handling and information flow) to create an efficient, effective, flexible manufacturing environment to respond to customer needs at a minimal cost."

The Move category had consistently strong contenders. In fact, three of them were covered in one story (May's Transportation Strategy Session), featuring Jack Allen, senior director of logistics and manufacturing for Cisco Systems Supply Chain Operations, James Bach vice president of inventory management for the Cardinal Health Medical Segment and Tom France, director of global transportation for Caterpillar. All three found more effective ways to get their products to market during tough economic times.

"These three managers offer great insights into achieving better visibility and tighter coordination with suppliers," said Alex Scott. "Mining data that is becoming more and more available will only get more important in the future."

Regarding Tom France, Ron Giuntini noted that innovation doesn't have to involve technology. "Tom put himself into the customer's shoes, but also dealt with the financial health of his company; business person first, transportation professional second."
Indeed, it's those human elements that really test a manager's ability to innovate, especially if that manager is sandwiched between executives who fear the cost of innovation and employees who fear being replaced by it.

As we transition to 2013, the staff of MH&L wishes you a year free of fear and full of new ideas.

Follow me on Twitter @TomAndel.

Make sure to read our cover story, "Innovation's Power is People."