by John Nofsinger CEO, Material Handling Industry

Virtually every industry group received high marks for productivity gains during the 1990s. At the core of this improvement was the increased efficiency by which goods were handled, moved, stored, protected and controlled throughout the process of their manufacture, distribution, consumption and disposal.

The unique economic conditions of the 1990s provided an unusual opportunity to both evolve and integrate mature technologies, as well as incubate new ideas, models and technologies that stand to fuel profitability and productivity gains over the remaining years of the current decade. As a practical matter, every economic upturn has been the beneficiary of this evolution/incubation process.

As with preceding decades, the 1990s evolved and accelerated both technology and process models that will serve to underpin a new round of productivity growth in the years immediately ahead. We saw:

-- full concurrence of flow of information and goods throughout the supply chain;

-- mass customization coming of age and following the mass production imperative of the mid-1900s;

-- business process collaboration both within and between supply chains;

-- consolidation and globalization in virtually all sectors;

-- business modeling and proof of concept of the Internet as an enabling and commercial tool for business-to-business and business-to-consumer situations;

-- adoption of lean/agile/synchronized manufacturing, distribution and transportation strategies;

-- greater integration of proven technologies to support the objective of concurrence;

-- rapid development of data capture technologies, particularly radio frequency identification (RFID); and,

-- advancements in nanotechnology and miniaturization.

Our challenge through this current period of economic growth will be to apply productivity-enhancing solutions against a backdrop of ever faster and more complex change — facts that will not allow much room for error, strategically or tactically.

The downturn of the past two years created a speed bump on the application side of technology, but not on the development side. As with everyone, providers of material handling and logistics solutions have been busy over the recent downturn — using the time to structure their organizations and evolve their products/systems/services to provide relevant solutions to continuing to respond to the productivity and profitability needs of today's complex and global commerce.

It is precisely to this issue that the best material handling and logistics equipment systems and services solutions will be unveiled beginning March 29 in Cleveland's I-X Center. You can expect and will receive significant benefits from participating in NA 2004:

-- the broadest presentation of equipment/systems/services solutions ever assembled at an NA event;

-- three complimentary executive forums covering frontiers of operational excellence, RFID and securing the logistics of global trade;

-- 52 complimentary sessions in NA's unique on-floor theaters;

-- one of the world's more convenient and capable Industrial exhibition centers in Cleveland's I-X Center;

-- face time with more than 400 exhibitors who will align solutions to your needs and objectives — critical to successful, efficient and effective applications;

-- four distinct solutions centers designed to help you make the most of your time at NA 2004.

Material handling and logistics were clearly at the heart of the significant advances made during the 1990s and stand to remain so as current challenges and opportunities are addressed.

You are encouraged to participate in NA 2004 and to see, first hand, how the best of material handling and logistics solutions can contribute to your productivity and profitability.