Every other year, the Materials Handling Industry (MHI) descends on the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) for MODEX; a week of keynote speakers, seminars, and a trade exposition to up the game of professionals engaged in all manners of materials handling. MHI is the nation’s largest material handling, logistics, and supply chain association.

While many of the systems, solutions, equipment, and products discussed and shown are for more advanced warehouse and distribution centers, there was much to see and learn related to the kind of operations roofing supply companies encounter each and every day.

Roofing Supply Pro attended MODEX 2024 to go “firsthand” with some of the technologies that will soon make an appearance in the roofing supply space. Progressive suppliers wanting to hone their operational capabilities take advantage of a show such as this. MHI also stages ProMat every other year at McCormick Place in Chicago. ProMat 2025 will be held March 17-20, 2025.

This report will come nowhere near fully capturing the events and tradeshow MODEX presented. With multiple keynote and seminar sessions and a trade show covering the entire 1.5 million square foot GWCC, it would take a book-sized feature. This is just a highlight of some of the many solutions we were able to observe in the tradeshow.

Powered Industrial Trucks

Most of the roofing supply industry relies solely on 5,000 to 8,000-pound capacity, solid pneumatic-tired cantilever forklifts powered by an internal combustion engine. At MODEX, there were more manufacturers of this type of lift than could be counted. Dozens of them with little to separate one from the other.

What was interesting, however, is the entry of battery-powered lifts in this category, which seems to be growing. Improvements in battery technology and emerging demands for “cleaner indoor air” have progressive roofing supply companies taking another look at converting from ICE to electric.

One slight advantage of the electric lifts will be their capacity to match up with sensor monitoring. These video and sensor hazard alert systems will automatically slow the vehicle when a hazards are encountered. These systems works fine with an ICE so long as the electronics on the lift mate well with the sensors, which can pose challenges.

There were many firms showing the various options to add monitoring devices to their lifts but a few of the forklift manufacturers were touting their own solutions. Is it just a matter of time before they are offered as an option on any make or model of industrial truck?

We won’t discuss autonomous lift systems that were shown at MODEX. They're just not part of the roofing and building products scheme — at least for now. We were intrigued, however, by several of the “tight aisle” lifts that can double the usable space in a racking system. Particularly useful for lineal products like metal trim or siding, they are useful for selective pallet rack systems as well. As the cost of leasing space continues to rise, roofing supply companies will be forced to go “higher and tighter” than ever before.

Warehouse Safety

Top of mind for all roofing supply pros is safe operations in the warehouse and yard. In addition to sensors on lifts, some solutions offered video or sensor monitoring of individuals working alongside the lifts in the warehouse and yard.

One solution offered “coaching” for individuals based on behaviors observed on video. The notion of “Big Brother is watching” may be balanced by a safer work environment and improved performance by warehouse personnel. Others offered wearable sensors that communicate directly with the lifts, warning operators that someone is working nearby, even around a blind corner.

Warehouse Marking

When a warehouse is laid out and racks built and lanes of traffic are all in place, the usual solution to marking aisle and adding directional signals (arrows, stop signs, warning signs) is to bring out the “safety yellow” paint and start with the striping. There are several problems with this solution, including paint wearing off and moving/changing aisles and direction.

Eliminating these problems are the ceiling-mounted laser lighting systems shown from multiple vendors at MODEX. Laser lighting for striping does not wear out with foot or lift traffic. Moving aisles is as simple as moving the lights in the ceiling. The addition of stop signs, directional signals, and other warning messages is easy when projected onto the warehouse floor.

Sadly, your yard is not a good place for this solution.

Polymer Rack Guards, Guardrails, and Bollards


Sometimes a line drawn (or projected) onto the warehouse floor is not enough to keep lift traffic from striking a rack, product or people in the warehouse. The typical solution for guardrails and bollards has always been heavy steel bolted to or poured into concrete. Same for guarding building columns or rack uprights.

Replacing the heavy steel with polymer provides a couple of advantages in the roofing supply warehouse. For one, many of these solutions do not require professional installation. Some of the rack upright guards we saw simply “snap on” and may be easily removed or replaced if they become damaged.

Adding a guardrail or bollard does require a hammer drill but compared to core drilling concrete and pouring concrete, the labor is much less costly. Moving and replacing components made of polymer materials is far easier than with permanent steel and concrete barriers.

Rack Systems and Design

In addition to the design and planning software or services offered by manufacturers of rack systems, there are several independent software platforms for designing and comparing options for warehouse rack system designs. Most roofing supply companies use relatively simple selective racks along with cantilever rack. Actively managing rack systems involves routine maintenance and the occasional redesign/rebuild. Having the help of design software gives operators better options when it comes to the design itself as well as requesting multiple proposals to furnish and install rack.

These changes may be prompted by the slowly changing nature of the materials stored, such as the changing widths of thermoplastic membranes along with the ebb and flow of conventional asphalt rolled products and growth of coatings products arriving in various containers. Also, making the move to go higher and tighter (as previously mentioned) requires the most sophisticated systems design tools available.

Far Out, Man

There were so many advanced materials handling solutions on display at MODEX that we could not possibly have seen them all in the one day we had on site. Most of them went far beyond the scope of normal operations for a roofing supply company.

But it is fun to dream.

Walking around the MODEX tradeshow floor gets one thinking of what a more automated, safer, and even cleaner roofing supply operation might look like, if the cost of building it didn't matter. But it does. Just the same, it is always a healthy business practice to see what is going on in the world outside our gates.

The last stop on this brief tour of MODEX was an encounter we had with a firm touting their consulting practice. Their sweet spot is helping companies measure and improve their footprint on the planet. Energy, Sustainability, and Infrastructure (ES&I) count in the world of governments and big businesses — really big businesses.

Like with robotic order pickers, measuring ES&I do not appear on the radar of the roofing supply operational leader. But, like the change from five-high stacks of felt row after row becoming short stacks of TPO; change will come. You do not need to become engaged with all these things but keeping up may help you stay ahead at a point in your future.

If you want to learn more about the future of material handling, check these links out online: