CLEVELAND--U.S. sales of materials handling equipment is expected to reach nearly $20 billion in 2004.

According to a report by The Freedonia Group, sales of conveyors, forklifts, robots, hoists and other materials handling equipment will increase almost 5 percent annually during the next 4 years. Growth will be fueled by continued economic expansion and strength in key end-use markets, such as the aerospace and electronics industries, which are expanding and modernizing their production facilities. Increasing computerization of all industrial operations, including materials handling, will also benefit demand.

Industrial trucks and automated systems, particularly robots, will experience the strongest growth. The market for hoists, cranes, monorails and conveyors is more mature and will record slower rates of growth. The increasing tendency toward full integration of materials handling systems with other company systems, such as procurement, manufacturing management and shipping operations, will boost demand for all materials handling equipment.