After the success of our MODEX interviews last year, this year we traveled all the way to Chicago for MHI‘s sister show, ProMat 2019! We ran around McCormick place collecting interviews, and expanded our interview topics.
You see, we’ve had a lot of clients and audience members who tell us they’re fascinated by our interviews with companies like Xometry– where we learn about more than just marketing tactics. A lot of these companies have incredibly unique business models, products, and services.
So at ProMat, we decided to ask our interviewees about the products and services their companies provide.
We ran into some old friends; made some new ones; and were awed by advances in logistics technology all over again! So what’s new in the world of supply chain and logistics?
1. MAKING LIFE EASY FOR CLIENTS
Bhaskar Chopra of Siemens Digital Factory joined us again to explain a bit more about the company’s solutions. Siemens as a whole is well-known, but not everyone knows what they have to offer in the particular field of material handling.
“Material handling by itself is not really a vertical. It goes across a lot of different horizontal industries. We have products and components that can really fit into just about every single niche of this market.”
From simulation software to hardware or networking components, Siemens has worked hard to expand their repertoire of products. In fact, they have the capabilities to design a customized distribution center from scratch, digitally simulate its operations, and then confirm its functionality before a single brick is laid.
Another one of their strongest elements is actually based in customer service and training.
The most commonly-asked questions by visitors to Bhaskar’s booth were usually about the ease and success of new implementations.
Siemens’ components are built to be long-lasting, simple to install, and (perhaps most importantly) easy to use.
Siemens components come with with plain English instructions. They’re deliberately created that way so that newcomers to any business can feel comfortable and confident when handling them. That way, monitoring and maintaining these products in the next few decades shouldn’t break the bank.
2. GENERATING INTEREST IN THE NEXT GENERATION
We encountered another old friend at the booth for KNAPP: Kevin Reader.
Similar to Siemens, they’ve expanded their products and services to include both software as well as hardware. Their services extend across multiple verticals like retail, fashion and apparel, grocery, and more.
What stood out about KNAPP was their never-ending expansion into new territory, both with their booth displays and their latest products.
Their new OSR Shuttle™ Evo+ was on display, along with a virtual reality simulator and a massive pair of touch-screen monitors where visitors could explore KNAPP’s many services and solutions.
Additionally, after introducing RedPilot at MODEX last year, KNAPP was able to bring its success stories to ProMat 2019 from their 47 different active sites. The program engages in real time planning, execution, and learning that can lead to an 8% reduction in operating costs. Talk about an incredible case study!
Actually, one of the strongest elements of the show was one that we heard about, but didn’t get to encounter in-person. There was a tour of the show for some local high school students, and Knapp was one of the many companies involved in the program.
The field trip aimed to generate interest in today’s youth about industrial careers. And we couldn’t think of a better place to do so!
When you walk onto the floor at Promat and see the incredible amount of new technologies (and frankly, just plain cool robots), it’s suddenly a lot harder to call the supply chain field “boring.”
3. STAYING FOCUSED ON A BETTER FUTURE
One of our new interviewees was Andre Marshall of Doosan Industrial Vehicles. Doosan is actually a massive company overseas, but they’re only just now starting to get recognized as a big name in the states.
“If you look at forklifts in general, a lot of them look the same…but every [maker] focuses on one thing or the other,” Andre explained to us. “We at Doosan look at the over-all performance of the truck…we’re looking for something that lasts.”
In a world where many products are made to be disposable, or where they’re meant to be replaced after so many years so that the creators can continue to profit, Doosan does the opposite.
They aim to create reliable forklifts and other industrial vehicles that have exceptional performance and longevity.
Doosan’s focus on the future applies to the way they develop new products as well. Their G/45S forklift has a dual-fuel unit, so it can run on gas or on propane. Additionally, their new GC35 is three inches narrower with a shorter counterweight. This can give their vehicle more maneuverability in the increasingly-tighter confines of cramped warehouse aisles.
Whatever the innovation, Doosan aims to keep adapting their future designs so their vehicles will show less wear and tear; or maybe even employ better fuel sources.
As for common questions asked by booth visitors? Nearly everyone at Promat seems to start every conversation at a new booth by asking “How much is it?” But, according to Andre, that’s only part of the equation.
“Price is one thing, but that’s the initial purchase,” he pointed out. “Customers are often times looking at the lifetime cost of the unit.” And in Doosan’s case, they made sure to create something long-lasting and worthwhile.
4. GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT
One of the last interviews we’ll touch on in this episode is our chat with Jason Walker of Waypoint Robotics – another old friend!
In a field where many industrial workers fear losing their jobs to automation and robots, Waypoint aims to quell some of those common suspicions. They’ve focused on creating a robot that doesn’t replace workers, but rather empowers them and accelerates many of their otherwise tedious tasks.
“We’re trying to give the shipping & receiving clerks, and the dock workers, and the assembly line workers a nail gun instead of a hammer.”
Many warehouse employees, for example, have to take multiple long walks across half-mile facilities. Now they have a ‘minion’ who can retrieve those items for them.
The best part is, since Waypoint robots are autonomous, they don’t need to be programmed with a route. They’ll find their way to any destination and navigate around unforeseen obstacles without their controllers having to lift a finger.
Waypoint has been able to develop and improve their products by listening to the concerns of the workforce…and now that feedback has also inspired new lines of Waypoint robots.
Last year when we met Jason at MODEX, their company was exhibiting a single autonomous mobile robot. This year, their inventory has expanded. After many clients worked with their 300lb and 600lb Waypoint Vector robots, they asked for something similar…but larger. That’s when the Waypoint MAV3K, capable of carrying 3,000lb loads, was born.
Waypoint developed many of their robots to be self-charging, and to carry automated arms that could pick items from around the warehouse. Now the MAV3K can carry even larger items, with larger robotic arms easily integrated from outside systems.
And it all goes back to client feedback.
“We’ve really built for the people who say, ‘I’ve been running my machine shop for fifty years. Everything works great, except for that long walk, and I can’t find enough people to push carts.’ We can drop a robot into that situation and have it working that day.”
Ease of use and flexibility have allowed Waypoint to produce some incredible autonomous robots. Everything they do is designed to empower human workers, and make their lives a little easier.
The one common element throughout Promat 2019 was the pursuit of something new.
There were warehouse owners seeking easier solutions for their companies. We saw businesses creating product lines or services to make a better world. And many young students’ imaginations were sparked by the latest in AI, VR, and robotics.
One thing’s for sure: Promat was full of incredible stories about constant self-improvement. And so long as your industrial company is also doing the same thing…our future is probably going to be just fine.
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