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Day one at Modex: Thoughts from the first day of the show

By Bob Trebilcock, Editor at Large
March 18, 2014

One day down, three more to go. Yep, the first day of the Modex material handling and supply chain show is in the bag. If you spend the day as a reporter, cruising the aisles for scheduled booth visits and press conferences, you get an odd take on the show. One minute you’re talking to a systems design and integration firm talking about highly automated distribution centers and the next minute you’re learning about the latest developments in rack protection. If they were individual pieces from a jig saw puzzle, they might not fit together a complete picture of our industry. But, I learned some things that I found fascinating today.

My first visit of the day was with Krish Nathan, the new CEO of SDI Group Americas. SDI focuses on unit level fulfillment and garment on hangar solutions for specialty retailers like Wet Seal. One area I’m interested in learning more about is distribution in emerging markets like Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America. That curiosity is driven by the increase of interest in materials handling I see in the emails I receive from international readers. Nathan had an insight I had not thought of. A number of retailers in South America are automating like their North American counterparts. The motivation isn’t a reduction in labor, Nathan said. Rather, they are growing so quickly that they can’t accurately replenish their stores and get the right goods on the shelf by simply throwing more cheap labor at the problem. They need automation to get product through the DC.

My next stop was Dematic’s press conference, where Ulf Henriksson, CEO of Dematic Group, John Baysore, CEO of Dematic North America, and Robert Nilsson, vice president of software, introduced its Dematic iQ software platform. As was explained later, the platform provides a way for an end user customer to ease its way into automation, managing manual processes all the way through highly-automated systems, including maintenance and visibility into analytics. To me, the real takeaway, however, was how important software has become to our industry. Without today’s evolving warehouse control and execution systems, we could enable the complex order fulfillment solutions our customers need.

That was driven home later in the day when I met with Adam Kline, a product manager with Manhattan Associates. While most of us think of Manhattan as a provider of warehouse management systems to retailers, Kline and I had a chat about Manhattan’s offering for manufacturers. Kline’s tagline is to “align production with distribution.” His point is that manufacturers are no longer just building and shipping full pallets of finished goods. They need systems that can manage the movement of raw materials and finished goods through the supply chain from inbound at the manufacturing plant to delivery to the final customer.

My last takeaway of the day was a belief that we may be several years off from adoption, but vision guided systems are an important component of our future. The first, vision, came up in a luncheon conversation I had with Larry Lapide, a long-time observer of the supply chain and one of my columnists at SCMR. Larry thought vision just makes sense and is just compatible with technologies we use today. “Just think of all the different languages and dialects in a DC today,” he said. “With vision, you take that all out of the equation.” That point was driven home with time I spent with Jerry Johnson, Knapp’s marketing and business development manager. Knapp is exhibiting a vision guided picking system. I asked Johnson where the productivity improvement are realized, because vision and voice are both hands free. His answer was that vision is really a process improvement technology. The vision system not only sends directions to the worker, the technology—and not the worker—verifies the accuracy of the pick and captures the act for review later. That’s important to industries like pharma that have tracking and tracing requirements. But it also streamlines downstream processes, such as quality control.

On to day two.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Editor at Large

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484 and .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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