60 seconds with Kevin Gue, Auburn University

Modern talks to Kevin Gue, one of the authors, about the significance of the Material Handling and Logistics Roadmap.

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Kevin Gue
Tim Cook Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering, Auburn University
Location: Auburn, Ala.
Experience: 20 years in logistics education and research, including service as president of the College-Industry Council on Material Handling Education.
Primary Focus: With respect to research, Gue’s focus is on warehousing, materials handling and order fulfillment.

Modern: Let’s start by explaining to our readers just what is the U.S. Roadmap for Material Handling & Logistics and how it came about. 
Just over a year ago, Henrik Christensen from Georgia Tech suggested at an MHI meeting that the materials handling industry undertake a roadmap similar to the one he had orchestrated for the robotics industry. The leadership at MHI thought it was a good idea, and they got behind it. Basically, the roadmap is an attempt by “the industry”—meaning everyone from end users to suppliers to educators to NGOs and government—to look out 10 to 15 years into the future and ask, “How should we be preparing?” My experience with companies is that they are often worried about quarterly results or this month’s sales figures, and sometimes they struggle to sit back and reflect on where things are going. The roadmap is an opportunity for everyone to ask the big questions.

Modern: What was the process? How did the organizers go about collecting the information for the map? And, who participated? 
We wrestled for months about how to do this. Eventually, we decided to hold four all-day workshops, in Atlanta, D.C., L.A. and Chicago, in which participants provided input. We zeroed in on a process that had participants at roundtables of eight or so discussing four major questions. The first was, “What will life in 2025 look like?” The goal was to get people thinking about the future with respect to how we move goods, the required IT and planning systems, and workforce issues. Participants included end users, suppliers, educators, NGOs, and a few people from government. 

Modern: Why do you think this is an important project?
This is the first time that anyone is aware of that representatives from all stakeholder groups have gotten together to talk about needs for the future. Personally, I think it could be an important project if it leads to some collaborative solutions to big problems. As the document will describe, there are many future problems that individual companies will be solving simply because of market forces, such as robotic order picking, automated loading of trucks and even, maybe, home delivery quad-copters. But there is a whole other class of problems that individual companies cannot solve on their own, such as standardization, large-scale collaboration to reduce costs, and finding and educating the workforce. These problems require stakeholders to work together in new ways. I said “could be” just a moment ago, because the hard work of doing something is still to come.

Modern: When the draft is complete, what to you envision happening with it? In other words, how might our industry benefit from the project?
As far as tangible outcomes, I would hope to see stakeholder groups coming together to address some of the specific issues the roadmap identifies, perhaps in workshops or planning sessions. For example, a collection of organizations will have to join forces to address the challenges of tomorrow’s workforce. Also, collaboration was a major theme. Companies will have to come together to see if this can be done on a large scale—or even if there is any stomach for it.

The real challenge will be leadership and initiative. Someone has to stand up and say, “I’ll do it. I’ll organize a workshop to move this or that forward. I’ll put some resources behind it.” We’ll need many champions.

Modern: If I’m a reader and I want to be involved in some aspect of the roadmap, what’s my next step? 
Become a champion! Once the document is out, read it and identify some part that you’d like to get behind. Then I guess you should contact Gary Forger at MHI, who is acting as orchestrator in chief.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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