60 seconds with Shana Relle, MHIA, Intralox
Title: Chair of the Integrated Systems & Controls Council (ISCC) for the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA); marketing for packaging and materials handling for Intralox
Location: New Orleans
Experience: Six years in the materials handling industry
Primary Focus: The goal of the ISCC is to bring together suppliers of system components and controls with companies that put together an entire materials handling system. The focus of the automation alliance is to put a public face on the group’s efforts and educate end users on materials handling.
Modern: Are you and your colleagues in the integrated systems group seeing a rising interest level in automation?
Relle: We are. And while the members within the group offer a variety of automated solutions, we’re seeing interest from customers of all sizes, across all industries and with a wide set of problems. We’re seeing customers who want to put in a large, comprehensive system, but there’s also interest in islands of automation. They may want just a small piece of automation, like putting in a piece of live conveyor to move a tire down an assembly line rather than a worker having to push it across a gravity conveyor.
Modern: Your group has a campaign to bust the myths around automation. What are some of the myths around automation?
Relle: The myths persist, but I’d say many of them are going away. For instance, people used to think that only large companies could automate. Now, according to our research, 52% believe that automation is for companies of any size, and 78% agree that automation can be retrofitted into an existing facility. We’re making headway on those two. However, 56% still believe that these systems are hard to support and maintain, even though I think that’s no longer true. Only 56% think automation is safe, yet we don’t hear reports about people being injured as a result of automation.
Modern: If myths are really being busted, what does that say about automation?
Relle: I think you’re just seeing more of it. Consumers are comfortable with the idea that goods come from Asia, and they have to be moved around a warehouse. The press about Amazon buying Kiva brings a certain amount of attention to the industry from people who haven’t paid attention in the past—a good percentage of the population is buying products from Amazon.
Modern: What does the ISCC see for the future of automation?
Relle: There are a lot of reasons for customers to automate going forward. For instance, you’re seeing more green packaging. That has to be handled very gently and precisely, which is something that automation can do. Where facilities are at capacity or want LEED certification, you’re going to see more automation. I think you’re going to see a mix of automation and non-automation, and I think that’s going to grow more and more. I also think as young people become more comfortable with personal technology, they’ll be more comfortable with robots and automation.