Automation: Growth via software and conveyors
Every company tries to set itself apart with something it believes it does better than the competition. How is viastore going to market?
It was a question I posed to Bill Ostermeyer, viastore’s vice president of sales, when I visited the company in Grand Rapids a few weeks ago. For those keeping score, viastore will be number 18 on Modern’s 2012 Top 20 System Supplier list with $125 million in 2011 revenue. As he answered the question, Ostermeyer outlined those things he thinks viastore brings to the table on a white board in the company’s conference room. They included: conveyor – integration – software – and after market support.
And while the company counts companies like Cargill, IKEA and Gordon Food among its customers in North America, and is installing a 22,000 pallet location AS/RS for a large cold storage 3PL, Ostermeyer says viastore is targeting more modest projects that are $5 million or less. “We are hearing from a number of regional companies that are looking into automation,” Ostermeyer said. “They’re going to take an incremental approach to automating and blend manual and automated processes. That’s an approach we’re very comfortable.”
Although viastore is known for its automated storage and retrieval systems and sold Provia, it’s warehouse management solution, a few years back, Ostermeyer believes the company’s software heritage is one of its strengths. 3PLs, for instance, are transitioning from pallet in/pallet out facilities into mixing centers that receive full pallets in and ship mixed pallets out. Software is the key to doing that efficiently. “If you visited our booth at Modex, you would have seen a demonstration of our viadot software,” he said. “We have worked on multiple projects where we’re putting in our software on our competitors’ cranes and conveyors.”
viastore is also positioning itself as a competitor in the conveyor integration space. “We are not recognized for conveyor integration, but that is an area where we have expertise,” he said. “We build some of our systems and we also distribute conveyor from other manufacturer.”
Before I left, I asked Ostermeyer about a robotic picking solution that he and I discussed last summer. At the time, Ostermeyer was in search of a beta customer to work with the new technology that would automate not just case picking but piece picking. “We think it’s a great solution,” he said. “We’re still looking for that beta site.”