Conveyors & Sorters: Final thoughts on CEMA

The conveyor industry is evolving and that’s a good thing

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I brought back a couple of observations from CEMA’s annual meeting.

From product to solution: Not that long ago, conveyor and sortation was likely to be the only automated materials handling equipment in a distribution center. The number of miles of conveyor in a retail distribution center was a badge of honor. Today, system designers have a lot more tools in their automation tool box. A goods to person picking solution, for instance, relies on conveyor to deliver product from a storage location to a picking station and then to a packing station or the shipping dock. But it uses less conveyor than previous solutions.

Conveyors are smarter than ever: Conveyors used to be about speeds and feeds. In today’s world, it’s better to be smart than fast. Thanks to great strides in warehouse control systems, PLCs and drives, conveyors can do so much more in less space and at slower speeds than in the past. These are great value adds for the end user. If anything they may explain why conveyor manufacturers like Dematic, Intelligrated, TGW, Schaefer and others are broadening their portfolios, and why Hytrol entered into an agreement with Beumer – allowing both companies to bring more of a solution to the table for their distributors and end users.

Do you have a social media strategy? Most of us in the materials handling world are trying to figure out whether social media is our friend or our foe. Phillip Poston, the marketing manager at Hytrol, gave a great presentation on how he is integrating Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and emerging tools like Google + into his overall marketing strategy. Social media isn’t replacing traditional marketing at Hytrol, but Poston is finding some interesting ways to enhance his efforts. You can follow Hytrol on twitter and Facebook.

Mexico, Latin America and South America are slowing beginning to embrace materials handling automation. At Modern, we are seeing a steady increase in electronic readers from countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Columbia and Argentina. CEMA welcomed a new member in PowerTech Services, a conveyor manufacturer and integrator from Coahuila, Mexico. Victor Gonzalez, one of the company’s founders, explained that while his country is playing catch up, he believes Mexican manufacturers and distributors are now asking how automation and technology can improve their businesses. Similarly, Dan Fannin, vice president of marketing for Emerson Power Transmission and a CEMA past president, told me that CEMA is seeing a rise in requests for engineering information from Latin America. 

Do religion and business mix: One of the most interesting presentations I heard came from Ned Thompson, president and CEO of PRAB, a Michigan-conveyor company. During an overview of his company, Thompson joked that you should never mix business and religion in polite company, but that they were very much a part of his business. PRAB includes a company chaplain on its payroll, prayer is an important part of the day and the company sends employees on mission trips where they can serve others. Having grown up in a family business that also employs a company chaplain and embraces mission trips, I was intrigued. Thompson said he makes it clear that his shop floor includes the churched and the unchurched. “The guys who don’t go to church sometimes look at us a little funny,” he said, “but even if you don’t have a church, you sometimes need a chaplain to sit with your family in the hospital, perform a wedding, bury a loved one or just to talk to in a time of need. Our chaplain is there for everyone.” It’s obviously not a model for everyone. But judging by the number of executives who asked Thompson how he makes it work, more than a few were intrigued. 



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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