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Day three at Modex

Have I mentioned software?
March 20, 2014

“It’s the software, not the hardware.”

OK, maybe I’m sounding like a broken record. The above quote was from Scott Smith, vice president of global marketing and development for Hartness, now an ITW Automation company. The context was ITW’s case-picking solution for the softdrink and beer industry, as well as a cart-based automated storage and retrieval system on display at ITW’s booth. His point was that while end users are demanding equipment that is reliable and repeatable, what they’re really buying is software that makes these solutions possible.

The central role of software was driven home by two other stops yesterday. The first was with Jean-Marie Bergeal and Raul Bravo, the CEO and co-founder respectively of Balyo. If the name is unfamiliar, Balyo is a French company that has developed a technology for transforming a production model lift truck into a hybrid vehicle that can operate in both a manual and automatic mode, like an AGV. Although relatively untested in the U.S. market (we wrote about a pilot involving Balyo’s technology at GENCO last December, Balyo does have reference clients in Europe. The secret sauce that makes this possible isn’t the lift truck – Balyo is agnostic and was at the show to meet with major lift truck manufacturers – but its software and guidance technology.

My last stop of the day was with Russell Fleischer, CEO, and Gary Nemmers, senior vice president, at HighJump. Much of the discussion focused on two areas. The first was how HighJump is migrating all of its solutions to the cloud – while the adoption is still relatively slow with a lot of interest coming from smaller end users, Fleischer said the cloud now accounts for about 10% of HighJump’s business. The most interesting discussion was how WMS is extending into the store to manage picking operations for e-commerce fulfillment. The pair discussed projects HighJump has recently taken on with Loblaw’s, the Canadian grocer, which will continue to use an existing WMS from Manhattan in its DC’s but implement HighJump to manage picking in the stores, as well as a major project to overhaul Sears’ supply chain execution systems, both in its network of DC’s (Sears is currently maintaining nearly ten different WMS systems) and its stores.

Two other stops caught my attention yesterday, both of which I plan to learn more about in the future. I had a brief conversation with Todd Davis, a recruiter with Amazon, about how the e-commerce giant is using talent to drive innovation in its fulfillment operations – one example: its not all about engineering. Davis mentioned that the individual who oversaw a major project related to how Amazon does receiving has a degree in anthropology.  Amazon is launching an initiative around women in logistics.

The last was a visit with Bill Bloch at Rehrig Pacific. We talked about a solution Rehrig has developed to streamline the delivery of product from the bottling line to the distribution center to the small format retail store – with small door openings and narrow aisles. What struck me was how our processes are now moving from a point solution – solving a problem in the warehouse, factory or DC – to supply chain solutions that extend across all of those supply points all the way to the end user.

For now, it’s back to the office and on to ProMat.

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About the Author

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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