This Month in Modern: How strong is your desire to innovate?

As executive editor Bob Trebilcock deftly points out in this month’s cover story, nearly every company—no matter what the industry—is looking to position itself as an “innovator.”

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As executive editor Bob Trebilcock deftly points out in this month’s cover story, nearly every company—no matter what the industry—is looking to position itself as an “innovator.”

“You simply can’t escape the term,” says Trebilcock. “Across so much of consumer marketing, for example, companies want to project the idea that they’re capturing innovation in a bottle and transforming, much like Apple did, to revolutionize their niche. It’s happening in auto, beverage, technology, even finance.”

But what does it mean to be an “innovator” and how do we actually define “innovation”? Even more importantly, how do we measure a particular market’s desire to innovate? Well, starting on page 16, Trebilcock puts context around the terms and trends with the help of MIT’s James Rice as well as some of the materials handling industry’s stalwart thought leaders.

It’s their contention that it’s time to raise the awareness of materials handling as one of the true innovative industries—and through this burning desire to innovate has become the heart and soul of e-commerce.

“All you needed to do was walk the floor at ProMat 2017,” says Trebilcock. “We saw demonstrations of picking solutions using virtual and augmented reality, vision-based maintenance, mobile and piece-picking robotics, all levels of new software solutions. They may not be ready for prime time, but they do demonstrate the leaps the industry is taking after years of tweaking existing hardware.”

And while the product innovation at ProMat was off the charts, what I found most engaging was the sheer, palpable energy you could sense from the attendees crowding the aisles and surrounding the booth demonstrations. You could say that one could almost feel the desire to innovate—and, to top it off, there’s even data to support this phenomenon.

“There’s little doubt that the numbers we’ve recently gathered directly relate to why crowds at some booths were five and six people deep,” says senior editor Josh Bond who shares our annual look at the Top 20 Systems Suppliers (page 26). “For the second-consecutive year, our supplier list shows nearly universal revenue growth in 2016 among the top players, including some with double-digit gains.”

In fact, the list’s combined revenues increased 3.4% since 2015 and grew nearly 10% since 2014. “And look for that number to only grow as e-commerce continues to head for the sky,” adds Bond. “Simply put: It’s innovate or perish.”

Norm Saenz, managing director at St. Onge and a key source in Bond’s reporting, takes it one step further. He believes that the pure, natural desire to stay relevant is not only pushing investment, but is forcing operations to fundamentally transform.

“When e-commerce goes up 40% to 50%, Modern readers are wondering how to reinvent a facility to handle those changes,” says Saenz. “It’s so drastic that some of our clients are ripping out entire buildings and starting over. They’re trying to make a difference by investing money in the right places, and we’ll continue to see this reflected in the performance of the Top 20.”

About the Author

Michael Levans, Group Editorial Director
Michael Levans is Group Editorial Director of Peerless Media’s Supply Chain Group of publications and websites including Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management Review, Modern Materials Handling, and Material Handling Product News. He’s a 23-year publishing veteran who started out at the Pittsburgh Press as a business reporter and has spent the last 17 years in the business-to-business press. He’s been covering the logistics and supply chain markets for the past seven years. You can reach him at [email protected]

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