60 Seconds with… Kevin Reader, Executive director, MHI Solutions Community
Modern Materials Handling editors sat down with Kevin Reader, Executive director, MHI Solutions Community to talk about the Solutions Community and the technologies changing the Materials Handling Industry
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Location: Charlotte, N.C. and Kennesaw, Ga.
Experience: 35 years in warehouse and distribution automation
Duties: The MHI Solutions Community provides a venue where materials handling solution providers and users can work collaboratively
Modern: Tell us a little about the MHI Solutions Community.
Reader: The solutions community is a combination of three legacy groups that addressed order fulfillment, software and automated systems. The three groups were rolled into one customer-facing group. We focus on innovation, building business case studies, vendor and supplier partnerships, employee education and improving the general industry knowledge about emerging technologies and best practices.
Modern: How can end users get involved?
Reader: If they visit http://www.mhi.org/solutions-community, they’ll find contact information for the group leaders.
Modern: Describe the impact of technology on today’s materials handling systems. What’s changing?
Reader: No. 1 is the recognition that a well-run supply chain has an impact on a company’s performance, costs and profitability. In our space, we’re moving away from a view of warehouses and DCs as cost centers to a strategic advantage to the enterprise. That is a fundamental shift in the supply chain.
Modern: What’s driving the change?
Reader: One of the proof points is the rapidly emerging interest in the digital supply chain. Automation is certainly a part of that process, but really, it’s about getting visibility to actionable information in real time. You’re looking at applying fundamental new approaches to Big Data, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics. Our industry is changing from a focus on equipment to applying the tools and software that enable the digital supply chain.
Modern: What does that look like in the materials handling industry?
Reader: The move to digital supply chain maturity assumes you’re addressing issues of flexibility, scalability, simplicity and visibility. In the areas of warehousing and distribution, those are only practical if you’re addressing both the mechanization and software elements that are managing a facility. New automation allows you to go from delivering to manual workstations to semi-automated workstations to fully automated robotic pick stations. It’s scalable, flexible and simple. When it comes to software, we’re seeing solutions that connect real-time operations to the KPIs that are important to your operations and your financials. It uses AI to help an operator make decisions about things like staffing or when and where maintenance should be done. These systems are constantly learning.
Modern: Has software become the competitive differentiator?
Reader: I think it is. If it’s not in your DNA, you have a business challenge to deal with.
Modern: Are complementary technologies, like visions systems and robotics, impacting warehouse processes?
Reader: There are rapidly developing technologies in almost every area of the supply chain. Vision systems are enabling high-speed picking and validation, capturing lot and serial numbers and applying them in real time. From a robotics perspective, we all know what’s going on with unemployment and disappearing labor pools in areas where there are lots of warehouses. All of these pressures combined are forcing the adoption of new technologies to deal with that risk.
Modern: Last question: What is the role of innovation?
Reader: In our space, we’re seeing innovation at a startling level. End users and suppliers need to be more conscious of this to understand which innovation is important. That’s one of the reasons that the solutions community is so important.
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