ProMat 2003: Solutions Looking for Challenges

The 60-session conference accompanying this year's trade show offers up-to-the-minute information about the management, or why of material handling -- as well as the what.

The value of attending a trade show like ProMat 2003, sponsored by Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA), is not restricted to learning about new products from 700 exhibitors. Education is an important part of the package. Over time, the education component of ProMat has evolved and grown to become a fast-paced learning opportunity.

The Executive Forum (free to all ProMat attendees) will start the ProMat 2003 Show and Conference with keynote addresses by industry experts, beginning at 9 a.m. February 10 in McCormick Place.

This Executive Forum is for those seeking to learn from the experiences of companies that have demonstrated their own brand of leadership. It's an opportunity to learn and explore the role material handling logistics is playing in high-performance companies.

Here's an opportunity to listen to what leadership in material handling logistics means. There will be ample opportunity to question the keynoters on the decisions their companies made and the results they achieved. Topics range from material flow control and throughput of high-speed lines, to process cycle time reduction, inventory control, and the goals of achieving 6 Sigma customer service.

The Executive Forum and the keynote presentations are designed to help you learn how manufacturing, warehousing, distribution and logistics systems operate at peak performance. MHIA has partnered with ARC Advisory Group to create the Executive Forum. MHIA selected ARC because of its demonstrated leadership in providing strategic planning and technology assessment services to companies of all sizes.

Adrian Gonzalez, principal logistics analyst, ARC Advisory Group, will examine industry and technology trends that are reshaping the views of what is possible. Highly synchronized logistics systems are embedded throughout the supply chain and are inextricably linked, beginning with manufacturing and not ending until products reach their final point of use.

"The general theme of my presentation," says Gonzalez, "centers on the new and important role logistics plays in today's economic environment."

He adds that when you look at many of today's business models -- just-in-time, lean manufacturing, etc. -- all rely on dependable logistics and material handling because of the importance of reduced cycle times.

"One of the key factors [for success] is achieving excellence in logistics," he says. "I have some basic building blocks, including an 'operational excellence' model we've [ARC Advisory Group] developed that shows how to define and measure the things that lead to excellence."

And how do you drive excellence in logistics? Gonzalez says that inputs to any operational model must include external things like your customer's perspective of what it considers operational excellence, as well as internal functions such as benchmarking against your peers as well as other industries.

Gonzalez describes his presentation as a "high-level set-up for the speakers who follow with specific examples." The other keynoters are Lyman Tschanz, general manager, automotive division, Modine Manufacturing Company, a Tier 1 supplier to the automotive industry; Hal Wilson, senior vice president, distribution and transportation, Big Lots Inc., formerly known as Consolidated Stores; and Tom Lyden, vice president, manufacturing, Gillette Company.

In 2001, Modine opened a new assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio. Tschanz says this plant relies on integrated systems and foolproof, simple automation to assemble and deliver engine-cooling modules in exact-build sequence to the customer. The company is recognized as a benchmark for quality and performance for line-sequenced assembly.

To deliver what it promises customers and shareholders, Big Lots has created its distribution center of the future where nothing is standard and the requirement for flexibility paramount. Wilson will explain how his company serves its 1,300-store network.

Lyden will use the launch of Gillette's revolutionary Mach 3 razor system to tell his company's story. You will learn how a modern manufacturing operation, employing integrated in-plant logistics, keeps the plant running at peak performance levels.

Show-floor seminars

In addition to the Executive Forum, more than two dozen free seminars will be offered, conveniently located on the show floor. The range of subjects for these 30-minute seminars spans the gamut of material handling. Seating is limited for these seminars, and many will be repeated throughout the duration of the show. Here is a sampling of seminar offerings:

• The best way to avoid stepping into a trap is to know where those traps are. Art Johnson of Tompkins Associates says often aspects of supply chain integration are looked at by high-level managers, yet how to make sure system integration actually takes place is overlooked at lower levels. "Most people at the ERP level, or distribution center level, understand what's going on," says Johnson. "The problem lies in that everyone has his own perspective -- and those perspectives are not integrated."

About his session, "Common Pitfalls in Supply Chain Systems Integration," Johnson says, "It's how to keep an open mind from the beginning of a project. No one knows it all, and you can't learn with a closed mind."

He adds that it's important to realize in supply chain integration, just as in life, "We aren't going to make a change until we realize we need to make a change."

• If you're interested in more information on effective operational efficiency, Christopher Arnold from Intelligrated Inc. will be leading a discussion on the key components required and the operational technologies of distribution centers. "The presentation demonstrates what to measure in order to effectively monitor and improve performance," says Arnold. Also, he will discuss how using control measures translates into operating cost reductions and increased shareholder value.

• Sponsored by the Reusable Plastic Container and Pallet Association, a product section of MHIA, a session on how to streamline supply chain with RFID will focus on operational issues of returnable systems. John Greaves from CHEP International will discuss the issue of returnables from the global and macro supply chain perspectives.

• If you're interested in the costs associated with outsourcing lift truck management, two speakers from Yale Materials Handling, Terry Flanagan and Krista Rose, will help you identify major cost-reduction possibilities. The session will review costs associated with acquisition, use, service and administration of lift truck fleets.

• Automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) are not new to the material handling world. Many of the technologies, however, now employed by AGVs are new. Brian Keiger of Transbotics Corporation will discuss the benefits of those technologies. "There are more options for AGVs than just forward and backward," says Keiger. "Things like quad-steer and laser guidance can make a difference in many applications." He will also discuss battery charging and other aspects of AGV applications.

• "Achieving effective and efficient intra-facility warehousing and distribution operations requires a seamless integration between information technology tools and the automation used to facilitate material movement," says Ben Miller, engineering manager of Lockheed Martin's distribution technologies. When an organization contemplates information technology and material handling projects, he explains, the planning and execution elements necessary to realize successful system integration need to be determined.

Miller will describe a how-to approach for creating a seamless integration between material handling and supply chain execution systems technologies when he speaks on "The Importance of Seamless Integration Between Material Handling and Supply Execution Systems Technology."

"Project managers as well as the program's champion need to understand the costs, risks and potential impacts on existing business processes," says Miller. "The combination of automation and material handling equipment, along with the right supply chain software, will allow a company to realize necessary distribution capacity, unparalleled customer satisfaction and, ultimately, increased sales."

Finding the right combination of experience and skills to design and implement the full use of an integrated supply chain can be a challenge. The presentation will step you through the major elements associated with implementation of a seamlessly integrated, highly successful supply chain.

• Ergonomics is a major aspect of material handling. Two important sessions dealing with the subject of ergonomics will be presented by Jim Galante, Southworth Corporation. If a picture's worth a thousand words, you'll walk away from this session with container load.

"I've made this presentation to groups like the National Safety Council," says Galante, "and because it's fast-paced and loaded with examples, it's always well received."

What Galante does is use real material handling problems and show how the problems are resolved.

"Many people don't know the right questions to ask when it comes to ergonomic equipment" says Galante, who also serves as the director of communications for the Ergonomic Assist Systems and Equipment product section of MHIA. "By showing real-world examples, they can go back onto the show floor and find the kind of equipment they've seen in operation in this presentation."

He adds that there have been tremendous advances in technology, however, lower back problems continue as the primary source of lost time. Galante's session on "Outcome Oriented Guidelines for Ergonomic Assist Systems and Equipment," will look at applications of equipment specifically designed with ergonomics in mind.

The other session led by Galante will be more focused and cover the selection and safe use of industrial scissors lifts and tilters.

How To Have a Productive Trade Show

Going to ProMat for the first time? Statistics indicate about half of you will be first-timers at ProMat 2003. There's a lot to see and do at a trade show. The menu (except in the food court) can be overwhelming. Here's some advice on how to have a productive visit to North America's major material handling event.

Look for details: Don't be shy. The folks in the exhibitors' booths are there to help you. Their purpose is to explain how their gadget differs from the company in the next booth. While all companies have the same goal in mind (to get your business), they must do it with something different. Be specific. Offer details related to your current project needs. Don't be afraid to take notes. Ask exhibitor A how his product does a specific task. Then ask exhibitor B the same question. Don't be afraid to challenge one exhibitor with information from another. It's your money.

Look for patterns: When I say patterns, I guess I'm referring to sameness. If three exhibitors are emphasizing the same detail or function, it's a pattern. (Not to be confused with a trend. See later.) And if several folks are doing the same thing, there may be a good reason. Your challenge is to determine if their reason is good for you and your company. You're there to be educated.

Look for trends: Trends are hard to spot. I'm talking about overall changes within the industry. Things that move or happen with glacial speed. Usually, you don't know there is a trend until it's passed you by. Talk with your peers, or with editors of the various publications attending the show. It might be that someone else is better at putting the pieces of the puzzle together, thus revealing a picture you were too close to see. The challenge to spotting a trend is to filter it from marketing hype. Is there actual movement toward increasing buffer stock because of predicted shortages, or is some undefined xenophobia playing a role?

Wear comfortable shoes: Forget fashion. And get a good night's sleep. This is business.

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