MODEX 2014: The Big Inspired by the Small

March 18, 2014
The St. Patrick’s Day opening of the Modex Supply Chain and Technology Show generated a lot of buzz—without the aid of anything from a bottle.

Walking the floor of a supply chain technology show can be daunting for a small business owner. The displays at such a show can often send a veiled message to such attendees: “Not for You.” That was “Not the Case” at MODEX 2014, the supply chain and transportation show that opened Monday at Atlanta’s Georgia World Congress Center. In fact many of the solutions discussed there were developed for small companies.

Daifuku Webb was one of those large companies that learned to scale its solutions to fit the needs of emerging businesses. Sarah Carlson, marketing director for the company, told me it was their acquisition of Wynright that helped change their image from manufacturing centric to logistics and distribution—making supply chain its new focus.

“This used to be the smallest piece of our business, now it’s the biggest,” Carlson said.

Many companies on the MODEX floor repeated that allegiance to helping customers large and small gain visibility and control of supply chain functions. Some deliver that control through a worker’s own smart phone. Carlson said one of the interns working with them through the company’s outreach to universities developed an app on the droid platform to let customers take control of their AGVs via a mobile phone instead of a pendant.

At the Lenze booth, company president Chuck Edwards showed how someone with a smart phone could set up one of its smart motors to suit a variety of applications. This means not having to stock different sets of gearbox configurations, thus making end users more self-sufficient.

At the Apptricity booth, Keith Nordin, v.p. of sales demonstrated the concept of “B to ME,” or business to Mobile Enterprise, combining mobile devices with the cloud. A mobile device’s GPS can now deliver real time visibility of inventory on the road.

These are solutions for the new generation of supply chain professionals—people often accused of having their heads in the cloud. And several vendors were presenting cloud-based solutions designed to resonate with them. Dematic’s Matt Inbody has cloud as part of his title: cloud and partner services manager. Dematic recently purchased a company called Sprocket, which specializes in offering maintenance management in the cloud. This is another example of a big company (Dematic) reaching out to smaller companies to help them manage technology. In this scenario, they don’t have to hire techs for those applications.

Another big company reaching out to small ones on the show floor was SSI Schaefer. Klaus-Dieter Wurm, v.p. and managing director of the material handling division, said his company, which many know for its $100million projects, is introducing this new generation of customers to its standard integrated solutions—core products like carton flow rack, totes and shelving, used in a system that can be powered by a standard 110 volt, 60 hz household outlet. Think of a plug and play train set. Think of a user-configurable pick-to-light station that doesn’t require a WMS.

And yet another big intralogistics vendor developing a small-company focus was Beumer, whose omni-channel shipping sorter, offering pre-set options to meet the needs of most e-commerce operations, can be implemented in three or four months.  Katie Sisco, Beumer’s marketing manager, said eBay Enterprise went from contract to go-live within 5 months for two systems, with zero downtime—which is about half the time of a normal/customized sorter project that averages about 10 months.

I’ll conclude with Creform, whose Keith Soderlund, v.p. of sales, put user configurability in the context of an automated guided vehicle system (AGVS) that he said can get up and running for $10,000. His company is reaching out to those who have been intimidated by AGVs. Companies like a mattress maker who stopped by to look into the idea of AGVs transporting mattresses on carts with platforms built of 42 mm diameter pipe. This would be a simple, dumb and inexpensive solution, using a magnetic tape path for guidance.

Don’t get the idea MODEX is retro or low tech. It’s just that in an industry filled with amazing, mind-bending technology, sometimes it’s the amazingly simple that grabs your imagination.

For more takeaways from MODEX see our report, 12 Booths that Rocked Modex 2014.

To follow MH&L's MODEX show coverage on Twitter, go follow #MODEXMHL.

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