Learning about innovation

by Kara Kuryllowicz
ProMat show floor

Between April 3rd and 6th manufacturing and supply chain professionals will have the opportunity to learn through keynote presentations and the 100-plus educational sessions that complement the thousands of distribution and supply chain equipment and systems solutions offered by ProMat’s 850 exhibitors at Chicago’s McCormick Centre.

“The topics of ProMat’s keynote and show floor sessions reflect the fact that firms of all sizes are adopting data analytics, automation and IT solutions to create digital supply chains that are more transparent and sustainable. They also offer greater agility and visibility than the more traditional models,” says Carol Miller, vice president, marketing and communications at MHI, the material handling association.

Andrew Winton

The first of the four keynotes kicks off Monday, April 3 with Andrew Winton, sustainability expert and author of Green to Gold, leading a panel of manufacturing and supply chain sustainability experts in a discussion on building supply chain sustainability for a competitive advantage.

Markus Lorenz

On April 4 Markus Lorenz, partner and managing director of The Boston Consulting Group, focuses on Industry 4.0 and how intelligent machines are transforming supply chains.

George Prest

A preview of the MHI 2017 Annual Report is presented on April 5 by George Prest, MHI’s CEO, and Scott Sopher, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Later that afternoon, legendary basketball Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medalist Earvin “Magic” Johnson, whose firm is now worth $1 billion, dives into how products and solutions must be relevant to where customers are today and where they are going to be tomorrow.

Scott Sopher

Attendees seeking more specific, targeted sessions can search the “On-Floor” seminars by day, time, sponsor, learning level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), by track (transportation, distribution and warehousing; manufacturing, planning and sourcing; data capture, analytics and information management; automation and robotics; sustainability and risk management; workforce and labour), industry focus (retail and omnichannel, automotive and industrial, food and beverage, consumer products goods) and product category.

Recognizing innovation
Looking to the future, ProMat’s Innovation Award program, now in its fifth year with three categories, Best New Innovation, Best Innovation of an Existing Product and Best IT Innovation, reflects the ever-expanding role that data analytics, automation and IT solutions continue to play in this industry. MHI and ProMat initially launched the Innovation Awards to put the focus on new products, which MHI surveys indicate are the number-one reason attendees come to ProMat.

This year’s 12 finalists will be selected from over 130 submissions—up from the record-setting 98 submissions in 2016—by a six-judge panel selected from end-user attendees who check the products/systems against a weighted point list. At ProMat, the second three- to five-judge panel visits each of the finalists’ booths for 10-minute presentations that include demos and Q&As.

“Our judges are actively involved in the industry, because they’re tasked with identifying the most practicable, applicable and affordable products and systems that could revolutionize how they do things in their facilities tomorrow,” says Greg Baer, MHI’s director of sales, who also manages the Innovation Award program.

“The winning innovations don’t have to be complex or high-tech—they just have to meet the challenge more effectively than any other product ever has.”

For example, the 2014 winner in Best Innovation of an Existing Product category, a pallet protector mounted on a forklift, was innovative precisely because no other firm had ever created this simple, basic solution for which there was a genuine, industry-wide need.

“The Innovation Award program really helps companies be aware of the newest technology and products in a constantly changing market. By looking into the future, these firms are all distinguishing themselves and creating a market niche,” says Kimberley Absil, a business process manager, supply chain atrategy, analytics & integration with Walgreens, who was an Innovation Award Judge in 2015.

“In today’s world, where accuracy and speed are key, the move to automated from manual processes makes better use of human resources and the real-time data that is now available at our fingertips has improved accuracy, productivity and also provides a fast ROI.”

MM&D asked the companies behind some of the Pro-Mat Innovation Award’s submissions about their innovations and what inspired them. Evidently, creative companies and their teams must really listen to their customers and understand their industry’s challenges while being aware of the latest trends to develop an effective innovation.

Rack Safety


For example, A-Safe, Inc’s RackEye, a 24/7 monitoring and safety system, tracks vibrations in the racking and sends alerts to users’ smartphones via the RackEye app when preset thresholds are exceeded. That information can be used to take preventive action before a racking failure that could put operators, equipment and product at risk.

RackEye tells users exactly where and when the damage was incurred, which can help determine whether operator training, traffic flow or other adjustments are required. Over time, the data may also reveal patterns that allow companies to make further modifications, for example, reducing rack inspection frequency based on the number of alerts or increasing them seasonally.

“Our UK engineering team recognized that, like the rest of the world, warehouse and distribution centre managers want to be able to manage everything from their pockets,” says Claire Porter, president, A-Safe, Inc.

Odd-shapes sorter
Intelligrated’s IntelliSort HDS sorter was designed to give e-commerce retailers a competitive advantage by using a sliding shoe sorter to quickly and precisely push a wide range of irregular packages to the correct shipping container, whether they’re in polybags, jiffy packs or regular boxes. The more traditional sorting systems, which may rely on friction to divert the packages, have a higher risk of being less accurate with the increasingly common polybags.

“The IntelliSort HDS can handle polybags as rapidly and accurately as the once common cardboard boxes with their rigid, defined shape and edges,” says Tim Kraus, product management manager, Intelligrated.

“We came up with a new way to use industry-proven technologies, components and methods to ensure our customers and our entire industry met consumers’ delivery expectations while minimizing costs and the equipment’s footprint.”

Verified labels

Fox IV V5440 labeling system

Meanwhile, FOX IV Technologies’s V5440 labeling system integrates verification technology directly into the Fox IV label and print apply system to verify barcodes while the label is printing. Because every label is verified before it is applied to the product, everyone in the supply chain will be able to read the bar code on the label, which reduces possible charge-backs for unreadable codes or untraceable products.

“Innovation comes when you look hard at what you know best,” says Richard Fox Jr president of FOX IV, who notes the V5440 runs at the standard eight inches per second. “Consider your customers and their major concerns, then use your firm’s technical and industry specific experience and skill sets to identify and develop a viable solution.”

Celebrating innovation
Year to year, ProMat’s Innovation Award program has helped put exhibitors’ best new and improved products in front of attendees while celebrating and recognizing the impact that innovation can have on distribution and supply chain businesses.

“Thanks to the Innovation Award program, many ProMat attendees now walk the show specifically to see the Innovation Award submissions and finalists,” says Baer.