Material handling high

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by Emily Atkins

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Moving ProMat to March was supposed to alleviate Chicago winter weather woes, but without success. A freak blizzard grounded planes and snarled traffic as thousands tried to reach McCormick Place in the city’s south end.

In spite of the elements the 340,000 square-foot show floor was busy at the four-day materials handling extravaganza, and the attendees weren’t just tire-kickers. At several of the 802 booths exhibitors told us “it’s an order-taking show”; a refrain that has not been heard with such regularity at ProMat for years.

Among the 37,091 attendees on the show floor, we chatted with Wecon Systems president Will Egerton and spotted Greg James from 3D Storage Solutions, from afar. (Sorry we missed you, Greg.) Show producer MHI said attendance was 8.8 percent up over 2013.

We also spoke with a number of Canadian exhbitors.

Richard Kat of Engineered Lifting Systems
Richard Kat of Engineered Lifting Systems

Engineered Lifting Systems
Things are looking particularly rosy for Elmira, Ontario-based Engineered Lifting Systems & Equipment Inc (ELS). Richard Kat, VP Sales & Marketing, took a moment out of demonstrating the 2015 MHI Innovation Award-nominated Restuff-IT loader to share some of the company’s recent successes.

With units operating around the world in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Canada and the US, there are few frontiers left to conquer. That number got smaller with the sale of its first loader in Europe, to Michelin in France. It will be up and running by the fall.

ELS has also opened a second production facility and has been hiring new staff.

SailRail Automated Systems

Markham, Ontario’s SailRail Automated Systems was also at the show with its line of ergonomic material handling equipment. President Ian Scarth demonstrated the ErgoKart, which positions and lifts heavy materials. It’s being implemented in every Ford plant in North America. SailRail has been a Ford top ranked supplier for 12 years.

Over at the UniCarriers booth (where we first heard that this is an order-taking show), the mood was buoyant as the company celebrated its first time back at ProMat in about 20 years.

We sat down with four vice-presidents of the newly re-branded company created through the merger of TCM and Nissan Forklift Co to talk about the company’s expansion plans in Canada.

Four dealers have been named: All-Lift in the GTA, AMB Lift Inc in Ottawa, Deval in Montreal and Equipments EMU in Quebec City. The company is also hiring a national sales manager to operate out of the GTA to serve national accounts.

Schaefer System International Ltd
At the Schaefer booth we met with the new Canadian executive sales manager for the Automated Systems Division, Christophe Buchmann. A recent arrival, he is quickly getting up to speed on the Canadian marketplace.

We also had a booth tour with Bob Trojnar, Sales Manager, Material Handling Division Canada.

SSI was showing the automated LOGIMAT vertical lift module (VLM). This goods-to-person concept is simple: Incoming goods are put into the high-density, automated-storage VLM. As orders for parts, or for shipping are required to be filled, the items are automatically retrieved from the storage system and brought to the picker at an ergonomic receipt station, where items are then picked from partitioned trays.

Since the picker does not have to walk, the focus at the pick station is on ergonomics and high productivity. SSI claims LOGIMAT is the most advanced and versatile VLM available, providing a six- to ten-fold increase in order picking speeds, reduced picking errors, and a compact footprint

PSI's John Panunto
PSI’s John Panunto

PSI Engineering
PSI Engineering was showing its LC IN-Feeder 3000. Known for having the longest belt life in the industry, the LC IN-Feeder is low maintenance. Unlike other feeders in the market, the LC IN-Feeder has two stage separations, offering more consistent feeding of one item with large capacity loads. The LC IN-Feeder also includes Front Section Buffer, which prepares products for next cycle feed to aid in better separation of products and marketing material, a requirement during order fulfilment.

“The LC IN-Feeder is designed for quick changeovers for different media stock of various sizes which eliminates time wastage, human error and ultimately reduces labour costs,” said John Panunto, president, PSI Engineering.

HighJump Software
Addressing the growing trend for retailers to pick e-commerce orders from their retail shelves, HighJump Software has developed Retail Advantage to help retailers and grocers optimize fulfillment processes to meet the demands of omni-channel customers.

High Jump’s Chuck Fuerst explained this is the system Loblaws is using for its new Click and Collect program that allows shoppers to order online and pick up at the retail outlet.

It’s meant to be flexible and responsive to changing demands as well as offering real time visibility into stock levels.

Plug Power
Plug Power Inc, which provides the GenKey hydrogen fuel cell solution for DC vehicles, is another growth story out of ProMat this year. CEO Andy Marsh sat down with us for a few minutes to talk about the company and its direction. On the heels of tripled revenues and over 100 million hours of work performed by its hydrogen powered forktrucks in the past five to six years, Marsh said the company realized they needed to address the infrastructure needs
of clients.

As with many supply chain innovations in the past 10 years, this one was spurred on by Walmart, which was looking for an end-to-end solution for the delivery of hydrogen fuelling for its legion of DC forktrucks.

Plug Power now supplies the whole fuelling infrastructure (GenFuel), delivering the exterior storage station on skids for installation on a platform and piping the connection to the DC. In 2014, GenFuel’s first year, it delivered 10 stations, and can now turn them around in 12 weeks.

Next up, Marsh says, is research into making hydrogen more available and cost effective. The company is operating a two-year strategic plan to address this challenge.

Trelleborg Wheel Systems announced the launch of its new Pit Stop Line tires at the show. The Pit Stop Line answers a critical question—how to know, with 100 percent certainty, when a forklift tire is worn out and needs replacing.

“Solid tires are often replaced with up to 25 percent of their tread remaining simply because people are unaware that tread depth has nothing to do with tire life,” said Ydo Doornbos, managing director of Trelleborg for the Americas. “Not only does this misconception cause a great amount of wastage, but it also costs companies thousands of dollars every year through unnecessary tire replacement and machine downtime.”

Pit Stop Line tires have a highly visible orange line embedded into the tire. This indictor is designed to reveal itself across the surface of the tire when it reaches the point where it should be replaced, thereby ensuring that tires are not replaced too early or too late.

The Pit Stop Line appears 100 hours or five to 15 working days before the tire needs replacing,

Frazier Industrial
Frazier Industrial introduced showgoers to a mock-up of their Pallet Mole system.

The Pallet Mole system utilizes the latest technology in high-density storage to maximize available floor space, storing up to six high and 50 pallet positions deep, while measurably increasing warehouse productivity and SKU selectivity. It is also the only pallet shuttle device to earn the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) Certification for conforming to all North American Standards for electric, safety and design requirements.

The Pallet Mole runs underneath the pallet loads on rails, delivering and extracting pallets within a deep lane storage racking system.  Working in either FIFO or LIFO applications, the Pallet Mole improves throughput by indexing loads directly to the first position at the aisle face. Using a RF controller, the operator instructs the electro-mechanical platform to lift, lower or shuttle pallets to the desired position.

At its press conference Intelligrated was full of optimism and plans for expansion. In 2014 the company had 300 new hires, and by March 24th this year had already hired another 200. It’s expanding its Danville, Kentucky plant for production of the One-Level Shuttle (OLS) and is opening new locations in Texas and Minnesota.
Looking at trends that are influencing demand, president Chris Cole talked about e-commerce and home delivery and the increase in detailed order picking. He said the challenge is matching up qualified labour with jobs that people are willing to do.

Automation is the answer he said. “The worst jobs are going to get automated.”

To that end, Intelligrated was showing its OLS and Warehouse Execution System (WES) at the show. The WES is described as the “operational brain, adjusting workflow through constant analysis to provide the accuracy and speed required for e-commerce and omnichannel fulfillment.”

Student design competition
The College Industry Council on Material Handling Education (CICMHE) and the Order Fulfillment Solutions Council (OFS) recognized the winners of the 2013-2014 Material Handling Student Design Competition at the show.

The 2013-2014 case was developed by Reddwerks, Corp. and focused on the picking processes at ABC, Inc, a major retail chain with over 200 brick-and- mortar stores. In the challenge, ABC is forced to reconsider its current structure with two distribution centres (East Coast and West Coast) due to recent changes in order patterns. Considering new demands such as online orders, and Type I, II, & III small stores, the teams were challenged to create the best possible solution for ABC’s picking and distribution needs. The information contained in this case study has been developed to provide a real world situation.

A mixture of academic and industry judges evaluated the entries according to the criteria of improved efficiencies, no location changes to current DCs, and improved return on investment, as well as the overall quality of the report.

First prize went to Alex Bones, William Bryan, Ciarra Loli and Annelise Weinmann of Montana State University with advisor Duward K. Sobek II. Second place was awarded to Nathan Biviano, Erika Bliss, Christopher Fenn and Samantha Reinhart of the Rochester Institute of Technology, with Tony DiVasta, advisor. The third place team was Aditya Kasukhela, Benjamin Howisen, Justin Holsworth and Ting Xiao of the University of Texas at Arlington with K. Jamie Rogers, advisor.
ProMat 2017 will be held at McCormick Place from April 3-6, 2017.