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Please enjoy this republication of a Material Handling 24/7 Interview.
Title: Executive director, MHI Solutions Community; senior director of SCE Solutions, Tecsys
Location: Charlotte, N.C., and Montreal
Experience: More than 20 years in the supply chain software business.
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.
Reichert: This is a group of industry thought leaders representing suppliers and users of automation, software, hardware, equipment and services. We come together to share challenges and insights in our industry to drive improved adoption of existing technologies and identify trends and needs for the future. The result for suppliers is valuable customer inputs to fuel future product planning. End users gain greater insight into available solutions, collaboration with suppliers and input into future needs without any sales activity. In fact, the rules of engagement for members explicitly prevents any sales activity or pressure.
Modern: How can end users get involved?
Reichert: If they visit mhi.org/solutions-community, they’ll find contact information for the group leaders as well as member listing, white papers and case studies.
Modern: When you think about Solutions Community members, as well as your customers at Tecsys, what do you think are the challenges they’re dealing with? And, are they new?
Reichert: Solution Community members share the same challenges as Tecsys customers—my day job. Those are labor shortages coupled with customer pressures to deliver products accurately, where, when, and how I want them delivered. With rapid SKU proliferation and order specific personalizations and the expansion of postponement operations, the distribution industry continues to look for innovative ways to meet customer demands. These challenges are not new. What’s different is that they are evolving faster and companies that don’t keep pace become irrelevant or go out of business.
Modern: Describe the impact of technology on today’s materials handling systems. What’s changing?
Reichert: A number of technology trends are currently at play. Materials handling systems are becoming more flexible and adaptable to changing business needs—especially with increases in sensor and robotic technologies. Traditional automation is becoming more sophisticated with intelligence to automatically adapt to dynamic workload changes in priorities/sequencing, work groupings to optimize operations, and user interfaces drive up user accuracy and efficiency.
Behind the scenes are IoT and cyber security advancements that provide pro-active actions in areas of system maintenance and enhanced security as examples. Machine learning and AI are also advancing in the space.
Modern: What’s driving the change?
Reichert: Core technologies in advanced sensors and software capabilities are foundational to these changes—and provide capabilities allowing higher level automation solutions to be developed at an increasingly rapid pace. Couple in human creativity and business challenges and real innovation happens.
Modern: Has software become the competitive differentiator?
Reichert: Absolutely. Historically, materials handling systems focused on creating new and better physical equipment. Today, software has become the major differentiator—not only for suppliers but for end users as well. This means inter-system coordination is growing, from low level controls through WCS layers to WMS and above. Critically important for end users is the overall optimized solution: They want suppliers to collaborate instead of competing to see who can get the largest piece of the pie.