BY CHRISTIAN DOW, MHI EXECUTIVE VP OF MEMBERSHIP AND INDUSTRY LEADERSHIP
As the rate of change in the logistics industry continues to grow exponentially, companies across the supply chain are increasingly partnering to find solutions that allow every aspect of the market to perform more effectively and efficiently. Industrywide collaboration is necessary, but ensuring a successful partnership can prove difficult, especially if the partners fail to adequately identify the problems and solutions and communicate openly when the market changes or problems arise.
The need for more partnerships is clear. “The market is moving so much faster than it was a decade ago,” said Andy Lockhart, director of strategic engagement and warehouse solutions for MHI member Vanderlande’s North America operations. “We are seeing huge strides in robotics in recent years. As [artificial intelligence]continues to get better and better, integrators are going to have to partner with specialist companies. You can’t do all aspects yourself, and that’s why partnerships are becoming even more imperative.”
Moreover, the advancement of computing power and vision systems have fueled innovation in robotics, while at the same time “reduced participation in the labor market has created an urgency to automate,” added Les Makant, product sales manager in the smart automation solutions division of MHI member Fives Intralogistics Corp. New partnerships are also spurred by new practitioner specifications, largely related to safety and energy efficiency.
Communication is essential
Communication is the most critical factor to a successful partnership—during the initial process of identifying solutions, before entering a transaction, as the product is developed and beyond, the industry leaders said.
As a seller of MHI member Murrelektronik automation solutions, Allana Calamari, the company’s territory development manager in Georgia, said the main goal is to listen to the customer. “You need to know their pain points,” she said. “If you don’t fully understand [a customer’s]problems, you can’t come up with the appropriate solutions. The goal is to provide a solution—a product—that allows the customer to improve their efficiency. It’s a win-win for all of us if we can successfully do that.”
It is imperative to truly understand a client’s problem to create a successful solution. “Sometimes the thing they think they need isn’t really what they do need,” said John Hill, director at MHI member St. Onge Company, a supply chain strategy and logistics consulting firm. As a consultant working with endusers, “You have to get at the heart of the problem to successfully meet the client’s needs.”
Understand and analyze market trends
Integrators and suppliers are always willing to develop, manufacture and distribute new products that help enhance their customers’ operations if they understand the need and see an industrywide trend.
“You need to reach out to our existing customers often to get the pulse of the market,” Calamari said. “If you are listening—if you have a rapport with our clients—you can investigate their problem and come up with the solution,” she said.
If one client has a problem or wants to improve a product, other customers often have the same or similar issues. For integrators and suppliers, it is important to do your research to get a better sense of the issues. “Reaching out [to additional clients]allows you to bring more perspective to the problem, and that could lead to a bigger product that addresses multiple issues within the broader problem,” Calamari said. Ultimately, this can lead to the expansion of existing partnerships or forming new ones.
Analysis of market need allows a supplier to develop, patent and manufacture a prototype, Makant explained. The supplier can then “demonstrate [the prototype]for current and prospective clients who partner with us to develop customer-specific iterations. In this way, customers serve as virtual extensions of the research and development department,” Makant said.