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  First Thoughts

    Dan Gilmore


    Supply Chain Digest

June 17, 2022

Trip Report: Gartner Supply Chain Symposium 2022 Part 2

Best Breakout Session was Dwight Klappich of Gartner on Robots in Distribution

I am now two weeks back from the Gartner Supply Chain Symposium 2022 at the Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, an event that continues to grow.

Last week, I offered some overall thoughts on the conference, and then summarized the opening keynote presentation on Monday that pushed the concept of “supply chain offset” strategies, which I understood to mean taking unconventional approaches to harness the power of ever accelerating change, rather than being whipsawed by the environment.

It was very well delivered, but in my view wasn’t all that different from the existing innovation focus in many companies, and lacked the “bigness” of the Gartner main message in most years. (See Trip Report: Gartner Supply Chain Symposium 2022.”

Gilmore Says....

Klappich introduced us to the somewhat gangly term “intra-logistics smart robots,” which Gartner now us to group robots that operate within the four walls of a distribution center or factory.

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Only the first of the three keynotes (one each day) was by Gartner or had to do with supply chain. Day two featured Erica Dhawan, consultant and author, who offered some advice about connecting and collaborating post-COVID and with still – depending on who employs you – lots of work-from-home employees.

It was OK, with some interesting nuggets here and there. She gave some supposedly real examples of terse email messages between managers and employee that led to misunderstandings. The point: you need to take time be clear what you mean. On a regular global conference call at another company, two managers in other countries rarely contributed. The manager thought they were not engaged, or were just timid personalities.

Turns out that with participants from the US, UK and Australia, the two quiet managers were having trouble managing the three different English accents – which for them was a second language to start with. The message – you can learn all kinds of things if you just ask more questions.

The Wednesday keynote was by noted presidential historian and author Jon Meacham of Vanderbilt University. It was positioned as presenting how lessons from presidential decision-making in critical times can assist supply chain executive thinking today.

I am not sure that connection was really made, but Meacham is an excellent, learned and humorous speaker. If you ever get a chance to hear him, I recommend.

The Gartner show has an ever growing number of breakout sessions, a large number of which are sponsored sessions, in which for a princely sum vendors can present a point of view, in some cases a product, or a case study.

Nothing the matter with that. As I said last week, Gartner has found many ways to better monetize this event. As I’ve also said before, you just have to look closely and know whether a session is vendor sponsored or not before you commit.

Likely due to the overall increase in breakouts, for I believe for the first time at a physical conference at least Gartner cut the regular breakouts down to just 30 minutes (vs 45 in the past) and just 20 minutes for the Magic Quadrant theater presentations, where the most recent (and in some cases new) MQs for areas like TMS, WMS, supply chain planning, etc., were overviewed.

There is some goodness in these shorter sessions for sure, but some felt rushed, and several of the Gartner speakers said they had to cut back some of their material to abide by the time constraint.

I attended several breakout sessions at the show, and two more back home on-demand, which is a nice feature.

My favorite of all was on robotics in distribution and manufacturing by my friend Dwight Klappich.

Klappich said his number 1 call topic from clients this past year has been robotics, especially in distribution center applications.

Klappich introduced us to the somewhat gangly term “intra-logistics smart robots,” which Gartner now us to group robots that operate within the four walls of a distribution center or factory, excluding autonomous trucks on highways and other types of external robots.

Not sure that term is going to catch on, but we’ll run with it for a while and see where it goes.

Interestingly, Klappich cited a recent Gartner survey that found that for about two-thirds of companies interested in robotics, the driver for doing so now is to combat labor shortages, not cost reduction, which is very different than just a few years ago.

Gartner has categorized these robots into seven types:

Augmented Manual Picking Robots: Not much discussed in the session, I believe this category is for machines such as robotic pallet jacks that follow case pickers around, so they don’t have to get on and off the trucks. The robots hen take the completed picked pallet off to stretch wrapping or staging.

Collaborative picking: The category probably gaining the most press, these are robots that come to piece pickers who just have to travel a little to add picks to the mobile robot, which then moves on to the next picker near a SKU for orders on the mobile bot, etc. until the orders are complete and the robots take them to packing.

Transport Robots: Machines that simply move goods from point A to point B. Think robotic automated guided vehicles (AGVs) for moving pallets, others to move cartons, etc. Robotic “tuggers” are also in this category.

Goods-to person-robots: Invented really by Kiva Systems, acquired by Amazon in 2012, these robots bring shelves of goods to stationary pickers, who select SKUs for cartons or totes at each of these stations that are on another structure that is then taken away by robot when all the orders on it are complete. New inventory shelves for picking keeps arriving at the stations.

Robotic piece picking robots: Generally some type of robotic arm that can grasp or use a vacuum device to select items and then generally drop them in cartons or totes. Advances in this category are happening very fast, Klappich says.

Engineered robotic systems: In general, grid like structures that allow very dense storage of inventory, with robots that grab totes and deliver them to picking stations just outside the grid structure.

Sortation robots: An alternative to traditional conveyor-based sortation, more specifically tilt tray sorters, these systems move across a structure, and after pickers put SKUs in the little robot’s tray, it delivers the pick to a shipping carton or tote, tilts to slide the product in, and moves on via the control system for another pick.

Quiz Monday morning on all this.

I think I will wrap it up here. One more trip report from Garter next week on additional breakout sessions, including Intel’s excellent innovation lab and Gartner’s Greg Aimi on building a logistics technology strategy.

What do you think of the Gartner conference or our review? Let us know your thought at the feedback section below.

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