What a week!

IndustrialSage made a daring move recently and stepped out of the studio! Where did we go? Well, MODEX 2018 was happening in our Atlanta backyard, so we literally took the show on the road!

MODEX, partnered with ProMat in Chicago, is hosted by MHI: America’s largest material handling, logistics, and supply chain association.

Both MODEX and ProMat are trade shows centered around the latest and greatest in industrial and logistics technologies. Businessmen and women came from over 110 countries to rub elbows and exhibit different products – from automated robotic carriers and IoT devices to software to entirely new shipping models.

There were over 900 exhibitors to choose from, and over 30,900 people to meet!

Even with two hosts for the show instead of one, we couldn’t meet with so much as a quarter of the exhibitors – let alone film a conversation with them. But we did our best to coordinate short interviews with as many people as we could! Our questions, though short and simple, garnered some really fascinating answers.

1. WHAT’S NEW IN THE WORLD OF SUPPLY CHAIN?

“Plenty,” probably isn’t the answer you want to hear, but it sure does apply!

Iot and automation were by far the staple topics on the showroom floor.

Bhaskar Chopra of Siemens Industry, Inc. showed us their company’s brand-new cloud-based platform, MindSphere, where companies could connect and monitor all of their smart devices in one system.

Kevin Reader of Knapp joined us to discuss the functionality and benefits of their latest shuttle designed for flexible warehousing and distribution use. The shuttle is especially valuable in evolving environments, because it can connect with workstations that are either manual, semi-automatic, or entirely robotic.

Robotics in general were exhibited as beneficial boosts to the industrial workforce. Jason Walker of Waypoint Robotics explained that many jobs like loading and unloading go through a very high turnover rate, whereas maintenance for automated carriers will increase the skills and value of the workers who monitor them.

“The way we approach the skills-gap is, rather than trying to bring those workers into someplace new, we want to meet them where they are, and give them the tools they need to be a more efficient, more valuable part of the company that they’re already a part of, and increase their value to their company. It’s really about empowering them.

…I want to take that person and say, ‘Yesterday you were a shipping and receiving clerk, and today you’re a roboticist.’ ”

Optimized conveyer belts and loading or unloading systems were also highly popular.

Bastian Solutions actually set up a to-scale, transparent semi truck trailer in order to exhibit their loading and unloading system that would connect vehicles straight to the assembly line.

And whereas that product would be ideal for factories and warehouses with its stationary machinery, Superior Handling Equipment was showcasing their first-of-its-kind, patented mobile dock lift: also a solution to heavy manual loading and unloading, but more suited for on-the-go environments like disaster relief efforts and military operations.

Additionally, we discovered virtual reality gaining momentum throughout the industry.

Hyster, who hosted not one but two of the largest booths at the show, were highlighting their immersive forklift training system that was actually produced by another exhibitor – Forklift Simulators Inc. Danny and Joseph both got to try on the simulation for size (we won’t say whether or not any digital warehouse workers were run over in the process).

Virtual reality environments were discussed as excellent sources of employee training: whether for forklift driving certifications, or for loading and unloading containers on a picking line (another exhibition by Knapp).

There were other incredible solutions out there – too many to count! From the Uber-esque, crowd-sourced shipping solutions started by Roadie, to the lightning-fast, “vending machine on steroids” picking system displayed by SI Systems.

2. HOW ARE PEOPLE MARKETING THESE SOLUTIONS?

Perhaps one of the most fascinating parts of MODEX, aside from the incredibly diverse products or business models on display, was also the wide variety of marketing methods in use. Trade shows were a very common technique, to no one’s surprise.

Videos, both online and at booths, were often cited as major assets.

From corporate identity and product videos to training tutorials, countless screens helped to showcase new ideas in action. Many exhibitors were able to showcase a wider range of demos using video than they might have otherwise been able to with just the environment of their booths.

For example, since bringing a live elephant to the show would have been understandably problematic, Superior Handling Equipment showcased footage of their mobile dock lift raising a bull elephant several feet in the air without any trouble at all.

In addition to video, many of our interviewees did mention traditional print methods, like magazines, as still effective – but they also brought up email newsletters and social media as techniques that were gaining traction.

One common factor amongst the biggest players on the floor? A CRM.

The companies with the largest booths or the fastest-growing businesses all cited an organized database of leads as no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-have.

John Hayes of Vecna Robotics insisted that digital assets like marketing automation and website analytics are crucial components to the success of their sales team.

“I knew this trade show was going to be a success. We knew it, because leading up to it, I could see people hitting our website. People downloading our white papers coming to this trade show, and that’s why we have so many people visiting our booth.”

At the end of the day, he said, it’s the job of the sales team not to go prospecting, but to close deals. Yes, they’re supposed to build relationships with potential clients…but the marketing team should help them do that and make the job far easier.

One of the ways that the CRM helps with that process is by ranking leads based on where they are in the sales funnel. Software like SharpSpring, which John’s team uses, or Hubspot (recommended by Craig Sinclair of Hänel Storage Solutions) help their users to see how their audience is reacting or responding to their messages, which provides invaluable feedback.

“If companies aren’t using marketing automation, you’re wasting your marketing dollars.”

It’s hard to argue with that (especially because we wholeheartedly agree with it). But whether we were talking with companies who were neck-deep in Hubspot or still doing little beyond print advertising, we did see one encouraging trend.

Over-all at MODEX, the most popular strategy of all…was simply adapting to change.

Industrial companies are starting to open up to new ideas, where as little as five or ten years ago they seemed to be set in their ways. Marketing and sales teams are seeing digital as more and more important to their outreach, just as product developers are starting to embrace IoT and automation.

Shows like this used to feel like exhibitions about the present…but MODEX 2018 truly felt like a glimpse into the supply chain of the future.

 

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