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Modex Interview Series: SixAxis’ Perspective on Today’s Manufacturing Industry

CEO Rob Honeycutt discusses how manufacturers are keeping up with consumer trends

Manufacturing Inquiry

Modex Show Floor

Modex is more than an opportunity for the material handling industry to convene in Atlanta, GA, network with peers, and exhibit products and solutions. Heralded at “the Greatest Supply Chain Show on Earth,” Modex offers manufacturers and distributors access to cutting-edge innovations, allowing them to position themselves and their organizations to take full advantage of the next wave of technology to hit the industry.

Estimated at 25,000 attendees, Modex 2016 was a great event. We took the chance to speak with some of the exhibitors. Here’s what SixAxis President Rob Honeycutt told us about the future of automation in manufacturing and distribution.

As noted in a Supply Chain Digest write-up of this year’s show, one of the biggest takeaways from Modex was the idea that “the technical barriers to [automation] are simply falling away.” To get a sense of some of the other key themes discussed during the show and being addressed by the industry writ large, Cisco-Eagle sat down with SixAxis CEO and Co-President Rob Honeycutt.

The following is excerpted from our conversation:

Cisco-Eagle: What are some of the most important trends shaping manufacturing this year?

Rob Honeycutt: The biggest trend that’s facing manufacturers today is keeping up with the same model as the consumer market’s taking, which is responding to customers faster.  We call this mass customization.
Rob Honeycutt

All these manufacturers make things that are sold in a consultative nature by companies like Cisco-Eagle. The Cisco-Eagle rep goes into a warehouse or any kind of distribution center, almost like a doctor, and they look at all the symptoms, and they understand what’s going on, and then they prescribe the right solution.

So the value of Cisco-Eagle is the expertise and the level of experience they have, as well as the way that they can integrate all of these different manufacturer solutions together, ultimately to be a single point solution for a customer.

That used to take months to do, and, today, it takes two to three weeks to do.  With the solution we offer, we’ve shrunk that down to minutes.

Customer service starts in the factory or warehouse

CE: It does seem like there’s an increased focus on this customer experience. Customers want what they want when they want it, and if you don’t cater to that, you’ll lose them, especially with Amazon.

RH: So if you look at what the market says about the value of companies – how efficient they are at robotics or all the automation that goes on in the back of their factory, etc. – then you place a value on that company.

Then you look at another company that’s very good at attracting customers and has a hyper growth rate of sales activity and things on the front end; that company’s going to be worth a hundred times more than that factory is at being efficient.

So companies like Uber that are now worth $62 billion, right? You know why? Because they changed the buying experience for someone who wanted a cab ride, right? And so they took a boutique industry, turned it on its head, and now Uber rules the world and they’re worth more than most every factory under this roof combined.

So, they chose where the marketplace is.

In the past, companies focused on efficiency within the walls of their company. In other words, they looked at their workflows, their lean initiatives, and all the things that they did internally that helped to drive efficiency, and then they almost left the sales approach into the Wild, Wild West.

So what SixAxis has done is we’ve gone and said, “Hey, you can take the same principles of lean, and apply them to your sales approach in organization, and have unprecedented results.”
ErectAStep at Modex

CE: What are some of the ways that SixAxis drives productivity, efficiency, and workflow optimization with your product line?

RH: It all starts with the customer and what the customer wants.

If you make sure to listen to your customer, then you create a culture in your organization where that voice resonates all the way through sales, marketing, engineering, quality control, manufacturing, etc.

Our customers want their quotes in real time – they don’t want to wait on drawings, and so we got really good at delivering them quotes and drawings in minutes. And that’s a lot better than any of our competitors could do, so that’s really what drives the efficiency.

The risks of “tribal knowledge” and the looming skills gap

CE: How do you think the talent gap will affect manufacturing and distribution as the older generation of workers increasingly retires and new workers come into the workforce who aren’t necessarily eager to take on those roles?

RH: If you think about the perspective of the front end of the company – the sales, and the engineering that goes into designing the systems – that tribal knowledge is at risk with the Baby Boomers retiring and the Millennials taking over.

You’ve got to do something as a company if you want to be around 10 years from now – you’ve got to automate. You can use Parametric designing software, like SolidWorks or AutoCAD, or you can use Atlatl, which is what we do on the front end for our sales people, so that they’re not codependent on an aging engineering department.

We haven’t gotten rid of any of our engineers with our product. What we’ve actually been able to do is repurpose a lot of our engineering department into an R&D department, where they’re looking at new hills to conquer.

So it’s been a real value add for us to be able to have an R&D department that was paid for by virtue of the efficiencies that we got by using it.

Connectivity and the industrial operation

CE: What influence do you see the Internet of Things having on manufacturing this year, over both the near and the long term?

RH: Ultimately, I think that connectivity and some of that support structure is going to be critical. It’s not necessarily for today’s products and what we manufacture, but we see that as a good sign. In other words, if people were focused on that to the extent that they’re interested in how they can incorporate that into their product, then they’re probably a good company to look at some of the other efficiency tools that have crossed the chasm that are available today. They can bring value immediately.

So the early adopters that put in LED lights in their factory, for example, wanted to be ahead of the game. These are the same people who will be around 10 years from now, because they care about that.

Safety issues

CE: How are you guys prioritizing safety with your product line?

RH: Every company says that safety’s their number one priority. But we put our money where our mouth is. We live and breathe safety.

For example, in our flatbed loading, which was a very at-risk loading and unloading method inside our plan for open flatbeds full of shipments and steel, we made a significant investment to keep the loading dock safe and keep people from falling.

CE: What are some of the key takeaways from this year’s show?

RH: The feedback, at least from our booth, is that the industry’s growing. There’s basically a supply chain realignment going on.

Any time you get supply change disruption, you get capacity shifts and things of that nature. So you’re seeing this market change a lot because there’s a lot of UPS drivers and FedEx drivers delivering goods to doors that used to go in the backs of trunks in cars from down the street. So it’s definitely changing, and in doing so fast, and that’s why I think that you’re seeing a lot of activity at the show.

 Sincere thanks to Rob and the rest of the SixAxis team in contributing to the Cisco-Eagle blog. Stay tuned for additional Modex takeaways!

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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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