Supply Chain Now Episode 512

“Today’s level of competition requires that you be extremely and viciously efficient in your operations.”

– Mark Messina, COO of Geek+

Robotics have been applied to a wide range of business problems over the last few decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Now, robots are stepping in to help companies meet the elevated demand of eCommerce at a time when they can’t put more people in their existing facilities.

Mark Messina is the COO of Geek+ and Simon Houghton is their Senior Sales & Marketing Manager for the UK and Ireland. They design and sell robotics systems that are completely flexible and learn over time to improve current processes and operations. Not only are they providers of these efficiency-driving robots, they are consumers of their own product in their home production facility.

In this conversation, Mark and Simon tell Supply Chain Now Co-hosts Greg White and Scott Luton:

· How Geek+ ensures that efficiency is pervasive in their corporate culture and in every single employee

· How companies can manage and mitigate the ‘bullwhip effect’ that so many are feeling as consumer demand patterns change

· The powerful opportunities associated with cross-consumer data that reflects the entire value chain

Intro (00:05):

It’s time for supply chain. Now broadcasting live from the supply chain capital of the country. Atlanta, Georgia heard around the world. Supply chain. Now spotlights the best in all things. Supply chain, the people, the technologies, the best practices and the critical issues of the day. And now here are your hosts. Good afternoon.

Scott Luton (00:28):

Scott Luton, Greg white with you here on supply chain. Now welcome to today’s episode, Greg. Good afternoon. How are you doing? I’m doing great. I’m excited. I’m not giving this up. Don’t worry. I appreciate that everyone should be looking forward to this solving big problems in top secret until they tell us ways we’ve trained you. Well, Greg, I appreciate that. Hey, we’re going to be talking with two business leaders from a leading global technology company that specializes in smart logistics. Right? And get this, Greg. I love the tagline. They’re moving the world intelligently. I think we could all still from that right. Move a little bit more intelligently. We’re gonna be working hard to increase your supply chain leadership IQ. Um, Hey, quick programming note. If you enjoy today’s episode, be sure to find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from. So you don’t miss conversations just like this.

Scott Luton (01:18):

All right. With no further ado, let’s bring in our two featured guests. We’re excited to have Mark Mussina chief operating officer wood gate. Plus Mark. How you doing Scott? How are you? Glad to be back, Greg. Nice to have you back. Yeah. Welcome back. Thank you. The world has continued to change quite a bit since your last appearance with us last spring, but you know, on those two episodes early in the year, we got a lot of great feedback and looking forward to sharing your thought leadership with our audience again here today, and you brought a colleague with you, Simon Houghton, senior sales and marketing manager. Simon, how you doing? Hi Scott. Hi Greg. Hey, welcome. Welcome, indeed, Simon. Great to have you and looking forward to sharing your insights and observations with our audience as well. All right. So before we get to the hard stuff, right?

Scott Luton (02:05):

All the, all the complexities that you are solving out across the global economy and global business landscape, let’s get know you both live better. So Mark, we’re going to do a refresher with you, but before we do, since Simon’s a new guest here on the scene, let’s, let’s dive in his background first Simon, please share a little bit of your background with our audience.

Simon Houghton (02:24):

Hi Scott. Yes, I’ve been, uh, in the, in the supply chain materials handling sector for the last 25, 30 years in different roles from supplying a warehouse automation, sorry to running around DC. What for launch system integrators and racking manufacturers across the last 25, 30 years. So, uh, hopefully, uh, experiences, uh, useful for me now, I’ll say nice to meet you anyway. Just go you as well, Simon. And so what you’re saying as you’ve seen it all, and I love knows of what he speaks. That’s certainly not seen

Simon Houghton (03:00):

It all this year has been, uh, uh, for instance,

Scott Luton (03:02):

Good point, good point. Well, looking forward to diving into that a lot more of that here momentarily and Mark. Great to have you back again. Our listeners enjoyed you previous episodes with us. Let’s refresh our audience’s memory a bit. Tell us about yourself.

Mark Messina (03:15):

So, uh, I had uptake bus as a COO in North America and actually cover all of the Americas. I’ve been with the company since, uh, late last year, started up operations here in the States just before the pandemic hit. So it’s been a very interesting year. Um, as far as my background goes, I’ve got 20 years of operations management and engineering, Barth development, general operations, et cetera, and really have been involved in these types of robotics. Since about 2013. It’s a very exciting space that continues to expand and really interesting ways and is delivering really meaningful changes across the industry and to customers really noticing the differences in the way that they shop and, and in some ways live. So it’s going to be continued to be very interesting times

Scott Luton (04:04):

Agreed. And in so many of those new behaviors are here for the foreseeable, if not in a permanent future. So it’d be interesting to see in months ahead. All right. So Greg, we’re not gonna do the full lightning round with Mark and Simon, but we do have a couple of quick questions to pick their brain a bit. So let’s start with you, Mark. Let’s stay with you rather, we’ve all picked up new habits, new hobbies, you name it here in 2020, maybe sometimes out of, uh, for therapeutic purposes and, and others, but what’s one thing that you’ve done more in 2020 that you really enjoyed?

Mark Messina (04:35):

Well, there’s a few things. I mean, 2020 has been, uh, personally for me, a really frustrating you’re I’m looking forward to put in 2020 in the, in the rear view mirror as soon as possible. So for me, uh, you know, the gym getting back to the gym, as soon as it opened up again, uh, mountain biking, we’ve got some really nice scenic places to mountain bike here in Southern California and in pier fishing. So, you know, just being outdoors because normally, um, otherwise we’re, we’re not able to go shopping and this sort of thing. So you can’t really see the normal day to day interactions, but just exercise. It helps keep your mind healthy and reliefs. Um, I guess, stress and supplants that normal interactions we have with our coworkers. So

Scott Luton (05:18):

Well said Simon, same question to you. What’s one thing you’re doing more of here in 2020.

Simon Houghton (05:23):

Yeah. Similar to, to Mark or any, I think where I live, uh, in the UK is, uh, on the, on the edge of an area of outstanding natural beauty and, uh, called the Cotswolds and, uh, yeah, just hiking and trailing the area and finding some well, if they’re open some nice, uh, English pubs to, to have, uh, certainly over the summer was great just to sort of explore, walk around a lot. So yeah, just getting out in the fresh air and a bit of quality time with nature, I guess,

Scott Luton (05:51):

Love that. Love that love the pictures. Y’all both the are, are painting visually follow up question, Mark. We’re all looking for good, good, reliable information. These days points of view, you name it, what’s a good recent read or what what’s, uh, uh, a source of information you checked just about every day.

Mark Messina (06:07):

You know, I’m always following, um, tech crunch and looking at where startups are going. There’s a lot of nascent technologies that are very interesting. So, you know, we’ve talked about industry 4.0 for years, um, and you can follow these trends to see how they become legitimized by what happens in the stock market, right. Are these companies getting traction and who’s making acquisitions, who’s interested in the technology. So I follow a lot of the tech pages, especially around, you know, 5g starting to make its way into daily lives, beyond phone calls, right. And actually into IOT devices, um, endpoint devices, you know, we consider our products, um, an IOT product. It’s, it’s a, it’s an endpoint device that works from the cloud. So these technologies are what I really have been following. And then of course, you know, I’m a bit of a political junkie. And so I, I certainly follow everything this year. It’s been an extremely interesting year in many ways. So yeah.

Scott Luton (07:05):

Yes. It’s like that famous Netflix saga, they went seventh, a house of cards lately. Seems like, but Hey, um, I appreciate you sharing and same question for you some before we dive deeper into gate plus Simon, what’s a, what’s a good source of information you lean on.

Simon Houghton (07:22):

Yeah. I think following similar to Mark really, I mean, I certainly, uh, live and breathe robotics and the sector, you know, it’s sort of really interested to know what’s going on with, with the marketplace and so on. So regularly checking that, uh, and I suppose outside of that for the, certainly for the UK, we had Brexit and all this stuff going on and then COVID and news has been a constant source of that checking daily. What’s going on? I think probably by the end of this year, I’m getting a little bit fed up with looking at news. So sometimes I try and avoid it, but it’s outside that sports. I mean, certainly they grubbed be found in the UK in soccer, I guess, but yeah, that’s the main thing,

Scott Luton (08:03):

Love it. I got it. Got to be able to shut things down and step away and take that, take that breath of fresh air that both of y’all were speaking about earlier. All right. So before I pass the Baton to Greg and take a deeper dive into geek plus, and well, it does Mark, if you could, I think your last with this last may or June, you know, certainly in the spring, give us the biggest one or two big developments that have taken place since your last appearance at geek. Plus

Mark Messina (08:27):

Obviously, um, can’t turn a blind eye to what’s happening in the world. You know, the pandemic has caused this massive shift to e-commerce. You know, we started this operation in the States in the, you know, really January of 2020. And when the pandemic hit, you know, I, I literally came back from Asia on the 24th of January and the, and then really everything kind of hit the fan very shortly after that. So we had some concerns about what happen to the operations just globally and of course in the States as a, as a new, um, entry into the market here. But the pandemic has really just accelerated the business. You know, we have seen demand and we’ve had dialogue with customers has been extremely interesting custom, you know, our, our partners and customers. They want to see proposals very quickly and they’re really looking at how quick and they get the technology, you know, are they looking at brownfield? They’re looking at Greenfield. So, you know, I think the biggest advances for us are really our business has, has accelerated in ways we didn’t expect. And then of course, to support that we’ve set up a lot of channel partners. So we have some very meaningful channel partners now who we are, are developing, we’ve set up our agreements, we continue to do that. And we are now developing those partners so that they can be self-sustaining to manage our product.

Greg White (09:50):

Fantastic, Mark, appreciate that. All right. So Greg establish deeper. Yeah. So share with us a little bit more about what you do, obviously robotics, as you said, but how, how that’s positioned in the supply chain and who maybe some of your customers or not, what type of customers you have, whatever you can share with us about, about who, who uses the kind of technology.

Mark Messina (10:11):

So, so just a brief overview of geek plus, and some of our, what we’re known for. And then we’ll talk about what were some of the things that we’re working on. That’s, uh, uh, exciting, uh, you know, keep plus has been around since 2015, late 2014. Um, we’ve got, you know, we’re well known for a good diverse in robots. You can see one of the racks behind me, these robots are, you know, really sort of the bread and butter for the company. Um, we have always worked on a, on a sales model. So we sell the devices and the racks and everything and deploy them all, but more and more we’ve expanded our platform. So now we have sorting robots, we have four trucks, we have pallet movers, we have moving robots. So we cover everything from what we’re, well-known forward to serving econ and apparel space and pharma to covering smart factories are.

Mark Messina (11:02):

And as a matter of fact, our robots are built in our own owned and operated factory that uses our robots for all the entire factory logistics. And our software actually controls a variety of other peripherals within the factory. So we have six axis robots that do screwing operations and assembly operations. These are all controlled from our integrated platform. You know, these are some of the things that were maybe not so well known for. Um, as we mature as a company, we’re moving now from wifi based devices to devices that are 5g enabled. So we can leverage a direct connection to the cloud. We’re moving to, um, well well-known cloud platforms to build trust with our customers so that we’re on a platform that they know and trust that they’ve lived with for a long time, whether that’s, you know, an AWS cloud or an Azure cloud, so that we can give them high degree of confidence in their data security.

Mark Messina (11:56):

And at the same time, we offer the ability to optimize the operations of the systems with the learnings we get from matter to our system and the optimizations that we can develop. And then, and then propagate that out. So efficiencies are shared now, typically this is like a bit of a concern for our customers, right? So they, one of the things that we reiterate is every customer implementation is a fingerprint. And it’s kind of interesting because while the hardware same, you know, you may have server racks, workstations, pods, robots on the Florida site, every customer business operation, and the implementation of the software that runs their system is entirely different. So the fingerprint that runs that operation for customer a is entirely different than customer B. That fingerprint is always intact and respected, but the, the optimizations that we achieve through our machine learning and AI, we can propagate that out, which makes us a lot more valuable and, and makes the system a lot more value to the customer. And this is something that as we mature as a company becomes extremely,

Greg White (13:00):

There’s three things there that really stand out to me, Mark. And one is you are embracing sort of the new ERP, which is the cloud platform, right? Because that has become a religious thing, just like this ERP versus that ERP kind of thing. And, and embracing that is not something I’d really thought about, but that’s pretty visionary to position yourselves so that your customers, no matter where they consider home their cloud home, they can work with you. And additionally that you eat your own dog, food is really important. What better way? I mean, seriously, what better way to understand how your systems operate in a real world environment than to inflict the joys and pains of that real world environment on yourself. It really drives that home. I’m sure for your product management and, and, and development people.

Mark Messina (13:54):

Absolutely. You know, we have on that point, you know, in addition to our own owned and operated factory, which is this kind of a playground for engineers, and it really gives us the ability to develop parts of the system that we wouldn’t otherwise consider, if we didn’t have to deal with that reality. Right. And that means developing solutions, but also solving a lot of problems. We also have our own own operated, three PL distribution centers in Asia. So we see firsthand what it’s like to deal with with customers, you know, goods, intake, all, everything from entry, all the way to shipment. We’re dealing with that and having to deal with customers who are angry when it’s not working, just like our customer three pills in the States and other places we’d have to deal with. So it’s absolutely. Um, I think one of the key pieces to our success is, is we, we actually deal with this stuff on our own. We don’t just sell the product. We, we, we work with the product.

Greg White (14:48):

Wow. I mean, there’s, there is kind of lot to unpack there, but I got to tell you from a, from a purely culture standpoint, I really, I really like where you all have positioned yourself. It’s a bold move to use your own technology to run your business.

Mark Messina (15:03):

Yeah, no, it is. Um, but even going beyond that, you know, the adoption of 5g, um, we, we look ahead to, you know, what is the future in the next, you know, five, eight years adopting 5g and cloud compute are really, really key to go beyond where we are today. We have, um, a mandate to be the world leader in logistics, robotics. And we look at key technologies that are just, we believe are absolutely necessary to get there. So the technologies, I think plenty of other companies fail. You don’t have to adopt these. You can, you can proceed. I don’t think you can be a leader without a document, these technologies. And we feel the S we see the same with our, what I would call early adopters in our market, especially in the Americas. The market tends to have, in my opinion, a bit of a herd mentality where, you know, EV all of the, the market looks and says, Oh, there’s a new technology over there.

Mark Messina (16:02):

Um, but nobody really wants to adopt it because there’s so much visibility within their own operation, that if they adopt this new technology and it doesn’t work as well as what they’re very comfortable with, they can be, you know, drawn and quartered for this. So when we get the early adopters, um, you know, we really go out of our way to listen and take care of them and, um, make sure that the investment they’ve made in us pays off for them. Um, and it’s the same thing with adopting new technology, as scary as it is for our customers to adopt our technology, um, or any new technology, not just ours, you know, we, we are very thoughtful, um, about what we adopt, but we have very high confidence that moving forward, really AI and machine learning, the benefits don’t show up unless you adopt these technologies. So this is, this is key for us.

Greg White (16:54):

Yeah. I think you’re right. Well, okay. So let’s, let’s ask the new guy Mark. So Simon you’re, uh, you’re relatively new, relatively new to geek plus. Um, and you come from another aspect of the business, right? The more physical, I don’t know if you would necessarily say manual side, but not nearly as automated as pure robotics, uh, from your history at Dematic. So, uh, first off, let people know what it is you do today at geek plus, and then I’d love to hear your perspective on some of what Mark has shared and what you’ve seen in your time at geek plus. Yeah.

Simon Houghton (17:33):

So my role obviously is the title senior sales and marketing, but essentially it’s, it’s developing geeks business, uh, in the UK and Ireland. Um, so did a little bit in Spain last year as well. So I speak Spanish as well, but essentially it says to building the business over here. And I think going on from what Mark was saying as well, I mean, the philosophy that gate pluses to look at a warehouse or looking at a site, and if there’s a lot of manual operations, manual operators going into the site, and, and typically at my new operator could spend 50% of his day walking or in transit. So he’s driving a truck and walking up and down the Isles that for us is an opportunity to help with robotics. And can we eliminate that time that allow it to become more productive from the end of the day?

Simon Houghton (18:25):

And I think, uh, with, with the challenges we talked about with, with, with COVID this year, and this potentially more, more orders need to be processed because it’s going towards peace picking by our e-com versus case speaking festival, there’s more orders to be produced effectively. You would on a manual operation, you’d need more people, uh, to do that. And of course, with social distancing, you can’t get more people in the site. This is one of the, the daily challenges I have talking with customers and looking at the site, and we do the walk round from, from inbound through to, to storage, to, um, looking at all those privacy system. Can we help, you know, this is, this is what we’re looking to do. We’re looking to help them and how can we help them improve their appraisal? And that doesn’t always necessarily mean massive reductions in ad council that could, you know, sometimes it’s saying it’s an issue. Um, the customer needs to reduce costs. Sometimes it’s using the existing team, but needing to produce three, four, five times the number of orders in the same, same timeframe. And you can do that with your boss, really in a nutshell it’s side. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m problem solving and talking to big e-com retailers, distribution centers to look at solving their problems, right. And, uh, with a fresh approach with, with robotics,

Greg White (19:43):

You mentioned it Simon. So I’m going to dig a little bit deeper. And that is that the both of you have really mentioned this and this, this is that the world has changed maybe forever, but certainly e-commerce. And the impact of that in society has surged upwards at a basically now probably more than double rate of the previous growth rate. And it’s believed that a lot of that e-commerce demand will stick as well, which only increases the need for the automation that both of you have talked about. Also, I mean, not, not to mention the conditions you’ve already talked about with social distancing and that sort of thing. These are not, these are not highly sought after jobs having done business in, in retail and e-commerce, and with, with technology suppliers or providers to this marketplace, I’m aware that it’s not easy to find people to fill these slots. And as the newer generations get into the marketplace, they are less likely to do these types of, so what you’re doing is becoming ever more important and companies are adapting rapidly. Obviously they’ve been shocked by this seismic societal disruption. And as you both said, to some extent, their need requirement really is to deploy extremely rapidly. So can you tell us a little bit about how that’s impacted maybe your company’s demand and also how you implement your technologies and, and how you manage to do so, so rapidly in this ever changing marketplace?

Mark Messina (21:21):

A lot of our customers really, really appreciate when we, when we start our discussions at some point early on in the discussion, they want to know how quick they can get the technology, because it’s sort of, they hear the value proposition and the efficiency then almost, you know, right away, the question is, well, how, how long does it take to get the system? And so, you know, we’re deploying anywhere between three to six months to stand up a full system. Um, and we’re working right now to shorten that, uh, by bringing supply chain, uh, to North America so that we can serve the market even faster, um, and more, and with more reactivity. So, you know, this is, this is very different from what they’re hearing. When they talk about setting up a full scale, what I call a heavy iron DC, where you’ve got a lot of the legacy technologies that are fixed to the floor, it comes to efficiency.

Mark Messina (22:15):

When you talk about speed to market, pretty much everything about geek, pluses, about efficiency. If you really boil it down, right, w we’re a company that is largely based on efficiency. And we have, you know, our staff has about 900 people. Half of that, as engineers, engineers are by nature. People who strive for efficiency in almost everything they do. And it shows up in our product, it shows up in our process anyway. Yeah. The time, time to market for us shows up for our customers three to six months for, for the, for the majority of deployments. From the time that we sign a PO, um, is typical. And this is a creative to their ROI because they’re getting the efficiency efficiencies that we deliver that much sooner. And the flexibility, you know, we can, we can kind of dive deeper into this because when you, when you get this system, munition is standing it up faster.

Mark Messina (23:07):

And one of the reasons you stand it up faster is because it’s a very flexible system. That’s not bolted to the floor. So there’s much less risk in adopting such a system because when we bring the system up, normally, you know, we’re seeing from the time that it goes live until maybe a month and a half after the system is learning and it’s optimizing and you see these increases in the efficiency, but this continues as your operations change in the name of the name of the game with our customers right now is uncertainty. They don’t know what’s going to happen with their, with their, with their product lineup. They don’t know what, what their skew mix is going to be. They have no idea what their volumes are going to be. I mean, they, they make some guesses, but as we’ve seen this year, they’re guesses, right?

Mark Messina (23:49):

And, and everybody’s predictions have been blown out of the water every which way. And when you have a system that like, literally you just pour more of it into the system, right? Oh, we just need to top it off with more robots. And we increase the efficiency, or we get back into that peak efficiency zone, you know, as opposed to the traditional systems where you’re going an 18 month stand up and you’ve bolted everything for everything of the floor. And if you want to add a, like a buffer conveyor somewhere it’s major surgery, it’s ridiculously expensive, it’s it interrupts your whole operation. And it’s never optimized because the system is very inflexible, right? So again, it’s about efficiency.

Greg White (24:29):

It’s obsolete by the time you get it installed. If you’re using what you call heavy iron right

Mark Messina (24:35):

In today’s economy, that’s true. It really is true, and it can be very painful. Um, and so we’ve seen that as a major, as a major driver in the conversations that we’ve had is that our clients are coming to us and saying our, our system is completely tapped out, no matter what we do to it, we can’t get it to work in the, in with what we’re seeing today. We don’t want to face this again in the future that we’ve invested all this time and money in the system. And yet once again, here we are painted into a corner.

Greg White (25:05):

We’ve talked a lot about, uh, 2020 and, and how things have changed. And Simon I’m interested, you know, honestly, I’m impressed in, uh, enthused by Mark, how much knowledge you have of the real life problems that your customers are facing every day and how engaged you are and how you all are doing it. But Simon you’re, you’re squarely in the cross hairs of the customers, right? So I’m really interested in, if you think about 2020 in this, as some people have called it constant peak season of 2020, and, and the coming peak season of the holidays, and all of the other changes and disruptions in including this, this mass Exodus to, to e-commerce tell, tell us a little bit about how that’s impacted your clients and how that’s impacted, how you deal with your clients and what their expectations are. Yeah.

Simon Houghton (26:06):

Uh, I think, uh, the conversations I’m having sort of almost daily or weekly with them is, is a lot of them now are expecting the unexpected and now they don’t know what’s around the corner, uh, and all of them need and want to be prepared to be flexible and scalable that the business has got to adapt and move with the times. And I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen then three and six moments. And, uh, going back to Mark’s point about, uh, nothing. So traditional mechanical ventilation, you know, those sorts of systems. Uh, if I was putting one in today, I would have been talking about it two and or three years ago for that project. And you mean signing. So, and it’s designed around one site and one set of numbers, which right now will probably be totally different than, uh, how, how do you cope with that?

Simon Houghton (26:54):

And then I think with the robotics, I think what we’ve with the shorter lead times that the lead times Mark, I mentioned to serve three to six months, um, probably for our first system. Um, but when you get to the stage where you’re topping up robots, that’s much, much quicker we’re talking weeks. You know, if you’ve designed, got that initial planning, right, more or less took full that flexibility around the sides, or you’ve got space to walk your codes effectively to, to add more storage or stations where for more throughput, then it’s a really quick process. And, um, so what, what I’ve been, I mean, typical example with one of our, one of our major customers, we started with them two years ago and we started being like, uh, a toe in the water, uh, proof of concept. Um, and we’re about to go live with them, uh, end of this year with the 500 plus robot installation. So, you know, the, the, I would say to take from that the earlier, uh, you start a trials with robotics, the better get your business used to it and get adaptive and very quickly, you’ll see the benefits of the flexibility in this kind of, of assistance.

Scott Luton (28:05):

Hey, real quick, Simon, if I could ask a quick follow up question on that, that customer, you mentioned 500 robots, is that to the non robotics expert that I am, is that, um, a big solutions at a mid-sized solution? Is that a smaller solution?

Simon Houghton (28:19):

It would be a big one for, for us. Uh, although, uh, we’ve just talked to her recently. They were probably closing a door for 600 Watts, but, uh, typically most solutions would be 2200. Uh, I would say, uh, this talking like goods to person picking, but very mind that you sort of solutions could easily be, you know, replacing sort of reducing it down to five, 10 people in their baking operation, going down from 50 or 60 or a hundred, you know, annual operations. So although it sounds like a lot of robots, the return on investment is normally very, very quick on these systems. It’s a, it’s certainly quite an easy, uh, an easy sell for us in that perspective. Yeah.

Mark Messina (29:05):

Are different markets have different capacity for robotics, right? So, um, in North America, we see that this would be, you know, 500 robots would be about what we would expect per floor, but a DC may have four floors per implementation. So a particular site might have, you know, in the, in the 1500 to 2000 AGVs and now we’re combining this together. So when you look at again, back to flexibility and efficiency, when you look at a system of that scale, there’s a lot of ancillary support that you can never really get away from, right? So you still need conveyor of some, some level of conveyor. However, you know, we have no illusion that will completely kill a conveyor, but we do have, you know, our sorting robots now integrate with our picking robots, as well as our shuttle robots. And we can reduce labor further by taking labor out of the equation between our shuttle robots and our sorting robots using a vision-based bin picking.

Mark Messina (30:10):

So we have the ability to further reduce labor, but also when you look at the amount of, you know, it’s a lot about density, the everything is about density, especially we haven’t even talked about micro fulfillment. As we get into micro fulfillment, density is King, but pretty much anywhere density and efficiency are King. So there’s a lot of S a lot of space and a lot of trepidation around bolting conveyor to the floor, because once it’s bolted down to the floor, there’s a lot of dead space for egress and access and service and blah, blah, blah. And it’s not, again, it’s not flexible our sorting robots, which you can see one of them behind me, you know, these things, again, you just pour in more robots, you get more sorts per hour, right? And so we’re, you know, we’re good to about 15,000 sorts per hour where that technology it’s very, again, it’s very flexible.

Mark Messina (30:56):

So the concern that, uh, if I was a director of operations in an FC and saying, Hey, you know, we’re, we’re going live with this building with design three years ago in this economy, I’d be extremely concerned. I’d be really concerned. But if I had the flexibility of a system where the floor is never changes, right, we don’t have to bolt anything down, we just update the program. And now we’ve got 15 different doctors that we didn’t have before and all that extra capacity. And we poured in an extra 600,000 square feet worth of capacity. Well, you know, I’m sleeping well at night.

Greg White (31:32):

Yeah, I think so too. I mean, you know, if there’s anything that we’ve learned, it’s that the past is no indication of future success and, you know, the, even the thought of, I mean, it sent shutters down my spine. When each of you said you’re implementing something you’ve been planning for the last three years. I just can’t imagine where an organization is, if that is the case and where you can literally replan the floor on a, on a day to day basis, seems like table stakes to me at this point. So, okay. So both of you obviously are hearing a lot from your clients. I’m curious, what are the big lessons learned or what are the, um, you’ve mentioned some of the concerns that some of your, your clients have have, but what are the big lessons learned or what is there one thing that you have taken away from your clients that you think would be really helpful to other retailers and distributors in three PLS out there as they go into holiday peak season, we’re going to have to qualify

Scott Luton (32:40):

It now, aren’t we, Scott, we can’t just call it peak. Now it’s holiday peak because there’s always a peak in something, right. Or as, as we were talking before we went on, it’s been peak all year. It feels for, for many organizations. So, but yeah, Mark, if you want to take that question first, what are you hearing? What are some of your observations as it relates to this constant peak,

Mark Messina (33:01):

You know, in terms of what we would tell prospective or future customers like how, what, what would be one key thing? I suppose it’s mostly that, um, what worked in the past, you can be comfortable with it. Um, but it’s, it’s not efficient. It’s not going to work well in the future. And in order to compete in this market, right? The competition requires that you be extremely like viciously efficient in your operations. So when you look at a fixed system, it’s, you really can’t ignore that. It’s not hard to bottleneck that system. And so it’s, it’s very easy to see the flexibility and the payoff of that flexibility. Now it does require that you take some brave steps within your organization to adopt a new technology. And so, you know, what Simon mentioned is, is do a proof of concept early and make it a meaningful proof of concept.

Mark Messina (33:54):

You know, um, we were happy to do, you know, the analysis and get everything stood up virtually into our simulations, et cetera, but that doesn’t help the leaders in the organization sell that technology to the rank and file who have to deal with using that technology. And who often are, are, are the ones who are most saying, you know, we’re afraid of adopting something new because we have to deal with it. And once you’ve bought it and it doesn’t work sure, you can walk away from it, but we have to live with it. So, so doing a meaningful POC, um, and more importantly, come visit one of our sites, right? Come out and take a look and bring an entourage and have a look. Because when you see these systems working, it becomes like, you know, painfully obvious the value,

Scott Luton (34:39):

Something that get you to weigh in here. Cause we’re gonna talk about the bull effect and, uh, and a real popular blog article that your team released a few days ago, I believe, but Simon, what are some of the things that you’re hearing? What are some things you would share with either a prospective customer of yours or a business leader that’s just working through, uh, th these, these peak volumes?

Simon Houghton (34:59):

I think what I’m, what I’m saying every day is, is certainly the, the full runners, uh, and the, the successful businesses, especially in e-com, uh, are analyzing with a microscope, every single part of the process of their business, right? From inbound, uh, loading the truck, uh, getting the stock into the system. How are they’re doing that? How does the stock is then picked, you know, cannot be automated. And then once it’s peak times it’s re routed to the park area, uh, how’s it act, um, you know, there’s automation for packing, a lot of automation of parking now, uh, and then even it’s loaded on the truck and then looking at every single process. And so, you know, geek has solutions for a lot of those lot of those areas and where we don’t, we, we, we work with companies which, which do have those solutions as well.

Simon Houghton (35:51):

So we’ll work with integrators to help integrate the full solution. So really from that end to end process, um, to stay that spot, you’ve got to look at that now and for, to improve efficiencies and, uh, you know, with, with the, with the growth in e-com the number of orders, uh, growing to process, but not only that, the consumer more demanding, you know, we want it done right out the U S but in certain businesses in the UK, you can be sat on your iPod at night and 10, 11 o’clock at night and get it the next day, even same day. And, um, as consumers, we want more. And, uh, I tend to drift towards sites now where I can get it quicker and, uh, [inaudible] to process people want them quicker. So the only way to get that is through motivation and a flexible and scalable insulation, which is I think, why, why we’re, uh, why we’re here and why, why things are growing so quickly.

Scott Luton (36:49):

So I’m not sure if it was Mark or Simon that coined this Mark res vicious efficiency, but that that’s, what’s in demand to meet these vicious consumer demands that we’ve all been kind of spoiled with, but also like what both of you are also speaking to, which seems to be a big part of the cultural DNA at gate plus is you can’t rest on your laurels, not for a single minute and take anything for granted because of just, you know, how demanding the consumer is, how the marketing conditions are continuing to evolve. And in some cases, as we’ve all seen putting a spotlight on, uh, or, or these blind spots, we didn’t even know were there or rearing rearing their ugly heads. So, um, but really appreciate you all sharing a lot about the geek plus, uh, value proposition and what you do. Let’s shift gears earlier this year, as we all know, all four of us probably were familiar with the bowl of effect long before 20, 20, but many consumers.

Scott Luton (37:44):

Uh, and Greg, we got the question about a thousand times from local media and others. Tell us about what’s going on toilet paper. Yeah. Tell us about this bullet that we’re hearing about. So the, one of the silver linings here is that consumers are becoming more, as you know, they would becoming much more informed, much more aware of what goes on with global supply chain, but Simon will pose this question because we came across this blog. That’s been a well consumed out in industry and plus offering its tips on five guidelines for minimizing that bullet effect in, in, in your business. So Simon and I, very high level, and we’ll, we’ll include a link in the show notes for our listeners, but Simon at a high level. And Mark, maybe you provide color commentary, walk us through those five guidelines if you would summon.

Simon Houghton (38:30):

Yeah, she also, obviously we know the, the effect of these, these slight changes, demand from the consumer can have a ripple effect all the way up through to, through manufacturing and the across the supply chain. Uh, and I think certainly some, uh, some guidelines which we suggest to, to increase visibility and collaboration and communications right across the stakeholders within that chain. So lots more information sharing. Um, you know, whether it be sort of noticing of certain trends from the, from the retailer’s perspective, report that back up through to distribution and to the manufacturing, um, inventory, outstanding Venturi across the distribution and the manufacturing side of things, the fact of communication, really, and sharing about information across all, all, all the, all the areas around it. So that’s certainly the first point, I would say real quick, what you’re suggesting is that here in the information age that we share it, is that right?

Simon Houghton (39:31):

Correct. Yup, yup, yup, yup. Yup. It’s it doesn’t always happen then I think the more the retailers to mitigate their experience to their district distributors and they, and then through the manufacturers, the battery, and that’s going up and down the chain, the more they communicate, the more, uh, the more the, the, the possibilities of reducing that effect factor. So I always say a second, second point really as well is to, and we’ve talked about this already, but really consider investments in, uh, automation and software, um, to, to help really optimize and streamline the processes across the supply chain. So that could be anything from raw material planning, uh, mentoree planning, and management, demand planning, uh, managing supplier relationships. Um, I mean, for example, one of the, one of the retailers we’re working with, um, uh, as adopted sort of deep, uh, robotic sortation system, uh, to streamline their eCommerce business and, and they they’ve seen huge accelerator shifts towards, um, towards e-commerce.

Simon Houghton (40:39):

And, uh, they found obviously the challenges of the growth in number of orders to be processed. The demand has been unpredictable, uh, from one day to the next, uh, and they’ve suffered from labor shortages and, uh, um, requirements, high requirements for the safer operations as well, you know, on the, on the sites and sales. So, um, they basically automation on the sourcing help them really improve efficiency, reduce costs and, and accuracy. Um, I would say third point, um, another one to bear in mind as well, is, is re re really re-evaluate the sort of safety stock settings, the minimum maximums of stocks, the range of inventory. Um, obviously we’re seeing huge changes, new shifts. So look at those again against the skew and make, make adjustments as necessary, uh, and perhaps consider more of a regular reporting on that, uh, analysis, uh, and looking at tools like early warning systems now evaluate some of that, those changes.

Simon Houghton (41:42):

Um, a fourth point I would say, would be to look at that supply chain and, and try and reduce lead times and delays. And I know it’s not always easy, especially, uh, uh, you know, w with today’s marketplace, but ready to work with, with suppliers, um, looking at reducing those lead times or intake taking these out and the automotive industry, we’re just in time types of ordering and trying to get the stuff as quick as possible, um, really will help, um, and help help process process things quicker. Also things like, um, uh, the, the, the businesses can basically consider to ship multiple types of items per truck, you know, looking at the logistics side of things, really just trying to improve those lead times and delays. Uh, I’d say probably the last point as well, would be to look at order sizes don’t buy necessarily know, look at reducing order sizes, um, may, may help the whole market respond better, um, to the market’s tendency with more speed and more this facility, um, and rather than maybe offering frequent promotional discounts, uh, retailers could, which could obviously cause distortions in demand, um, just look towards maybe a standard low prices or everyday low prices, mobile, uh, for certain items.

Simon Houghton (43:05):

Um, so I’d say probably that the, the, the five points we, we, we could say that to, uh, to help with the bullwhip effect,

Scott Luton (43:13):

Love that stability is a, uh, I think it’s got a whole new sense of appreciation and value. Here’s a move into 2021 if people even remember it, right. Does anyone remember stability, right, Mark away in offer, which steps of those maybe are most critical, or just a couple of observations you’ve had about companies that have been able to successfully mitigate that bullet effect?

Mark Messina (43:39):

No, it’s, um, I th I think the key to note here is global supply chain is a very complex thing, right? We’re affected by, uh, international law we’re affected by obviously customer demand, but we’re affected by communication, um, uncertainties and supply, whether it’s with raw materials or whether it’s in logistics issues. So global supply chain and it in and of itself is a whole topic, right. And I think the customer really doesn’t appreciate, um, the incredible amount of communication and collaboration that goes on behind the scenes to deliver something to them, same day, right. I’ve had, I’ve had the fortune of, of working in factories for my whole 20 year career, and I’ve seen some amazing, amazing factories and, um, very well and loved very well, the whole supply chain process. I mean, it’s, to me, it’s, um, it’s fascinating and something that’s very dear to me, seeing something go from a raw material that comes out of the ground to something that lands on your door and all the steps in between.

Mark Messina (44:49):

Um, again, consumers, especially I think American swimmers have very little appreciation for the amount of effort and the amount of, um, really minds and engineering that goes into that whole thing. So, you know, companies that manage this well, look at this holistically. Um, and I think that there are obviously some key players, which I won’t mention by name who do this very well. Um, logistics, you know, our, our component of it is certainly a piece of it. And one of the things that we can add to that is, is rich data that you get from our system. Um, and that’s one of the benefits and one of the drivers in our move to the cloud and, and harmonizing our operations, um, on the cloud, so that each customer is not an Island unto themselves. Um, it’s something that, that we look at, um, how do we, how do we leverage that data without jeopardizing the customer’s operational data and keeps their competitive edge, what it is for themselves

Scott Luton (45:49):

That goes directly to 0.1, which is that transparency, I mean, by collecting and making available that data, even if it’s just internally, there’s incredible efficiencies, vicious efficiencies that can be created within a company. And then those same efficiencies can be created between companies. Yeah. I think that that’s a really great observation well said, and I like harmony. Yeah. Harmonizations with my favorite supply chain terms. It just, when your operation can sing cohesively in the lawn fashion, similar power, they’d love that Mark. Yes. Darrell, well, you know, Mark and Simon so much to tackle. I mean, it, it’s amazing. Um, as I’m, as I’m gathering your observations in, in what you do day in and day out, uh, y’all are a lot better at math than I was coming up through school, but just to let just that amount of complexity and at the C the scale and speed that’s part of daily life at geek, plus it really is impressive. And Mark echo what you shared about manufacturing. It’s nothing less than the miracle, uh, of just how everything takes place. And you’re right. We’re hoping what we’ve seen at least is one of the silver linings to this tough year 2020 is there’s a lot more awareness and even better yet appreciation for the folks that make that happen, uh, throughout, uh, in, in supply chain. So appreciate y’all’s comments. Let’s make sure Greg that our listeners can connect both with Mark and Simon Martin. We’ll start with you. How can our listeners connect with you? And

Mark Messina (47:17):

So you can reach out to me on LinkedIn, just, um, Mark Messina on LinkedIn, um, or you can always visit our

Scott Luton (47:26):

All right, Simon, same question. How can folks connect with you? Yeah,

Simon Houghton (47:30):

Same as Mark. So, uh, LinkedIn, it’s always a good one for me. So Simon Horton, that’s H O U G H T O N. And then via the website. So get, uh, both, both good ways to get all of us

Scott Luton (47:41):

Outstanding. Of course we’ll include those links in the show notes. We’re after we’re trying to offer our listeners a one-click, uh, to reach our audience and find more good information. And I would add y’all check out the blog articles that geek plus publishes good stuff there. All right. So Greg, before we wrap, I want to, uh, you know, I shared a couple of my favorite things that we’ve heard from Simon and Mark through the conversation today, but what’s, what’s one thing that you think our listeners maybe should really feel if they, they forget everything else, you know, cause we were all talking pre show about just how much time we have to these days to absorb good information. But Greg, what’s that one key thing that you think our listeners should take away from this, do it. Now that’s the one key thing that they need to think about it because it’s not just the big river in South America that you need to worry about.

Scott Luton (48:27):

It’s a big company in Arkansas and a big company in China and they’re coming for you. In fact, they don’t even have any regard for you. So if you want to remain relevant, if you want to be, if you want to be efficient and enough viciously efficient, then give it a try. I mean, I’m serious. You need to be thinking about changing something dramatically right now, right now. And that is the biggest takeaway. And I love that term vicious efficiency because that’s, that’s what the big competitors have. That’s what they’re after. And vicious is a, I think we all know vicious is the key word there. So you have to arm yourself as your enemy is armed. So get it done. That’s the takeaway. And if you can do it in three to six months, and I know that that Mark and the team are working on even less, man, start now be ready for next, whatever the next peak is, come on out and visit us. We’ll we’ll, we’ll show you the system so you can see it firsthand. And then, then you can you’ll understand right away.

Simon Houghton (49:37):

So I’ll just say one of point to that as well. The, uh, having sold traditional mechanical automation, um, the entrance fee to get into automation with robotics is a lot, lot less. So, you know, if you, if you maybe discounted automation in the past because of huge potential costs, it’s not what it used to be. So, uh, consider that as well. I think that’s quite a key part.

Scott Luton (50:00):

Great point, great point. Simon, Mark, and Simon, y’all see that no one throws a gauntlet down quite like Greg white does here at the end of the interview, but, but there’s so much truth there. Uh, there’s no time, no time to sit back and rest on your laurels at this point, especially here in the information age with the speed of change, the speed of, of competition in this global economy. So really appreciate our conversation today as always is great to have you back Martin, Mussina COO with geek plus, and thanks so much for bringing your colleague Simon Haughton, senior sales and marketing manager, uh, with geek plus as well. Mark Simon. Thanks so much. Thank you gentlemen. Thanks guys. We’ll see you again soon. All right. So Greg really great conversation as always, uh, really, I feel like I’ve got gained like a robotic certification after that last hour here. You know, there’s so much good information here, but hopefully our listeners enjoyed it as much as we did. Uh, and if you do to our audience, if you did enjoy this conversation, you can find out a lot more just like on that note, you know, on behalf of Greg white and Scott Luton, whole team here at supply chain now, Hey, do good. Give forward. Be the change.

Intro (51:16):

We’ll see. Next time here.

Would you rather watch the show in action?  Watch as Scott and Greg welcome Mark Messina and Simon Houghton to Supply Chain Now through our YouTube channel.

Mark Messina serves as the COO of Geek+. Mark has twenty years of tech and product development experience, running engineering and deployment organizations for major MNCs. His work covers many aspects of automation and robotics – factory, medical, logistics (agvs, drones, amr, etc). Mark has been with Geek+ since September 2019 and with a relevant industry background at iHerb, Mattel and Amazon.

Simon Houghton is a senior sales and business development manager with extensive commercial experience spanning the last 25 years with a track record of over achievement in sales in all roles held. Through a structured and analytical approach to sales development he has taken brands/companies into to the top 3 for market share and increased under-performing areas to record sales in short periods of time. He also prides himself on the ability to build rapport and relationships quickly, essential when developing sales from an existing client base or trying to attract new business. In addition, he also possesses entrepreneurial and man management skills having also run his own multi-million € FMCG products distribution company achieving sales of 10+m€ in just the 3rd year of trading and total sales in excess of 80+m€.

Greg White is a host and principal of Supply Chain Now.  Greg is a founder, CEO, board director and advisor in B2B technology with multiple successful exits. He recently joined Trefoil Advisory as a Partner to further their vision of stronger companies by delivering practical solutions to the highest-stakes challenges. Prior to Trefoil, Greg served as CEO at Curo, a field service management solution most notably used by Amazon to direct their fulfillment center deployment workforce. Greg is most known for founding Blue Ridge Solutions and served as President & CEO for the Gartner Magic Quadrant Leader of cloud-native supply chain applications that balance inventory with customer demand. Greg has also held leadership roles with Servigistics, and E3 Corporation, where he pioneered their cloud supply chain offering in 1998. In addition to his work at Supply Chain Now and Trefoil, rapidly-growing companies leverage Greg as an independent board director and advisor for his experience building disruptive B2B technology and supply chain companies widely recognized as industry leaders. He’s an insightful visionary who helps companies rapidly align vision, team, market, messaging, product, and intellectual property to accelerate value creation. Greg guides founders, investors and leadership teams to create breakthroughs that gain market exposure and momentum, and increase company esteem and valuation. Learn more about Trefoil Advisory:

Scott W. Luton is the founder & CEO of Supply Chain Now. He has worked extensively in the end-to-end Supply Chain industry for more than 15 years, appearing in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Dice and Quality Progress Magazine. Scott was named a 2019 Pro to Know in Supply Chain by Supply & Demand Executive and a 2019 “Top 15 Supply Chain & Logistics Experts to Follow” by RateLinx. He founded the 2019 Atlanta Supply Chain Awards and also served on the 2018 Georgia Logistics Summit Executive Committee. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and holds the APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) credential. A Veteran of the United States Air Force, Scott volunteers on the Business Pillar for VETLANTA and has served on the boards for APICS Atlanta and the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance. Follow Scott Luton on Twitter at @ScottWLuton and learn more about Supply Chain Now here:


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