Publishing Date: November 2020
In this special edition, Kevin Lawton from The New Warehouse Podcast talks with Brad Gossard, VP/General Manager of Regal Motion Control Systems Conveying Systems. Kevin and Brad discuss how conveying has changed over the last 10 years, maintaining social distance in fast paced environments and ergonomic issues in warehouse distribution. They also dive into how the System Plast® Modsort® System can help.
Season #1: Episode #: 8 (special edition)
Special Note: Episode originally aired on The New Warehouse podcast channel as part of its ongoing series. Click to learn more about The New Warehouse and follow their podcast.
Featuring Brad Gossard of Regal Rexnord
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The New Warehouse Podcast, hosted by Kevin Lawton, is your source for insights and ideas from the distribution, transportation and logistics industry.
A new episode every Monday morning brings you the latest from industry experts and thought leaders. And now here's Kevin.
Kevin: It's Kevin Lawton with The New Warehouse podcast coming to you with a new episode. On this episode, I'm going to be joined by Brad Gossard, who is the general manager of Regal® Conveying. You may remember Regal. We spoke to them previously on the podcast during Pro Mat last year 2019, when things were quite different in the world and we still had physical trade shows.
Brad's going to join us today. He's going to tell us a little bit more about Regal, what it is they do, about his side of the business, Regal Conveying.
Then we're getting into a little bit about changes over the last 10 years, and then we're going to dive into changes just in the last couple months, based on COVID and things of that nature and how conveyors can play a part in that.
So, Brad, welcome to the show. How are you?
Brad: I'm doing fine, Kevin. Thank you for having me.
Kevin: Definitely. Thanks for coming on. Happy to talk to you.
Why don't you kind of dive in a little bit, tell us about Regal. Because Regal is involved in a lot of different kind of things. But tell us about Regal overall, and then tell us about the Regal Conveying division, which you're the general manager of.
Brad: Regal is a $3.5B corporation, primarily based on electric motors and mechanical power transmission. Some of our primary brand names that people may know are Marathon® Motors, Sealmaster® Bearings, Grove gearboxes, Browning® and Morse® power transmission. And the part that I am responsible for, which is the conveying, is our System Plast® brand.
We've been in business for over 50 years for Regal. Most of the power transmission has been in business for almost 100 years.
Kevin: Interesting. So definitely a long history there. And definitely a lot underneath the Regal umbrella. So tell us a little bit about on your side of things. It's more focused on the conveyors themselves, right?
Brad: Yeah. In conveying, mostly what we do in System Plast has traditionally been in beverage conveying, which is a very challenging conveying of bottles, which are very abrasive, cans, and then bottled water took the forefront in the last 20 years.
And it's a difficult application. So it's having a lot of materials that reduce coefficient of friction. But as we have conveyed things along, we came out with a new product that was a roller top belt. So it's balls embedded in the belt. So now we're basically taking a belt, and we're putting the automation into the surface of the belt. They're omni-directional balls. By using a divert belt underneath the roller top belt. You can transfer products at a right angle. You can pass them through. But getting a vector between the divert belt and the roller top belt, you can actually do diverts. So for sortation this is becoming a very popular product.
When you look at unit material handling and what it's done over the last 10 years, it's grown. If you look at MHI statistics, which is the material handling industry, or if you look at Seema Statistics Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association, since the great recession, the unit material handling automation sector has grown at about 7 to 12% per year, 9 out of those 10 years.
And it's basically been based on increasing productivity and increasing throughput for customers in warehousing distribution and Parcel Post. And those calculations of a return on invested capital to spend on the equipment were primarily based on moving things from a manual sortation using people or throwing people to sort things out to automate that process with vision systems, and then sortation systems. Some of them are becoming very fast.
And then about four years ago, the major parcel companies changed the way that they charge customers to ship packages. Previously, it was based on weight, and they realized that their constraint is the square footage that they have inside of a truck. And so they realized that an appropriate way to charge is based on the volume of the package. And in doing so, that led to a transition away from boxes where it had a lot of bubble wrap and peanuts and everything that we loved on wrapping and has moved more to things like polybags and the Jiffys, and other types of packaging materials that have less volume are easier to pack, but are much more difficult to convey.
Pre-COVID, that was the biggest thing that companies were facing on sorting out packages.
Brad: Now, post-COVID, what's come up is the social distancing aspect of doing manual sortations has now become a safety issue. So instead of just looking at the productivity and the throughput, it's now become a safety issue.
And as the e-commerce companies, as really, people were moving more and more to e-commerce pre-COVID, as that was occurring the natural trend was to hire more people. And even Amazon has hired 200,000 more people since the start of COVID to be able to sort things out. But now we're looking more at being able to do that with automation.
Kevin: Definitely. Yeah. You have a lot of great points there. Especially over the last couple of years, automation has become just the norm. Right? So many more people are getting into it and it's becoming so much more accessible.
But with what we've been experiencing with COVID and everything, with the people experiencing peak volumes, I mean, it has been kind of I guess a scramble in some cases for companies who have been hiring these people. And then because of social distancing, they've had to do this manual sortation.
So talk to us a little bit about how are companies working through that? And how are they able to maintain the throughput, but also still keep the social distancing in mind?
The thing that's interesting is -- and and this is just in an article today in The Wall Street Journal -- that only 39% of manufacturing and supply chain professionals said that their organizations use robotics and automation. That was a shocking number to me. I would have thought it would have been much higher. But the NHI is forecasting that in a short amount of time and particularly because of the acceleration of e-commerce adoption, that in 1 to 2 years that will go from 39% to 58% and they think within 3 to 4 years it'll be 73%. So there's a big rush to move to robotics and to automation to serve the rapidly growing e-commerce adoption.
There's a number of ways to do that. You can do that through robotics, through automated guided vehicles, or you can actually do that through sortation conveyors.
Some of the issues that customers have now is, are you going to grow at 20% a year, or are you going to grow a 50% a year? Some are growing at 100% a quarter. And how do you scale that over time?
You could go and buy a fixed system, but you'd have to oversize it to take care of future needs. So more and more conveyors, manufacturers and the customers are looking for things that air scalable and modular -- how can I start off with 20 sort points, but add 6 more to that existing system next year and maybe 4 more after that?
And we introduced, we took that roller top belt strategy that we had and put it into a modular unit and we've got eight sizes of that unit that fits in to the standard widths of a live roller conveyor. So it's very compatible with retrofitting existing systems or building new systems. And then these modules just couple together and you can scale them by adding more modules in the future, and the controls for them just daisy chain together going down the conveyor.
So, scalability is important. Another thing that's important is noise.
Traditionally, these high speed systems went into the big warehouses that actually were fulfillment centers that shipped to the local cities, and their noise was not as critical. But now that you're getting these close to a lot of people, because now moving from manual sortation, to the last mile, to the pick-up-and-drop-off people, there, you've got facilities that typically don't have maintenance people, so you're looking for things that are low maintenance, and also they need to be quiet. Because most of them don't wear hearing protection. So you need to have something below, probably 72 decibel. We've been able to maintain that.
And then also, a conveyor needs to be approachable. And when I say approachable, it needs to be quiet that you can approach it, but it also needs to be safe so that you can approach it and not have any safety issues or pinch points or things like that.
So what we use in the ModSort® is the 24-hole DC motorized drive rollers to drive both the divert belt and also the roller top belt. And you could actually put your hand on the belt and stop it. So, from a safety standpoint, using those 24 volt DC motorized drive rollers, that was our mash-up together with the roller top belt, the divert belts, and we don't run them with sprockets, it's actually a friction drive so it runs quiet. That fulfills some of the big check marks that customers have now for this final sort before the last mile.
I'm curious, actually, as you're talking about the ModSort, I remember it from Pro Man, seeing it there on display. How did the idea to utilize the ball system like that -- how did that come about?
Brad: Well, you know, that's interesting. We introduced the belt about eight years ago and put it out into the market to allow designers to basically start from scratch and design it. Our byline was -- it's really up to the imagination of the designer.
Unfortunately, that didn't unfold. So we decided we needed to do a mash-up between the most common safest technology that's out there to drive, and that is motorized drive rollers, and combine that with the belt, make it in standardized units so it's very easy to select, make it able to communicate and scale with other units in line.
So for integrators, and even for end users, it's a very easy product to install very quickly because it's modular, and get up and running and actually get through acceptance testing pretty quickly.
It's being used in just a wide variety of applications. At first, it really was looking at the parcel and post, and those applications, like the obvious ones -- UPS, FedEx, DHL -- and then postal ones like USPS, Swiss Post and NL Post.
But now it's really migrated into a lot of different things. We have customers using them to sort out things in sporting goods, clothing, prepackaged meals, kitchens that are preparing finished meals, moving glasses for prescription glasses, beauty products, certainly warehouse distribution, pharmacy, even in mail rooms at large campuses where they may have at a university 25 different buildings but one main mail room, and they can sort out for all the buildings there.
Again, all those things that were typically done manually are now being automated.
Kevin: Right. Yeah. And I think that's great.
Obviously there's huge benefits to putting a conveyor in place in terms of throughput and efficiency from a business standpoint. But one of the things about manual sortation as well is typically there's some ergonomic issues that could arise.
So can you tell us a little bit about some of the ergonomic issues that occur with manual sortation? And then how do you put the conveyor in place to alleviate some of those issues?
Brad: That really is a prime consideration for a company that usually doesn't get calculated.
If you have people reaching across and pushing packages from one side to the other, so that then the manual sorts can occur downline, ergonomically, you're reaching out and you are pushing on something that's extended out from your arm. But when you think about taking something off of a conveyor belt, the absolute worst ergonomic thing that you can do for your back is to lift something off when it's moving on the belt, and turn it 90 degrees and put it on somewhere. So back injuries, finger lacerations, those types of things, if you really look at what the costs are on the OSHA website for each of those incidents, they can be huge. And worker safety, not just COVID safety, but safety from having a laceration or an ergonomic injury, should be something that every company should consider when they're doing their ROI calculation.
We actually have developed an ROI calculator that allows an individual business just to put in all of their criteria for productivity, for throughput, for injuries, and actually get a calculated return on the investment of putting a new conveyor in. And and everyone really should consider safety as one of the key elements and key returns that you get. Because no one wants... Everyone wants their workers to go home just as healthy as they came in.
Kevin: Absolutely. You have some really good points.
In the beginning there, you said it's usually not something that necessarily gets thought of as immediate benefit. And I think that it's important to highlight that.
Kevin: So I'm happy we could talk about that and kind of shed some light.
I think it's really a good thing, the ROI calculator that you guys provide as a resource. I think that can really help some people realize, and typically, the decision makers, in that situation of whether to get automated conveyor or whatever.
Typically, they're not out there, they're not pulling boxes off, like you said, of a moving conveyor at 90 degrees when they're moving, so they don't necessarily realize the full impact of that movement. Definitely interesting. And I think that going to the automated solution is just better overall from a business standpoint, and then from a worker safety and health standpoint as well.
So going back to the COVID situation. You talked to us a little bit about what's happened over the last 10 years of material handling, and then what's kind of been happening over the last couple of months. But I'm curious. What's your view of what you think is going to happen in the industry, post-COVID? Or in the next couple years? And what is the effect of COVID going to be, in the long run?
Brad: I do think that social distancing is probably going to be in the workplace, even in a post-COVID environment. If you listen to Dr Fauci, he says that there'll be another one that will come after this -- who knows when and what it will be.
But being able to space out your workers. But also being able to equip our workers with higher level tools like augmented reality, like hololens glasses that will actually give them the work instructions, like pick-to-light and stow-to-light, those can increase the productivity of the workers so that they're doing much higher value things than just reading a label and pulling it off, which can be done by a vision system and a sortation system.
I think one of the biggest opportunities out of this is to actually deploy our workers in more higher value tasks and equip them with the technology that's emerging, again, like augmented reality, and pick- and stow-to-light, and be able to actually fulfill what is going to continue to boom, which is the e-commerce adoption. It was catching on pretty well before COVID. But COVID has really driven people to e-commerce, and I just don't think they're going back.
Kevin: I agree. I mean, at some point, a lot of people had no choice but to do e-commerce for certain things because stores were closed. And I think that people are seeing the ease and convenience of it.
And actually, personally, I know I never had ordered groceries before online, and I started doing it during this. And I don't think I'll ever go back to the grocery store.
But yeah, consumer behaviors has changed, and I think that companies are seeing that, but also seeing the benefits, like you mentioned, of investing in automation now and getting newer technology to help them make this more possible and create, and be able to keep up with the demand. like we talked about.
So definitely really, really interesting discussion. And really interesting how I guess you don't always think of necessarily a conveyor being the big part of automation. Everybody is so focused on robots and things like that. But, really, a conveyor can be such a central point of an operation because it's moving so many things, getting things from point A to point B, and can make a huge impact.
So tell us, how can people get more information about Regal and Regal conveying?
Brad: Best way to get the information is our website, which, our URL is www.regalrexnord.com. I'm a big fan of YouTube and actually seeing things work, and how it operates, so, very easy to go to YouTube and just put in "Regal ModSort" and you can see several videos, including some customer testimonials on how they're applying the technology. So those are a couple of ways that you can do that. And then we have specialists placed around the country, and distribution so we can provide further information.
Kevin: Okay, great. And we definitely will post a link to your website on thenewwarehouse.com, and we'll find a cool video to put up there as well so listeners can check it out when they read the blog post.
So Brad, thank you very much for coming on the show. Thank you for talking to us and giving us a little information about Regal and also talking about the perspective that you guys are seeing for changes in the industry. Very interesting time. So thank you, Brad.
Brad: Thank you, Kevin.
Host: You've been listening to the New Warehouse Podcast with Kevin Lawton. Subscribe and check us out online at thenewwarehouse.com.