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Vertical with Vidir - Episode 1 - The Benefits of Vertical Lift Modules

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When Vidir Solutions planned to release a new vertical lift module (VLM) into the marketplace, they knew they wanted someone with VLM experience to help them make their latest solution a success. Enter Tim Harrison. Harrison, a VLM Industry veteran since 2005, knows all of the ins and outs that make VLMs a powerful addition to any inventory management system.

In his roles within the VLM industry, Harrison sold, and project managed VLMs, vertical carousels, horizontal carousels, and their software. "When I started, people were not familiar with VLMs, and the market really was unsaturated," Harrison said. "Even today, the market is not saturated in the United States. And that’s evident in conversations with respective clients, and the overall growth of VLMs in the United States."

The VLM industry began its focus on MRO (maintenance, repair, and operating supply) applications, tool cribs, and POU (point of use) storage, but now the distribution world is starting to see this type of solution's potential. The reason? "We are now turning our focus into "each-picking"," Harrison said. "Instead of distribution centers simply pulling a pallet in and pushing a pallet out, we’re now getting into that granular level of the each. When a customer gets on their website, they want that single item, that one light bulb or one of a product, and that has dramatically changed how distribution centers operate." These needs require a lot more moving of pallets and bins in a distribution center, and that’s where VLMs shine.

There are only a couple of VLM players in the US market, but that is poised to change with Vidir’s new VLM launched in July. One of Vidir Solutions’ advantages is their VLM uses Servo motors instead of a standard gearbox and motor setup. Servo motors allow maximum movement speeds to be consistent across all weight capacities, overcoming the limitations of these other setups where you pick either weight capacity or speed, but you don’t get both. Servo motors also provide "a higher precision for placing trays in and out of their locations, increased reliability, and durability in general," Harrison said.

Announcer:     Welcome to Vertical with Vidir, a podcast exploring the latest in vertical storage solutions.

(Host) James Kent:    Welcome to Vertical with Vidir. I am your host, James Kent. Vertical lift modules or VLMs can dramatically boost productivity and accuracy and reduce storage space requirements for an improved inventory management process and solution. On today's episode, my guest is an expert on VLMs, Tim Harrison. He's partnered with Vidir Vertical Storage Solutions on their brand new VLM and he's going to tell us all about it. Tim, welcome to the podcast.

(Guest) Tim Harrison: Hi, Thanks for having me.

(Host) James: Well, Thanks for coming on! Tim, to start off, why don't we talk about your background with VLMs. Tell me about your experience and how you got involved with VLMs in the first place.

(Guest) Tim:    Alright, so back in 2005, I was looking at making a career move and applied for an industrial automation sales position, and that position that I successfully landed ended up being with the distributor for Kardex Remstar in the states of India and Illinois. So that's how I originally became involved with the VLM market, and in that role, I sold and project managed projects that involved vertical lift modules, vertical carousels, horizontal carousels and their software. That role progressed to working for the Kardex Remstar on the special applications team, and there I worked on projects all across the United states: cold storage, clean rooms, explosion proof, distribution centers, things of that sort, so anything outside the standard offering. And then, I was tapped to put together a plan for a manufacturer back distributor in the Midwest. And in that role, I basically built a Kardex Remstar dealership that covered three states, and then expanded to six. So, as a distributor, we sold and serviced vertical lift modules, and that's pretty much it.

(Host) James: When you started out, were people familiar with VLMs and is this still a solution relatively unfamiliar to those involved with storage and inventory management or are we way beyond the initiation phase?

(Guest) Tim:    So, when I started, people were not familiar with VLMs and the market really was unsaturated. And even to this day, the market is not saturated here in the United States. And that's evident in conversations with prospective clients, as well as the growth of the VLM market in the United States. It's been growing at a rate of about 20% over the past few years, and I believe that's due to just the adoption of automation in general and the familiarity with the vertical lifts in manufacturing and distribution applications.

(Host) James: So, you're saying that there's a lot of room in the marketplace for growth still?

(Guest) Tim: Oh, definitely, definitely. As a comparison, the United States compares to, say, Germany as far as the number of VLMs provided out in the field.

(Host) James: Wow.

(Guest) Tim:    So, if you look at that as a global perspective, we have a lot more land mass and many companies that just have not even considered this technology.

(Host) James: Well, I mean, there's a few big players, I would say, in the US market that is heavily invested in distribution. Where are they at adopting this type of technology? I don't know if you have any research on that.

(Guest) Tim:    Yes, on the distribution side. Really, that's not where the VLM market started. The VLM market really has been focused on MRO applications, tool crib's and point of view storage. Whereas now, over the past few years, what's happened is that these machines have now entered into the distribution centers. And those big players out there, the reason why is because we are now turning our focus into “each-picking”. So instead of distribution centers simply pulling a pallet in and pushing a pallet out, we're now pulling a pallet in and having to get down to that granular level of the each. So, when a customer gets on their website, they want that single, they want one light bulb or one of a product, and that has really dramatically changed how distribution centers operate. So now they have to be able to pull pallets in, push pallets out, full pallets in, push cases out, and now even going down to the “each-picking”. And that's where VLMs really shine in the distribution center.

(Host) James: Well, yeah, behaviour has changed a lot because, I mean, I have a little bit of a background working for a company with a large distribution network in the past, and when you were shipping off to companies, you tried to get them to order in bulk, obviously. And that was really the methodology, because if you were getting into more individual sizes, they all had to be stored in the center, a specific way, to avoid the problems that you just spoke of. So now, of course, everybody's looking for that on demand ordering of “I want this specific amount,” and so, yeah, you have to remedy that.

(Guest) Tim:    Yeah, definitely, definitely.

(Host) James: So how is increased need for worker safety in industrial and distribution environments changed the industry's perspective or move towards VLMs?

(Guest) Tim:    In the past, in warehouse and other environments, there were quite a few ergonomic issues that the companies had to contend with. So, folks picking a product off the bottom shelf, having to get on stairs or ladders to climb up and reach items from high locations, to using equipment, such as wave pickers and forklifts to go and pick product off of shelving and pallet racks. The industry itself has now adopted more technology to offset this issue of people getting hurt on the job, and with the cost of medical care and downtime associated with these injuries and disabilities, it makes it really tough for companies to compete. So, by having automation in place, they reduce or eliminate a lot of these ergonomic issues, making it safer for employees to work there, which also attracts employees and potential employees to a company.

(Host) James: Now, I'd like to get a little into VLM solutions at a granular level. Let's talk about Vidir Vertical Storage Solution’s new VLM. How is this product poised to shake up the market?

(Guest) Tim:    Historically, there have been a couple of key players in the US market. The European market is different. There are a lot of players in European market, it's much more mature, whereas the US market has been, for quite some time, an emerging market. So having a new entrant into this market will really change the dynamic and really make it much more competitive with the big players. There are quite a few of them that have a major market share advantage. But with Vidir’s offering, they are really targeting the weaknesses of those competitors or manufacturers.

(Host) James: I want to get into specifically the features of Vidir’s VLM. What's different about it from other VLMs on the market?

(Guest) Tim:    One of the major features that's different is the fact that they use Servo motors instead of a typical gearbox and motor setups. That provides a higher precision for placing trays in and out of their locations, increased reliability, and just durability in general. So that's one of the key features that makes them different than the other folks that are out there. They also stand out with their hardened steel chain drive system. In the past, there has been an evolution of the VLM going from chain, excuse me, cable to chain to belts. And what I've noticed over the past handful of years, is that the belt design isn't necessarily as robust as a lot of people think it is, and that has really changed my opinion on what would be the best drive system out there. So looking at chains, they are very reliable. There are machines out there that are 25-30 years old, running with chains and they look, like, brand new inside. So, with belts, that can become a bit of an issue when they start to wear out, whereas with chains, it's a much more gradual issue, and it's more easily fixed than, say, a belt system. To me also, one of the really key features, and it's not just a key feature, I think it's more of a perspective or approach that Vidir has, and that's the idea that they're being customer centric. And I'm saying that towards the service side of the business.

(Host) James: And that's a key component right there. You know, service is everything.

(Guest) Tim:    Oh, definitely. I would sell on service. In the past, that's what I really stood on, was the fact that I had great service and support. But there is a major difference between being customer centric and profit centric, and there are manufacturers out there, multiple ones, that are really profit centric when it comes to service and support. So, with Vidir, they've actually designed the system to utilize Schneider Electric and their off-the-shelf components, so if your system goes down, well, you can go and source most of your components locally. You don't necessarily have to call them. You don't necessarily have to have a ‘factory’ part to repair that machine. So that is a major shift, as well as their remote support capabilities. So, with their remote support, there's no charge associated with it, and that is very beneficial to end users. So, if you have a support issue, you can call Vidir and they will be more than happy to help you troubleshoot the machine right over the phone, and there's no charge for it, unless they need to dispatch somebody to come and repair your unit.

(Host) James: And then they could even recommend where they can obtain parts, if that's what's determined is needed?

(Guest) Tim:    Correct, correct, so they know exactly where to source the components, they can provide part numbers, model numbers, things of that sort. And to touch on that, they also, if they do need to send somebody out, since Vidir has been associated for quite some time with some very large hardware retail companies in the United states, there is quite a large network of service technicians and service centers throughout the United States, so if something does go wrong and you do need to have somebody out there, they can dispatch somebody quite quickly to repair that unit.

(Host) James: What about the benefits from, say, a cost and time perspective? What can this VLM from Vidir provide?

(Guest) Tim:    Well, with this system, you can receive a tremendous amount of space savings, as well as productivity savings. So, when we talk about cost and time, I really blend those together, as your time is something that can be attributed to the cost of operating a facility. With these systems, you have a quite increase in your storage density, you can store more product, and occupy less floor space. And then to, on the other side, on the productivity side, you can really increase your operator's productivity by utilizing these systems. So, instead of having to go and find product on a shelf somewhere and walk around your warehouse, their role is to stand in front of the unit, maybe several units tied together, and make their transactions right there at those openings. You will see tremendous gains, up to 85% of your floor space being saved by using this equipment.

(Host) James: Wow.

(Guest) Tim: So, from a productivity standpoint, with this equipment, you can see gains of two, three, you know, several hundred percent productivity gains from your people, and with what's transpired in the world here lately, this equipment will really help minimize the impact to your business, or disruption to your business, because of the use of this technology and how easy it is to operate. You could have operators that were running forklifts that can now step into an order picking roll with about a couple of minutes of training, maybe five minutes of training. They can be processing orders, where in the past, the onboarding, an order picker could have taken several hours or days. This really does help on the productivity side quite a bit.

(Host) James: Well, that was a great point there that you made about the training. So, it sounds like it's not an in-depth training process, that you can get up and running and have users working with it pretty quick.

(Guest) Tim:    Oh, definitely, definitely. VLMs, when you turn over a VLM to a client and especially Vidir’s system, you really just operate by typing in a (part) tray number or part number and then it brings that tray down to you. So, these systems are quite simple to operate from an operator's perspective, and once trained, the systems run and do their job. So, an operator just has to follow the lights on the system, if you have software that's interfacing with it, or just walk up and say, ‘I need tray number one’, and it brings tray number one, they pick it, push a button and it stores the tray away. So, in the past, there was a learning curve, but with the technology nowadays, there is no learning curve. You, yourself, could walk up to one of these systems and start operating it within a couple of minutes.

(Host) James: Well, it sounds like if you don't have Michael Scott or Dwight Schrute operating it, you're going to be OK.

(Guest) Tim: Well, I think even Michael Scott or Dwight would be just fine using this! What I imagine is that we might see them trying to ride the system, and every unit should have a warning label on it that says, “Do not ride the trays or the pans!” But yeah, I think aside from being there and with those types of folks, you should be OK!

(Host) James: How about options and accessories? Are there additional features that can be added to make the VLM more functional?

(Guest) Tim: Definitely. So, with these systems, you can provide what I would call a manual tray extraction table, and what that does for you is it allows you to pull a tray outside of the access opening to be able to access your inventory via an overhead hoist. So that's a great feature, especially if you have to lift heavy product off of the tray, or you have some kind of an issue with trying to reach a product at the back of a tray, you can utilize those. And then also, a tray transport cart. That's quite handy if you need to be able to pull that tray out of the opening and then move it to another area. So that's something that's quite popular as well.

(Host) James: Vidir’s new VLM solution, it's available now, correct?

(Guest) Tim: Correct! The machine is out. They have sold a handful of these units, so far in the US and Canada, and they have a lot of projects right now in the pipeline throughout North America for these systems. So, if you're looking for a VLM, this is a VLM to consider.

(Host) James: Well, when did the product launch? Was it this summer?

(Guest) Tim: I believe it was back in July. So pretty recently, they launched the system, but in speaking with these guys, they have really taken a baby-step approach to making sure that they provide a really solid machine to the market and can really put their name behind that unit.

(Host) James: Tim, before we conclude our conversation, is there anything else you'd care to mention about the VLM or Vidir?

(Guest) Tim: I think the Vidir is a great organization. They have a real focus on being customer centric and doing the right thing. So, with that mindset and getting involved in the VLM market, I think that they are creating a product that is going to change the VLM landscape in the United States and provide a great option for customers that are looking for a durable, reliable, high quality unit that can last for 10, 20, 30+ years, in their facilities.

(Host) James: That wraps up our conversation today. I want to thank my guest, Tim Harrison, VLM expert and solutions consultant, for coming on the show today.

(Guest) Tim: Awesome thank you so much for having me.

(Host) James: You're welcome. And thank you for checking out this episode of Vertical with Vidir. We'll have more episodes for you in the future, so don't forget to hit the subscribe button, so you can have instant access as soon as a new episode is available. And if you want more information about Vidir’s storage solutions, contact storevertical.com or reach out at 800-210-0141. You can find us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Leave us a rating and a comment after each episode to let us know what content you'd like to hear more about in the future. I'm your host, James Kent. We'll talk again soon.


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