I’ve been in the warehousing business since 1981. After leaving the USAF in 1981, I started work with a S. Abraham and Sons, servicing convenience stores for 3 years. After that, I moved to Gordon Food Service in Grand Rapids, MI and spent 35 years there. GFS had been using conveyor since the late 1970’s and I found myself in a great position to learn how to operate, design and integrate complex systems.
Our company grew from the one DC to 27 DC’s over the next 35 years. Some of the growth was through geographic expansion as well as strategic acquisitions. Rather than operate on separate platforms, the approach was to integrate each building to a common, homegrown WMS. Our team became proficient at system integrations and we developed a strong culture of system development and prided ourselves at understanding how work was really being done.
As the company grew, my duties became primarily to manage the warehouse CoE, operational technology, construction standards and asset audits and lifecycle planning. The most exciting thing that we accomplished was to totally re-think our reliance upon conveyor based mechanization and design the “warehouse of the future”. In order to improve flexibility and become more nimble, we come up with the concept of goods-to-person systems integrated with the more traditional manual operations. This design would be used for the next two greenfield projects.
My interests soon moved toward solutions for existing buildings that were traditional manual warehousing operations. New construction is exciting, but it isn’t practical to think that every location is going to get the kind of capital it will take to become build with new construction around automation. The shortage of qualified workers to staff warehousing is among the most pressing issues that our industry has, and I am committed to leading the retrofit solution for existing DC’s that would improve ergonomics and reduce travel though a combination of mobile and fixed automation and robotics.
Then the Covid-19 Pandemic came.
Our business was impacted heavily by Covid-19, and my role was nearly 100% strategic projects, innovation and operational technology. I realized that I was at a crossroads.
I approached early retirement as an opportunity to assess what comes next for me and how I would spend the remaining years of my career. After a few months, I was blessed to join forces with DLN Integrated Systems, company that I had been involved with on two exciting projects that were truly an innovative approach to the status quo.
Things couldn’t have worked out better. I’m surrounded by talented engineers, and I can focus upon innovation while acting as a customer advocate for companies that are considering the journey toward automation or operational technology. I’m a warehouse guy, speak the language and have lived through the experience and I know the common mistakes that are made. You can avoid the hard lessons, because I’ve been down this road before!