Our Industry Innovators series interviews senior leaders across industrial technology industries, exploring the latest trends, upcoming technologies and pressing hot topics that are shaping the future.

We help business leaders in the warehouse automation and intralogistics markets grow their teams and I recently had the privilege of speaking to CEO, President Vincent Halma. Vincent discusses various aspects of the industry and shares his insights and experience.

Watch the full interview here or read the transcript below:




Hello, everybody. Thank you for inviting me to the podcast. Looking forward to this. Yeah. I’ve been in the material handling and in the last years in the automation industry, my entire career. And yeah, I worked with several major players in our industry. The last few years really into robotics.


And we’ve seen such an interesting kind of landscape this year with Amazon retracting, a lot of almost a billion dollars’ worth of work towards the latter end of last year. So, being in the driver’s seat of a lot of companies, what challenges are you seeing automation companies face this year and what advice would you give those struggling companies?

I would describe the current phase, sort of the like the party hangover. So, the covid hangover that everybody is dealing with on top of that. We are dealing with a much higher interest rate than a few years ago. And then the combination also of our customers feeling some uncertainty – they don’t know exactly what will happen. There’s a kind of a reviving of retail sales versus e-commerce sales. So, there’s just a lot of uncertainty.

So, my advice to the players in our industry is really to focus on your core verticals. So really customers right now. If they’re buying something that really is high ROI, that really is a great solution, not a good solution. And my advice is to really focus on your core verticals where you really have a good message and a great solution, but also and as you may need to scale back in a certain way, step out of those verticals that you’re not good at and you see a lot of companies trying to hang onto that – continuing to lose business in those verticals.


What technologies and verticals can you see this year?

Well especially some of the larger players that used to serve all the verticals – what you see now that automation is becoming a lot more mainstream, there’s a lot of new technology and we’ll talk about that in a little bit, but if you look at some of the robotic solutions, for example they are providing a lot faster and higher ROI than these traditional solutions. So, what may have worked for a customer in any vertical, almost like 2 or 3 or 4 years ago is completely still a decent solution, but it’s just a lot more expensive than what is for today. So that’s why I really advise everybody to really look at what are the core technologies, what’s happening in every vertical, but in detail, and are you able to really catch up with how and what’s your offer?


Yeah, you make a great point. There’s many kinds of larger AMR’s and integrators that have their own mobile robotics product out of Europe or even native to North America. And then you’ve got companies that can come over overseas, build a strong sales team and division and just kind of put them on price and with a somewhat better product and in some cases.

No, exactly. And you mentioned the AMR space, I think that is the best example where you see a lot of companies make acquisitions. But a lot of times these are niche companies, and your product maybe twice the cost of that product and then a potential customer will need hundreds of them. So that’s what I meant with verticals and really seeing you may have a product, but it may not be competitive. That’s really where the industry is just maturing right now. And that’s just what companies need to become more industrial in that respect.


What is your management and leadership ideology and how have you reinvigorated revitalized and grown these organizations throughout your career?

Well, the number one thing you need to focus on is your customer. You see a lot of times companies in our industry that are very technically focused, sometimes a little bit more inward focused sometimes of course, you need to go out there and try and get new business and do that aggressively but only with the right solution. So going out there like I mentioned before, it really is about the right technology and solution with ROI for the customer.

But also focus on your existing customers. You see a lot of companies in our industry make that mistake. If your existing customer always has changes that are needed, they need to be taken care of. And that is why within your verticals that you work in, you need to understand all the different solutions because there may be a robotics company calling on your customer directly with a much more innovative solution than your areas that you installed a few years ago. And there’s a lot of potential, for example, in retrofitting – you see that a lot of companies have invested heavily in automation over the years, now they have learned they know how it works and they’re looking for different solutions, they have skew mixes, that change all the time, their DC is different today than they thought it would be a few years ago, or they have personalities because they know they cannot run their sites at full.


What do you think are the top 3 automation innovations this year? And what are your top picks for products?

For me, it’s really the picking systems that are out there now. Again, they’re scalable, they’re modular. I mentioned the high pick system – I think that’s a great innovation. You’re using some gravity right there. I also really like anything that ST Robotics is doing.

And then finally and there’s a lot of people that don’t look at this very closely, but your software maintenance costs can be huge with these automated systems that can run into the millions for some sites with that. And you can really save a ton of money with automated packaging – that is a solution that really is new to the industry. Automated packaging does many things. First, it has a huge environmental impact – you can reduce your material usage by about 40% or so, so that is a fantastic thing – you can cut your labour by about 70 to 80% because this machine will put it in the box for you instead of set people doing it manually. Then finally, your package size can be up to 30% less.

So, there’s a ton of savings in material, ton of savings in labour. It makes sure you can design your warehouse differently too. So, if you have a lot of singles that you ship, why wouldn’t you package them before you store? Because then your outbound is really a matter of slapping a label on them and shipping it. So, your process costs of your product through your warehouses is a lot less. Then finally, a lot of companies are trying to manage their transportation costs almost backwards. They say, ‘hey, I’m shipping so many things’ and they’re really doing the funds of vendors. And some companies have a whole army of consultants trying to analyse that shipping cost, but they’re not really trying to analyse ‘how can I do my process so much better in that packaging process, to reduce the cost that way and really have a handle on the process’. So long answer, but you can tell I’m enthusiastic about it.

ST is also perfect for retrofits. It really is a matter of a plugin. ST works on a license basis for a customer, it can be a monthly payment. So instead of having to do a lot of upfront programming costs, this solution they have different tiers and in their payment programs, it’s based on your volume – you pay a certain amount. And basically, you pay for a container of software and then the maintenance cost of that is quite minimal as well, especially compared to the modelling system. So, it’s great for smaller solutions, more modular solutions. It’s also very good for retrofits, for example. So that is where I encourage the bigger integrators to look at things like this. A lot of money to be saved for your customer and probably make them happier too.


Following on from my previous interview with Disability & Inclusion CEO Meg O’ Connell, why aren’t we seeing more publicized, disability, inclusive automation and what can we do better?

I think that is such a great question. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to go to a facility in Michigan, and they did exactly that. One of the managers there has had a family member that had a disability and that drove him to really develop this. I think first, I think we as an industry and everybody in business has a moral obligation to really be more inclusive, for everybody in society. And I think with the technology that we have in automation; we can create that environment.

What I saw at that site is that really everybody wins. You’re giving people really a much better life. The company was winning because they all of a sudden had super loyal and motivated workforce. Their turnover was minimum or almost nil. Also, the productivity was very high. We have some great AI tools nowadays as well to help there to say, ‘how can we do a better job?’ And then we have people that that will be more than happy to join these businesses if we enable that. So yeah, I think it’s a great opportunity and a moral obligation.


And a little kind of close in tradition that we like to do, or I like to do, in this podcast series is, what question do you have for my next interview? And what do you want to ask of your fellow supply chain executives?

If a third party offers a solution closer to your customer needs, how would you collaborate with them ahead of promoting your internal solutions? So, how do you get out of that funnel to say, ‘what the customer needs is everything I offer, or should I use a third-party solution to make it even better?’



For more inspiring stories, check out our Women Revolutionizing series. Or, learn more about our dedicated Automation and Intralogistics recruitment team and automation jobs