Let's Talk Business with Joe Perkins

July 7, 2023


Embracing automation


The supply chain was a relatively unfamiliar topic to most until March 2020 when the pandemic exposed weak links in the global flow of goods.


Today, the supply chain is a well-known part of our lexicon, with many companies shaking up their supply chain strategies to prevent future disruptions.


Joe Perkins, Carolina Handling Executive Vice President-Operations, recently sat down with Rick Jenkins, host of Let’s Talk Business South Carolina, to discuss how Carolina Handling is helping its customers address ongoing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and develop more sustainable, collaborative operations.


RJ: First, tell me about Carolina Handling.

JP: We’re a material handling suppler right here in the Southeast that covers North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and the Central time zone of Florida. We’re the Raymond OEM, an electric forklift company.


Over the last few years, we've really expanded what we want our customers to view us as, so getting away from just the forklift and service to really expand into intralogistics solutions, which really impacts the supply chain.



RJ: So, you started as a forklift company and when did you all begin to kind of transition into something a little more umbrella-like?

JP: I’ve been here for 11 years now and during my time with the company, I've watched that transition continue to happen. Some of it was in the works before but the big thing was that customers needed all of the resources that we currently provide, so why not become that one-stop shop that a customer can call you whether it's automation or rentals or service or what have you.



RJLet’s talk about supply chain and get into a little bit more depth there. A ton of vulnerabilities raised their heads during Covid times. It kind of got ugly there for a couple years. I think we continue to experience some things but tell us about those vulnerabilities and what happened.

JP: The cool thing about Carolina Handling and our customer base is that we service so many different verticals. Here in the Upstate, we had a tissue supplier that we work with, and we know that during Covid, that was booming. But there were a couple things that Covid really exposed. First, it was how quickly our customers could adapt to consumers changing their buying habits.


A lot of our customers were challenged with moving pallets to moving cases or eaches because the buying habit of the consumer had changed. While they may have been moving the same amount of volume, the number of touches that it took to get it to that end user changed drastically and so therefore the throughput in those facilities was two or three (times) what it had been.


Another thing that it really exposed was a lot of our customers had single-source supply chains on a lot of parts and components and things that were coming from overseas and offshore. Those customers quickly realized that they had to redesign or re-engineer some of the products they were supplying. While the U.S. may have been opening up, a lot of the world was still shut down.


The other thing was the labor shortage. We saw an exodus of a lot of the Baby Boomers out of the workforce and a lot of our customers depend on labor to move products and when those folks started to leave the workforce, it really left a void.



RJ: What types of clients are we talking about?

JP: It’s manufacturing through distribution. It’s pharmaceutical to food. We’re touching the Amazons, Walmart’s. We’re touching Pfizer. I mean, we're all over the place.



RJ: Let's talk about manufacturing automation. I think there is more of an acceptance for customers these days to embrace automation in manufacturing. How are you all playing a part in that?

JP: The things I mentioned earlier. All of our customers are facing that labor shortage. They need to move products faster. They need to optimize their facilities. Going back to the transition of our company, I mentioned we didn't want to be just a forklift company, so the first thing that we did – and this has really happened over the last five to seven years – we created an intralogistics (solutions) group.


When that group started, we were four or five people selling stick racks and things like that to our customers. Today, that group is over 35 people and we’ve got engineers and consultants and a ton of expertise that we've added – I think there's like over 150 years of experience in that engineering group. So, our customers can come to us for something that they typically would have to pay for, helping them understand what solutions are out there.


Another piece that is key to Toyota, Raymond and Carolina Handling is Toyota Production Systems (TPS). We call it Raymond Lean Management (RLM) and it's really a focus on continuous Improvement. You talked about warehouse optimization earlier and we really believe strongly in optimizing processes before you start to put automation in because you don’t want to automate a bad process. We want to make sure that optimization happens first.



RJ: Technology is changing like crazy. I mean it never stops. In the manufacturing world, it seems like just the other day we were industry 3.0 and now we're zooming up to 5.0. What does technology look like in the next decade?

JP: Oh gosh. I wish I had that crystal ball. We’d make a lot of money. But I would answer it this way. I think everything points to overcoming the challenges that we talked about earlier and the adoption following those challenges. So, the talent shortage. Anything that can play in that space so AGVs, automated robots and goods-to-person technology where rather than someone having to travel the warehouse, the product is brought to them.


I think you're going to see a lot of technology that creates transparency, as well as the Internet of Things. So how do we tie the machine and what that machine is doing relative to order size and magnitude and optimize how they play a role within the supply chain, up and downstream.