David Peacock is the president of Hytrol Conveyor Co. and a member of its board of directors. He began his Hytrol career in 2014 as executive vice president and became president in 2015. Peacock has led the company to back-to-back record growth years while implementing strategies to move Hytrol into the future. Before joining Hytrol, Peacock served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1984 to 1996, departing with the rank of captain. He also spent 18 years in manufacturing management positions. He recently spoke with DC Velocity Editorial Director David Maloney.
Q: How does Hytrol view the current state of the material handling industry?
A: We are in a period we will remember our entire careers. Technology, information, and consumer patterns are all making significant advances that are creating unprecedented opportunities. No one really knows how long this market will last or exactly where it will lead, so we must all stay focused, nimble, and open to new possibilities.
Q: Recent statistics from CEMA (the Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association) show continuing growth in the unit load conveyor market. To what do you attribute this increasing demand?
A: E-commerce is obviously driving demand. Whether it is the big players or the traditional retail distribution organizations working to add e-commerce to their capabilities, everyone is responding to this vast channel.
Q: How has the growth of e-commerce affected the types of conveyors and sorters that Hytrol provides?
A: Speed, carton density, and operation tempo are all being impacted by e-commerce. The ability to process different package types—cartons of all shapes and sizes, poly bags, flats—is crucial. Our solution must utilize the equipment and technology capable of supporting the widest product mix. One area I see offering great opportunity is in processing returns. There are some facilities where the bulk of their labor is dedicated to processing returns. Making inroads in reducing this labor or minimizing returns has tremendous potential to assist those end users.
Q: Do you see the growing use of mobile robotic transport devices as a potential threat to long conveyor runs within facilities? How are you addressing and adjusting to possible changing markets?
A: If we were content with the status quo, we would probably see mobile robotics as a threat. Fortunately, we look at emerging technology as opportunities. Will the systems we design tomorrow look like those we implemented last year? Absolutely not, but why would we see that as anything but reflective of our commitment to innovation? We are on a journey—a journey that we want to help lead—and we have targeted between 1 and 2 percent of our revenue to be invested into product development. We intend to lead the way and are investing accordingly.
Q: You have worked in manufacturing operations throughout your career. How have you been able to bring your experience with lean manufacturing to Hytrol's own manufacturing processes to benefit your customers?
A: One of the keys to a lean operation is the standardization of processes. My background, both in manufacturing and in the military, has been focused on this type of standardization, and it's something that I've challenged our team at Hytrol to increase its focus on. By creating these standards, we can produce more while saving our customers time, money, and confusion.
Having said that, I'd like to offer two caveats. First, my team at Hytrol had enthusiastically embraced lean concepts before my arrival. You can't set foot in our 700,000-square-foot facility and not be blown away by lean work that has been done and the incredible coordination being done by the professionals driving this organization. Second, we also recognize that we cannot sacrifice our responsiveness to achieve standardization. The art is in the integration of both concepts.
Q: Your Hytrol team has begun to use virtual reality in your design simulations. Can you tell us how this helps customers better visualize how their new systems will operate?
A: Virtual reality can be used in a multitude of ways—not only to help customers visualize their solutions, but also to help them with everything from preventive maintenance to product testing. Before now, you always saw your system on paper and had to take steps to visualize it yourself. By programming different simulations, we can give customers the experience of seeing their products convey through their system, the space that will be utilized, and how the technologies employed will work together to give them a system that meets their needs. They will see chokepoints early in the design phase, and we will collaboratively work through those challenges before the first piece of metal is ever cut.
The exciting part is where we are going with this technology; its applications are evolving very rapidly and we have partnered with academia to develop technology to address several other challenges that our customers face. I can't wait for everyone to see what we're working on.