Since becoming president of Bastian Solutions in 2014, Aaron Jones has led this growing material handling systems integrator through its successful transition to a subsidiary of Toyota Advanced Logistics. Jones has been with Bastian Solutions since 2010, serving as a regional manager, national director, and vice president before taking on his current role as president. He previously worked as a product design engineer at Ford Motor Co./Visteon Corp. From 1997 to 2000, he played professional baseball within the New York Yankees organization.
Jones has received several patents for Bastian Solutions in robotic applications and automated guided vehicles (AGVs). He also led three strategic acquisitions for the company in the software, consulting, and AGV functional areas. Under his leadership, Bastian Solutions has twice been recognized as one of the Best Places to Work in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. The Indianapolis Business Journal named Bastian Solutions the area’s largest engineering firm in 2020.
Jones holds a master’s degree in engineering management from Wayne State University in Detroit and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Southern Illinois University, where he was an All-American baseball player. He recently spoke with DC Velocity Editorial Director David Maloney.
Q: How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your company and customers so far?
A: The challenges we face as a company and the challenges our customers face are present every day. With that said, we’ve worked incredibly hard to put the necessary safety precautions in place for our employees and for our customers to keep projects on track. The execution and delivery of these projects has changed, but they’re still moving forward. Each is maintaining social distancing and following the necessary precautions with respect to sanitation and PPE. Securing these materials has been challenging, but a top priority for us is keeping our project teams and manufacturing employees safe.
Our next priority has been ensuring the success of current projects and supporting our customers however we can. With the pandemic, of course, there are greater global supply chain challenges, but we have worked hard to limit those—which is a significant benefit of being an independent systems integrator as opposed to relying only on our internal manufacturing. As a global integrator, we can reach out to a wide range of supply networks. If there are delivery or supply chain issues in a certain region or country, we can go to a different region to help mitigate those issues for our clients.
Q: Has the pandemic changed any plans or major initiatives slated for the remainder of the year?
A: The pandemic hasn’t changed any of our overall plans. In fact, we feel that coming out of this pandemic, there is going to be even more demand for the goods and services we provide.
While it hasn’t changed any of our plans, it has inherently delayed them for a few months. We continue to hire and expand through the pandemic, though not as quickly as we had hoped. Once we come through this pandemic, there is going to be greater demand for advanced technologies that provide supply chain visibility and agile operations, areas in which our products and services can truly help; thus, we want to continue to invest in our team and look to the future.
As for our customers, we seem to have two types at the moment: those who have invested in automation (and they sure are happy that they have invested), and those who wish they had automated their facilities before this pandemic. Our goal is to assist those companies in planning for and creating post-Covid operations to address changes in consumer behavior. For example, with most stores in the country closed, the only way to reach clients is digitally—which has made home delivery and curbside pickup imperative.
When you look at the results of the pandemic, as we rebound from the social changes we are left with, we will see a greater sense of social distancing, which goes hand in hand with automated fulfillment systems. There will be lasting changes, so we look forward to supporting our customers through it all.
Q: Bastian Solutions is now part of Toyota Advanced Logistics, which also includes Vanderlande, and is a sister company to Toyota Forklifts and Raymond under the Toyota Industries Corp. (TICO) umbrella. Have you been able to create synergies or joint projects with the other brands?
A: When you look at Toyota’s interest in acquiring Bastian Solutions and Vanderlande, its goal and mission was to provide the greatest level of full turnkey solutions in automation across the globe, which is now largely in effect.
Within TICO, we have a laser focus on global markets of all sizes. There has been very strong correlation across all the TICO companies and our customers to continue to provide our clients with the most comprehensive solutions in the world.
Fork trucks are becoming more and more a part of integrated solutions each year, thanks to their growing sophistication and expanding capabilities. The industry is at a stage where we are getting close to fully automated distribution facilities, and I think going forward, fork vehicles will be so well integrated into the automated systems that they’ll largely be viewed as another piece of equipment, like you’d look at a robot or an AS/RS crane.
Q: Last year, Bastian Solutions opened an advanced manufacturing facility in Indiana. What does that facility provide for you in terms of capabilities and capacities?
A: The primary focus of the facility is to manufacture conveyor, but our commitment to the market and our clients, first and foremost, is that we are an independent integrator. In the last 65 years, we have supplied a large variety of technologies, including a large variety of conveyor—that isn’t going to change with our strong focus on integration. This facility in Indiana provides us with a high-quality conveyor option for our clients; however, we do still leverage other trusted conveyor suppliers that we’ve integrated with for many years. We are consistently reminded that this is the advantage we provide our clients and our first commitment is to our customers. We are going to provide them with the best product available for their system, regardless of where that product comes from.
Q: Bastian Solutions has been recognized as one of the best places to work in Indiana. To what do you attribute that success?
A: We are very proud to have received this award for the second time. Based on an independent employee survey, I can attribute the success to a very keen focus on the satisfaction and feedback of our employees. We listen and look for ways to make their time at Bastian Solutions more enjoyable.
In this day and age, employees have options. Social media is a friend or enemy, depending on how companies treat their employees. Companies must be flexible, progressive, and accommodating. Our human resources team, along with our leadership team, continues to monitor feedback and working conditions, always looking for ways to excel. I look at this award as a report card for how we did this year. We continue to look for innovative ways to serve our employees and will hopefully receive the award for many years to come.
Q: In your career, you worked at Ford Motor Co. and played professional baseball in the Yankees organization. What did those experiences teach you about leadership and team building that you now apply to your role as president of Bastian Solutions?
A: I couldn’t ask for a better experience at either organization. In the mid-90s, the Yankees were leaders in attracting cultural diversification. We had around 60% of the entire organization come from outside the U.S. The cultural differences were significant, and it was a tough adjustment for some players from other countries. I had to learn to function on a diverse team. I think the biggest thing that the Yankees and professional sports taught me was a keen desire to win, but more importantly, it taught me how to lose gracefully. Playing 160 games a year and racking up 100 wins is a good team, but you still lost 60 times. Baseball and athletics at that level taught me how to succeed and fail with grace.
My time with Ford and Visteon taught me how to respect diversification not only on your teams but also by market and country. I also learned about large-scale manufacturing and supply chain. One of my first tours was of an assembly line of a major automotive factory, and it was very eye opening.
Q: You’ve been an advocate for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. Why is this critical to the future of the industry?
A: The industry is undoubtedly changing at an incredible speed. I have confidence in saying that while the job market has changed significantly over the last 20 years, the change over the next 20 years will happen at an even faster pace.
With regard to STEM and being of an engineering background, I like to encourage schools to not only consider the engineers and scientists that these programs will turn out, but even more so, the technicians. The available secure and stable jobs in the future will require a technical understanding and competence. When I encourage these schools, I emphasize that even with a great track record of producing engineers, we need to also focus on the technicians who might not go through a typical four-year or two-year degree program—we need to give them the technological background to be successful as well.
In many cases, if we put the right programs in place, a senior in high school can graduate with a two-year degree in some sort of technical field and get a really good job. The competencies required to operate automated equipment and understand sensors and PLCs [programmable logic controllers] and software programs do not require someone to write the code or to design the technology, but to understand how everything works, be able to operate it, and be a system expert.