Derek Lester is vice president and manager of the Logistics and Material Handling (LMH) business unit at Intralox, a company that manufactures conveying systems that feature modular plastic belting for use in the food, tire, beverage, container, and other industries. In that capacity, he is responsible for overseeing the development of new programs and equipment to support customers in the e-commerce and parcel sectors.
Lester has been with Intralox since 2007, serving in various product and operations management roles and as an international sales leader. His experience has included overseeing European sales as well as working with Intralox’s teams in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) and Latin American regions.
Q: A lot of your automation equipment is used in the e-commerce and parcel industries. How has that market changed with the pandemic?
A: The market is certainly in growth mode, primarily driven by e-commerce. The pandemic has accelerated the shift from brick and mortar to online as well as the change in parcel shipping profiles (less B2B and more B2C). This means that our customers have been experiencing unprecedented volumes since the outbreak of the pandemic.
This is driving the need for additional automation (sortation, singulation, and bulk handling) as customers look to expand their capacity. They also are looking for increased reliability and uptime with their systems. The increased volumes mean that the amount of downtime, planned or unplanned, our customers can tolerate is reduced. This has our customers implementing proven and reliable technology that is backed by a robust support infrastructure.
Q: You have worked at Intralox for nearly 13 years. What has kept you at one company for so long?
A: It’s a great, fulfilling place to work with great people, and it starts with the culture: We believe in doing the right things daily and treating customers, suppliers, and employees with honesty, fairness, and respect. We focus on developing long-term relationships by creating significant value for our customers, and in these times of accelerated growth, our customers rely on Intralox to meet our commitments. We are committed to providing excellent customer experience and execution—our long-term thinking means we meet our delivery dates and the promised performance metrics.
Another thing that has kept me here is the constant innovation. Intralox was founded on innovation. Our founder, J.M. Lapeyre, earned 191 patents, including patents for the dot-matrix printer, a digital compass, a shrimp peeler, and the first modular plastic conveyor belt. We have continued that level of innovation ever since by focusing on what we call gaps in the market. And what we mean by that is we start with understanding where there are problems faced by various industries today, and then we boil those down and only focus on those that we can [address] uniquely well and completely. And by completely, we mean not only creating unique technology that solves these problems, but also making sure that pre-sales, execution, commissioning, and post-sales service is world-class for that particular innovation.
Q: What are some of the major innovations you have seen in automated solutions over the past few years?
A: With the continued shift away from physical store traffic to e-commerce, both before and after the pandemic, the industry has seen a dramatic increase in demand for small parcel automation, which becomes particularly difficult for soft-packed items in polybags and bubble mailers. Traditional parcel automation technology providers have seen the need for rapid innovation to keep up with this trend.
We’ve seen tremendously innovative solutions in the technologies and integrated solutions focused on this area. This spans a wide range of applications, including bulk sortation, singulation, and identifying, gapping, and sorting small parcels at very high rates with minimal to no human intervention.
We’ve also seen opportunities for partnered innovation between end-customers and technology providers—where solutions can be tailored to fit the dynamic needs of both new systems and system additions to meet the shifting mix toward more small items.
Q: What do you think is the most important thing companies should focus on now in their supply chains?
A: For our own supply chain experience, we’ve seen success staying close to our customers’ capital expenditure plans while improving our forecasting methods. I also believe it’s important to communicate early and often with our suppliers and partner with them as much as possible. Just as we do with our customers, we strive to [create] long-term value with our suppliers, so it’s a win/win relationship. Expectations are important here as well. We’re up front about our capacity and don’t overcommit, and the same goes for the quality of our product and delivery expectations.