Gary Cash has spent his 30-year career designing automated material handling and manufacturing systems with a focus on software and controls. He is currently vice president and general manager of Cincinnati-based Matthews Automation Solutions, a business unit of Matthews International. In that role, Cash is responsible for the strategic direction of the combined Pyramid and Compass businesses, which provide warehouse execution software and control systems for distribution and fulfillment centers.
Cash’s systems experience also includes product development for sortation systems, conveyors, palletizers, print-and-apply systems, automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), and picking systems. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Cleveland State University and an MBA from John Carroll University.
Q: As we begin a new year, how do you view the state of the warehouse management systems and controls markets?
A: The markets for WMS/WES/WCS software and controls remain strong. Much of it is driven by the continued shift to e-commerce and the need to meet ever-increasing service and performance expectations. However, I believe the most important trend is to install more integrated and comprehensive software solutions that can continuously monitor performance, move work to where it is needed, and intelligently adapt as the workload changes throughout the day.
Q: How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your customers and the systems they need?
A: Covid-19 has impacted our customers in a few ways. As we have all seen, the shift from brick-and-mortar–based retail to e-commerce has accelerated to accommodate consumers’ desire to avoid crowds and contact with others.
On top of that, many new ways of delivering product are becoming more commonplace, such as buy online/pick up in store (BOPIS), home deliveries, and micro-fulfillment. Within distribution centers, software systems are now tasked with managing newer systems and technologies, such as AMRs (autonomous mobile robots), to minimize the number of people required in an area.
We also are changing how workload planning occurs, now accounting for social distancing needs with ongoing monitoring of workers’ locations throughout their shifts.
Q: How do you expect the internet of things (IoT) to affect the controls industry in the coming years?
A: IoT is generally thought of as the connection of smart devices to the internet. In the world of distribution centers, we typically gather information from devices and publish it within a local network to help users with their decision-making. As a provider of warehouse execution software, we take advantage of the thousands of data points generated by these sensors to continuously evaluate how a system is running. Our flow management software looks for opportunities to pull in more work where needed or to redirect it, allowing the system to automatically maximize throughput in all areas of an operation. Our software and controls depend on this IoT approach for the real-time feedback needed for evaluating flow management decisions.
Q: Business units within the Matthews family offer a wide range of solutions, including software and material handling equipment. What kinds of synergies are created between your brands?
A: The Matthews Automation Solutions brands include Pyramid, Compass, Lightning Pick, RAF, and Guidance Automation. All were brought together through a deep understanding of our customers’ needs, with the agility to combine our industry-leading products and third-party systems to create innovative solutions. As one Matthews group, we can deliver fully integrated, end-to-end material handling systems. Yet with multiple best-of-breed brands and a deep network of proven relationships with top-tier partners, we don’t approach automation with a monolithic, one-size-fits-all strategy.
We have found that, even in distribution centers that share similar product types and throughput, customers need flexible automation aligned with their unique needs and culture. Matthews’ strategy, therefore, is to combine our proven, standard software modules with the best hardware fit for the customer’s specific processes. We’re “hardware agnostic,” so we ensure the correct products are utilized for their singular applications. In fact, our software and controls engineering team thrives and excels when challenged by some of these unique requirements.
Q: Are you working on any current projects or products that you wish to share?
A: Light-directed systems are easy to deploy and deliver rapid boosts in productivity and efficiency. We’re working with several food-related brands challenged with sudden, massive increases in omnichannel order volume. Pick-to-light and put walls, for example, are helping meal-kit delivery services meet skyrocketing e-commerce demand. The same solutions enable other brands to successfully supply major retailers with fresh, ready-to-eat meals.
In addition to “classic” pick-to-light projects, there is rising adoption of light sleds, light frames, and picking carts that leverage the technology’s inherent flexibility to support multiple order selection and sortation techniques.
Autonomous mobile robots also offer opportunities to integrate with lights, conveyor, and other automation to optimize dynamic fulfillment environments. Whether these projects involve Matthews AMRs or other manufacturers’ robots, we’re focused on the solid integration necessary for reliable, impactful solutions.
Q: What do you think is the most important thing that companies should focus on now in their supply chains?
A: As we’ve learned from Covid-19, building flexibility is critical for adapting to changing market conditions, global supply chain risks, and major shifts in shopping behavior. Software designed to manage complex workflows can make fast changes to improve deliveries to stores, parcel shipping, or store pickup as needed.
The advent of more integrated WES software provides detailed process visibility, maximizing throughput and efficiency throughout these workflows. This includes a wide range of real-time status updates on conveyor system sensors, the quantity and mix of incoming orders, the current workload at any point in the system, and other critical information. Advanced algorithms monitor that data and adjust automated subsystems throughout the day to maintain optimal work balance and flow. Whether customers use waveless or wave-based order processing strategies, WES is a real competitive advantage for those who have it.