Andrea Pongolini has more than 20 years of experience in advanced automation solutions for the consumer goods industry. He joined E80 Group, a provider of automation and robotic solutions, in 2007 and is currently the executive vice president of sales. Based in Chicago, he leads E80 Group’s sales efforts in the NAFTA region. Pongolini has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Parma in Italy and has done additional study at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
Q: How would you describe the current state of the material handling industry?
A: The current state of the material handling industry is rapidly evolving, driven by a crucial need for automation. We’ve witnessed a significant shift in focus, especially in the CPG [consumer packaged goods] industries, toward total integration solutions. Companies are realizing the importance of end-to-end automation in their plants and distribution centers. This trend is a testament to the industry’s commitment to automation as a key tool for maintaining competitiveness, particularly in the face of challenges like labor shortages, inflation, and rising material costs.
Q: How are automated solutions helping customers deal with the lack of available labor?
A: Automation plays a pivotal role in addressing the shortage of available labor. It’s essential to note that automation doesn’t replace labor and humans outright; instead, it targets manual, simple, and repetitive tasks. By automating these tasks, businesses enhance efficiency, accuracy, safety, and cost-effectiveness in material handling operations, ensuring that human workers can focus on more complex and strategic aspects of their roles.
Q: What do you consider to be the most significant advancements made by robotic systems in recent years?
A: In recent years, robotic systems have made remarkable strides, particularly in the context of total integration. The integration of hardware and software has become paramount, with a focus on flexibility and digital connectivity. In addition, the rise of the internet of things (IoT) has revolutionized data collection. Businesses now demand systems that can collect and process vast amounts of data, not just for maintenance purposes but also for strategic decision-making.
Q: What factors do companies need to consider when deploying automated guided vehicles?
A: Engaging the right people within the end-user’s organization, especially during the preparation of the software function description, is crucial when deploying automated guided vehicles (AGVs). A comprehensive approach is necessary, with a focus on seamless integration into the existing workflow to automate all facility movements.
On top of that, flexibility in system design is of extreme importance when deploying AGVs. A well-designed system should be adaptable to changing needs and evolving technologies. The ability to easily reconfigure routes, tasks, and workflows as operational requirements shift ensures that AGVs continue to provide value over the long term. This flexibility extends to accommodating new products, production processes, or facility layouts, enabling seamless integration and scalability. A system that can adapt to emerging challenges and opportunities in the future is a key factor in the sustained success of AGV deployment.
Furthermore, safety remains fundamental. At E80, our laser-guided vehicle systems prioritize safety through continuous research and development.
Q: There are many companies producing automated and robotic systems. What makes E80 stand out?
A: What sets E80 apart is our unwavering commitment to total integration and automation. Unlike many providers, we don’t focus solely on isolated tasks. E80 collaborates closely with customers, examining their entire plant or distribution center comprehensively. We begin with a consultancy approach, utilizing our Smart Designer software to simulate the flows of the entire facility before installation.
Our end-to-end solutions, encompassing both software and hardware, are able to automate every single movement, not just repetitive low-value tasks, transforming manual facilities into fully automated ones. Our dedication to listening to our customers’ needs and adapting our technologies accordingly has fostered long-term partnerships and repeat business, making E80 a leader in the industry.
Q: Automation can be a significant investment. Where should companies start their automation journey, and which areas will likely offer the best return?
A: In our experience, starting with tasks that are labor-intensive or prone to human error is highly effective. In the CPG industries, initiating an automated journey from the finished-goods warehouse has proved to be the winning approach.
When possible, we also try to include automating truck loading and unloading operations, or implement fully automated layer- and case-picking systems, which can lead to significant incremental cost savings and efficiency improvements. But regardless of the application, focusing on seamless integration with existing systems, coupled with robust data management, ensures a streamlined transition and maximizes the return on investment.
Q: You have a degree in mechanical engineering. How does that background benefit you in helping customers find the right automated solutions?A: My background in mechanical engineering equips me with a deep understanding of the technical intricacies involved in automated solutions. It allows me to bridge the gap between our cutting-edge technologies and our customers’ specific needs. By comprehensively understanding the mechanical aspects, I can effectively communicate the capabilities of our solutions to our customers. It enables me to work closely with our engineering teams, ensuring that our automated systems are not only state of the art but also precisely tailored to each customer’s unique requirements. This technical expertise forms the foundation of our customer-centric approach at E80 Group Inc.