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ProMat Interview with Jim Lawton: Preparing now for what’s coming next

With a theme of “Touch the Future,” ProMat 2023 captured the focus for everyone at the show: what’s next and how can we get ready for it?

Jim Lawton
Vice President and General Manager
Zebra Robotics Automation

QModern Materials Handling:
What is your number one takeaway from Promat 2023?

ALawton: For me, the show’s “Touch the Future” theme captured the focus for everyone at the show, which is: what’s next and how can I be sure my operation is ready for it? The fundamentals have changed for materials movement in ways I don’t think anyone could have predicted just five years ago. The shift centers on the strategic role that materials handling and movement now play in supply chain, and there’s no going back. Customers are looking for holistic solutions that can deliver speed, accuracy and volume—not just at the task level, but across entire workflows, recognizing the interdependency of each step on another and just how important it is to make the actions both within and between seamless and smooth.

QMMH: What are the three key
market trends from your perspective?

ALawton:Labor stability remains impossible to ignore. It’s not just about today’s workforce: increasingly, concerns around where the warehouse and manufacturing workforce of the future will come from are keeping our customers awake at night, so how can those jobs attract the next generation?

Second, the fact that uncertainty is a constant now—there is no “steady state” making agility key.

Third, while the “pandemic” is over, the imprint it left on businesses and consumers remains and we’re all still trying to figure out what supply chains should look like. Warehouses and logistics operations are becoming a more direct—and critical—link in the customer relationship for both B2B and B2B companies. That change requires more than a step-change in productivity, throughput and efficiency.

QMMH: How is Zebra Robotics Automation
responding to these market trends?

ALawton: We’re working with customers to bring innovation in robotics and cloud computing to their operations. We hear consistently that warehouse and manufacturing operations teams know that more automation is essential to helping them attract and retain workers, scale up—or down—as market conditions change and improve operational performance. We also hear that many companies don’t know where or how to begin.

Our solutions give companies a path to achieving their goals. Orchestrating complex workflows such as put-away from receiving, pick-to-tote, dunnage, pack-to-ship and fulfillment enable people and machines to perform optimally. Solutions like software-differentiated autonomous mobile robots orchestrate manual and automated workflows, so people and robots work collaboratively to increase productivity, streamline throughput and reduce the toll of physical labor on the workforce.

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