How’s the old saying go: It’s all over but the shouting!
Earlier this month, the KION Group announced that it had successfully completed the acquisition of Dematic. In the announcement, Gordon Riske, chief executive officer of KION Group AG, said that it marked the dawn of a new era for his company, Dematic and their combined companies. “The transaction brings together the world’s most profitable manufacturer of forklift trucks and warehouse technology with one of the largest and fastest-growing warehouse automation and software solution providers,” he added. You can read the complete press release here.
When I think about the last year in the materials handling industry, it really does feel like the dawn of a new era for our industry. It’s obviously early days, but its hard to ignore the strong showing of robotics that were the talk of Modex last April, just as its hard to look at the KION/Dematic and Honeywell/Intelligrated couplings and not wonder how materials handling might look going forward.
The fundamental challenges facing end users are age old, including space utilization, inventory management and order fulfillment. But, between shuttles, putwalls, pocket sorters, robotics and software, we’re seeing new and ingenious uses of equipment and technology to solve those problems. What does it look like at KION and Dematic? To find out, I had a chance to talk to Riske and John Baysore, who is now Dematic’s president and CEO, right before PackExpo. Here’s what they had to say.
Why Dematic? Lift trucks are obviously a major component of our industry. In fact, to some degree the industry dwarfs the rest of the industry. In 2015, the Top 5 lift truck providers generated over $22.221 billion in revenue, more than the $16.65 billion generated by the Top 20 System Suppliers combined. There have been some nods by lift truck manufacturers towards the rest of the industry, including Toyota’s foray into AGVs. But for the most part, it’s been two separate worlds. That began to change a year or so ago, when KION acquired the AGV maker Egemin Automation and Retrotech, best known for AS/RS systems. Riske said the catalyst for those deals was the explosion of automation around the world, including small growing companies that might now have one DC with lift trucks but want to expand their operations into global markets, like DCs serving Madrid, Atlanta and Spain. Someone needs to help them, and KION might already be servicing their lift truck needs. “Egemin and Retrotech were an experiment to see how they fit with our organization,” Riske says. “When the opportunity came up for Dematic, we thought now was the right time to put these two companies together. The companies compliment one another: Where we’re strong, they’re weaker and vice versa, and there isn’t a lot of regional overlap.” KION, for example, has a limited presence in North America, which is Dematic’s strongest market. Similarly, KION is strongest in regions where Dematic has less of a showing.
Overlap of products: At first glance, there would appear to be overlap between some of Dematic’s product offerings and Egemin’s AGVs and Retrotech’s AS/RS. Baysore argues that if you look closer, the deal extends Dematic’s offerings. “We recently bought NDC, an AGV company in Australia,” Baysore says. “They have products that we didn’t have and Egemin has products that neither Dematic or NDC has.” The plan, he adds, is to combine global R&D forces under the KION umbrella, and create a product line with the best of all four companies.
Grow with the customer: Baysore describes the go-to-market strategy as “cradle-to-grave” in terms of automation, including everything across the board in terms of technology within the four walls of the DC. “Many customers may start with lift trucks, and we can offer that,” he says. “They may then dip their toe in the water with an AGV. We can then combine those solutions with a conveyor and voice. We’re positioned to cover the market from the entry level to a $200 million solution.” Riske adds that with an ownership stake in Balyo, a provider of technology to automate lift trucks, the combined companies can bring new solutions to the market. KION, with Balyo, is currently working on a project with a leading CPG manufacturer to automate lift trucks in Europe and Asia.
The forklift business will remain separate: While KION has a 36% market share in Europe, it’s fair to say that it has struggled in the U.S. Riske says that KION is making investments in the North American market to change that, including the launch of new products at this year’s Promat. However, lift trucks will not be integrated into the Dematic business. “Dematic has a huge install base, and we’d like to leverage their sales force where we can if a customer is doing a new facility,” Riske says. “However, lift trucks will remain part of our industrial truck and services business.” There may be opportunities to strengthen and leverage each other’s spare parts and services businesses as well as each other’s software businesses. Finally, expect to see Retrotech’s service business coming under Dematic’s umbrella.
People count: Riske says that when he made the announcement of the closing to employees of the combined companies in Grand Rapids, Atlanta and Sydney, the enthusiasm was gratifying. “At the end of the day, all business is a people business,” he says. “If employees are happy, you can make great things happen.”
About the Author
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.
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