Mitch Smith is the chief revenue officer at Hytrol, a manufacturer of conveyors and sortation systems. He joined Hytrol in 2016 and led engineering groups before taking on his current role. Smith previously worked at Bastian Solutions for 23 years, designing and implementing material handling projects globally and serving as the president of the Hytrol Integration Partner Network. He holds a B.S. in industrial engineering and technology management from Morehead State University in Kentucky.
Q: How would you describe the current state of the conveyor and sortation industry?
A: Currently, Hytrol has a strong backlog going into 2023. While our integration partner network remains optimistic for the year, several industry associates and economists believe a slowdown is imminent. Hytrol is likewise forecasting a deceleration in business for the 2023 calendar year.
Q: Will an economic downturn affect industry growth and innovation?
A: Generally, an economic downturn does slow growth with regard to innovation as companies strive to conserve profits for core product and business offerings. That said, a slowdown in business gives technology-focused companies a chance to accelerate past those that stop developing new products and services.
Q: How has your background as an engineer helped you in your current role at Hytrol?
A: The companies that Hytrol serves are technology- or solution-oriented in nature. Having a technical acumen allows me to help provide immediate assistance for solving challenges. To be most effective, we cannot just sell and produce conveyors; we need to solve customers’ business needs. That requires an understanding of controls, software interfaces, and a variety of other industrial automation products.
Q: Hytrol goes to market through its dealer network, and you worked for many years at one of Hytrol’s integration partners. How has this model served the industry and its customers?
A: Hytrol goes to market exclusively through an integration partner network. This strategy has proved to be successful for more than 75 years. Hytrol’s partners are industry leaders in material handling automation and compete daily with international OEMs around the globe. The primary markets that Hytrol’s partners serve include warehouse and distribution, e-commerce, parcel and post markets, food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and a variety of manufacturing operations, to mention a few.
When I was working as an integrator, I knew Hytrol was our preferred equipment provider. Hytrol is the only company in the market that has never sold its products directly to an end-user. We are extremely loyal to our integration partners and that builds trust.
Q: How can conveyors and robotics complement, rather than compete with, each other?
A: Each type of equipment is designed for a specific and unique purpose. Some forms of equipment can have cross-functional or multiple uses, but one solution may excel over another. As an example, an AMR [autonomous mobile robot] may be functional for transporting and sorting low to medium volumes of products, but it will never compete with transporting or sorting high volumes of products. An AMR is simply not fast enough and it may be costly.
Likewise, each specific form of technology has a tradeoff in functionality versus price offering. That said, there is no single solution that fits all challenges. I believe conveyors and robotics will continue to complement each other for many years to come. In fact, when designed effectively, robots working together with conveyors provide the optimal benefit to the user. Robotic palletizing is a wonderful example of how the two technologies work well together.
Q: What should the industry do to find the technicians needed to install and maintain automated systems?A: There are a couple of industry associations focused on training programs for automation technicians. This is critical as more material handling automation is being implemented throughout the world. Hytrol is working with our industry to develop a more broadly focused program while also offering training at our facilities. We’re focused on attracting talent that enjoys working with their hands from trade and vocational schools.