Three decades after rock band Queen declared “I Want it All and I Want it Now,” consumers increasingly are now finding that they can do just that — get nearly anything delivered to them in a hurry.
One logistics industry report expects U.S. e-commerce retail sales in 2019 to exceed $605 billion, up more than 15% from just five years earlier. Today’s consumers expect with just a few taps on their phones or clicks on their keyboards to quickly get a wide variety of goods and services including apparel, entertainment, food, health & beauty, electronics and more.
Perhaps few are more interested in the increasing trend of consumers to buy online than Hytrol Conveyor Company. Ben Moyer is director of research and development for the company founded by Tom Loberg in Wisconsin in 1947 but relocated to Jonesboro in 1962.
“I don’t think that anybody really knows where the ceiling is in terms of how long this expansion will last,” said Moyer. “The e-commerce side of things is driving huge growth” in the materials handling industry. Consumers have the expectation of ordering a product and receiving it the next day “or in a couple of hours,” Moyer said.
Hytrol notes that its systems carry medicines to hospitals, toys to children and food to grocery stores.
“There’s a ton of challenges in terms of the variety of products going across our conveyor system,” he said.
Hytrol bills itself as the largest conveyor manufacturer in North America. With over 600,000 square feet of manufacturing production space, Hytrol’s 1,400 employees have plenty of room to maneuver.
Moyer said that with the increasing trend for consumers to buy online and get their purchases shipped quickly to them comes the opportunity for what he calls “reverse logistics.” That is, if consumers buy something, then get it delivered and decide to return it, they expect the return process to be as swift and convenient as the purchase process. For both processes, sellers need conveyor systems to move those products.
“Our president (David Peacock) said recently ‘This is the time in our industry that we will remember all our careers,’” said Moyer, who recently earned the Outstanding Young Professional Award from MHI, the nation’s largest materials handing association.
Hytrol’s conveyor systems are never sold directly to the end users. They’re sold through the Hytrol Integration Partner Network, a conglomeration of some 150 distributors worldwide.
“That was the principle of our founder, Tom Loberg, and we continue to be committed from our side to that principle and to the necessary research and development necessary to bring new products to the market,” Moyer said. “A lot of our competitors do sell direct to users, so we have to be that much better and competitive.”
As evidence of that effort to be an innovation leader in the materials handling industry, Hytrol recently developed and patented a narrow belt system that can run long stretches of conveyor on a single belt using an industrial magnet system like that seen on a robot, Moyer said. The system uses no pneumatics, so there are no air lines, no noisy compressor and none of the pneumatics-associated maintenance issues, he said. The system is very efficient to operate and simple to maintain, he said, and offers huge savings in operations costs.
“It was the brainchild of one of our engineers at the technology center. I’m super proud of the guys who focus on R&D,” said Moyer, who led the renovation of the technology center, which features 45,000 square feet of research and design space. The single belt product was one of the first to showcase the new center’s capabilities.