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Fulfillment solutions and the benefits of a single provider

December 7, 2023

Engaging the Experts Session #1: "Single-supplier benefits to customers" with experts Markus Schmermund, vice president of Portfolio Automation at KION ITS and Shibu Sasidharan, SVP Global Commercial & Strategy from Dematic.

I'm very happy to introduce our two experts Markus and Shibu for this session. Let's start with the first quetion: We have three brands within one of the largest companies for intralogistics worldwide. What is the significance of this new strategy for KION for our customers?

Markus: Looking from the ITS perspective, you can say we are collaborating now at an even deeper level. At the end of the day, the brands – Linde, STILL and Dematic – are getting closer in how they work and also in fulfilling the ultimate goal of the strategy. We all follow the priority of listening to our customers and serving their needs as a single entity, yet still having a multi-brand strategy, which is where we are today. 

It took us just one year when you consider that last year Dematic was located kilometers away on the other side of the LogiMAT tradeshow grounds. You always had to take this long walk back and forth to reach the other brands. Even for our customers, it's better because now they only need to walk a couple of meters to meet with the other brands.

Shibu, anything you’d like to add?

Shibu: It's really exciting to be here, especially with all of our fellow brands so close together.

But it's not a new strategy! The strategy has always been in place when you really understand the customer revolution. If you really think about it, maybe 9 to 12 percent of customers are fully automated. Most of our customers are anywhere from manual to semi-automated when talking about their facilities. And there's a journey that they take from where they start with no automation to a manual automation to a semi-automated facility and then finally to fully automation. And it's exciting to partner with them all through this journey. So, you might start with just a forklift truck and then you actually gradually move to semi-automation then on to a fully automated workplace: that’s the real value proposition. To be able to do that with one partner is really exciting and that's the combined value proposition – providing the entire solution of what KION and its brands can bring to the table.

Let’s get more into the details. We want to highlight that we have a ‘single provider’ strategy – which includes a lifecycle management for the customer as well. We have a very interesting use case where you have AMRs from STILL and then it is handed over to Dematic for the pallets to Dematic. What is Dematic or KION offering in this scope? What is Linde’s role? What is STILL’s role?

Shibu: Most people think about it as products for each brand but it is not about “products” as such. At least customers do not think about it as ‘products’; they do not think about it as needing a ‘forklift’. They think about it as a material handling problem! For a problem, you need a solution. If you really think about this using a solution mindset and if you are able to understand the vertical that the customer focuses on, then it is a matter of thinking about how can we bring the hardware, the software and the services together into a single solution; how do we integrate all of these pieces into a holistic response to the customer. That's where the value lies, right? If you think about it from that perspective, Dematic is the engine behind integration. We bring the integration, the engineering, we also throw in some hardware and then we have the software know-how. And if you then add to the mix the STILL and Linde brands, they have the industrial trucks and the hardware. So, then you can really bring everything along and then actually present it as a single solution to the customer. That is the true value proposition that we can bring to the table!

Markus: Shibu has said it all! No, actually I am thinking about use cases we have here and this is very important to understand. Dematic, with its focus on customers coming from higher automation levels and then we in the industrial trucks area are coming more from the end of lower manual automation. But we are currently in an evolution and transformation as automation is something which can evolve further and then we have a big triangle in the middle. And this is something which is logic, which now brings us closer together. Thus, when we serve our customer needs – and Shibu mentioned it in terms of integration – we can go one step further. For me, it's more than just integration; it is about putting an umbrella around it with the software where you really have fulfillment solutions and that's what we are looking for. The more we can collaborate, the more projects we can accomplish and we have done so in the past already. So, you see, there are a lot of examples when we were not working so closely together, where the customer had forklifts from either Linde or STILL, or we had multishuttles from Dematic, but this was essentially a fragmented approach. In the end, in these cases, you had a general contractor or the customer putting it together and now, with the ‘single provider’ approach, we can take the solution to a new level. So, now we have a really interesting story to tell which involves getting end-to-end fulfillment solutions.

So, in the end it doesn't matter which company offers the customer the solution they need because any one of the KION companies can solve the customer’s challenge. There is the important benefit involving lifecycle management as well, I suppose. We have sites where the solution has been running for over 20 or 30 years and then some. What does it mean in the future for integrated offerings with service solutions if you only have one face for the customer?

Markus: There are many aspects to consider here. First of all, in EMEA – and globally – there are thousands of STILL customers. We also have thousands of Linde customers and thousands of Dematic customers. But it is not just “plus, plus, plus”; it's really a multiplier because we have the opportunity to really look into each other’s facilities to address our portfolio. This is one aspect. We have systems and then we can learn from our own sites. Let’s look at the current spare parts center in Kahl, Germany – it is not the latest facility; it is rather old. But as announced earlier this year, we are now building a new site – with advanced technologies. Yet looking at the older warehouse, it does have a multishuttle system and can address some older Dematic systems as well as our forklifts. The new center, which is now under construction, adds everything that we have today as well everything currently in our pipeline. We will have all of these technologies, but we can manage it ourselves using our operations with our own software. So, it is a completely new way forward and this is something we are focusing in as well in our future solution bundles. It means we look at the customer processes, we adapt and look at certain patterns and we try to define the functional scope and we do this together – all of the brands. Thus, we can learn from each another and we learn from our combined experience and then address it in terms of “to be sold” solutions.

Shibu: If you think about from a customer perspective, most of them think about it as a CapEx. And if you really think about from a lifecycle perspective, the customer actually would like to spend anywhere from five to seven times the money that (s)he spent on CapEx, now on the OpEx. So, you will have to think about it now from a lifecycle perspective. When you are taking that call as a customer, you would want to partner with someone that can live with that journey for about 40 years! Just consider that with Linde, STILL and Dematic, you have about 3,000 engineers, field service engineers right there in about 35-40 countries working with you across your lifecycle. That's the kind of company you want to partner with. You don't want to partner with somebody who can actually sell you just a product. You want to partner with someone who can provide your lifecycle support and that's the differentiator and that's where the value of the combined brands come from.

Do you see any focus areas where the interface among all of these big bands can grow even stronger in the future?

Markus: I would view it a bit differently. If you look at this tradeshow and what we have on a customer basis, it's an ideal world for us because there is no vertical that we do not sere. That's what I meant before with all these customer touchpoints that we have. For us, it's an environment where we can really listen to our customers and serve them with our solutions – together. There are no limitations.

Logistic runs everywhere; it does not matter whether we are talking about the manual site or even on a higher automation site. And we are coping with the same challenges: Labour shortages as one example. We also saw the entire e-commerce hype and now we see following the pandemic how warehouse designs are changing. The advantage here is that all of the KION brands have the opportunity to serve a customer and every solution can respond to logistics and even intralogistics for the customer. But that is exactly our business. We are in a great business, I think!

Is there any ideal opportunity project that you would imagine that would be the best fit for KION.

Shibu: If you think about it, Linde and STILL are closer to what you could call the manufacturing verticals, food and beverage, grocery, that's where they are really deep. On the other hand, when you think of Dematic, we are closer to the consumer brands. Think about it as general merchandise and all that is associated with it. When thinking about our customers today, their job is to actually take the goods and do it all the way – from manufacturing to the consumer – and that's where the value is coming from. So, we can go from one vertical to the other. Ideally, if you look at it – again, there is no specific use case – we can serve just about any customer you can think of because they are going from manufacturing to distribution and then all the way to ecommerce and that's where the partnership really comes in to play.

If we speak about having a global footprint, then all three companies, Dematic, Still, Linde have one. But are there any synergies as well from a regional standpoint? If we look at the service network, or workshops or something else?

Shibu: There’s a couple of items when I think about synergies and one of them is clearly the reach. If you really think about the customer reach between Dematic, Linde and STILL, then there is clearly a synergy and we can have a lot of cross-sell and up-sell synergies there. Secondly, there is the service footprint to consider. There are also many service synergies because among all three business brands, you really have a lot of feet on the ground. So, there is a lot happening there. Then there are a lot of back-end synergies – think about manufacturing, sourcing, supply chain, there are a lot of synergies there that come into play. These can be passed down to the customer from a value proposition perspective. There is much potential for more, but a lot is also happening right now when we talk about synergies.

Markus: Totally agree. Sales costs can be dramatically reduced, services on a long end, which is something where we can really improve. Even in solution engineering we have synergies to find the right solution for customers. And then there is the backbone, which is something we are currently putting a focus on. We are coming closer and closer together here because without the backbone, we cannot be successful.

One more question for you both: what might be the core technology maybe from a KION perspective? A lot of people talk about software, others talk about cloud systems and still others talk about end-to-end and supply chain solutions. What about KION? What is the answer from a technology perspective?

Markus: First of all, let's say from ITS, we are in a transformation phase, which I call from fork to flow. So, we are coming from a product world and we are moving into a solution world. But solution is more than just automation; it is also safety and energy. It is all of the requirements we need to fulfill so that we get the right application served to the customer. This is the journey we currently are on. And it is going to be a challenge over the next few years. But there is one area – and it has nothing to do with the hardware world – which connects all of us and that is software. And it is something where KION is ‘in the driver’s seat’. It's about transforming our group into a software company because hardware, at some point, is merely a commodity; just walk around the tradeshow and you will see what I mean. Everyone offers it. However, if you really want to be a differentiator, you need the right software stack.

Shibu: The technology differentiator, as I see it, is not in the product per se, but it is actually in the overall solution. That's where the difference is. So, if you think about it from this perspective, then consider Dematic today; we are the largest system integrator and we can bring to bear to the customer to solve their particular challenge and the solution – or the product – does not have to be our own.

That's our core capability, where we can integrate the widgets that are out there and then bring together our fellow brands and then make it a complete solution. From a technology perspective, we are also seeing a lot of cross-over happening in the mobile automation space, which is a unique space that you really see in two of the brands. So, it is an area we are heavily investing in at the moment. We are actually looking at it very closely. There is a lot of product development as well as solutions development going in that direction as well. 

To wrap up our discussion now: Both of you have been part of KION – at both Dematic and Linde more specifically – for some time. If you look back on the last five years, would you have done anything differently? I mean, these five years have been a very challenging period: we have dealt with a pandemic and then came the Russian invasion in Ukraine as well and high inflation? Would you care to reflect?

Shibu: Look again, hindsight is just 20/20, right? We could have done the same thing faster, better, cheaper. That is what I always think about. So again, if you think from now on there is an opportunity to work together in terms of not just from a cross-sell, up-sell perspective but there the account synergy that we mentioned earlier and there is a solution synergy as well as a service synergy, but how do you work on all of these synergies faster? How do you truly understand what the customer needs and how do you bring to bear the entire KION solution for the customer? This is something we should have worked on much sooner than we did. But again, it's never too late.

Markus: That's a good point. It is never too late. Of course, it could be faster but being faster also means being there at the right time and the right place. But we are making progress in working more closely with each other and we have everything we need to make it work. So, speed is one aspect, being more focused is also important.

And what is important to remember is that compared to others in our industry, we did not lose anything in those five years and this is where I can really see our advantages working for us – we have more opportunities through our combined strengths than any competitor here at LogiMAT. And it’s good they knew it already. We have recognized it now and we are now beginning the journey where we end up being the one leading the market.

Thank you, gentlemen, for your time and input today!

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