Vertical Lifts, Ahead of the Curve

20th July 2023

Logistics BusinessVertical Lifts, Ahead of the Curve

Traditionally a step ahead of the game with its vertical lift products, today, Kardex is a leader in warehouse automation. Peter MacLeod asked Kardex New Business Director for UK & Ireland Aaron Thornton to bring us up to date.

Aaron Thornton was persuaded to join Kardex after spending 20 years at a competitor. “When I was previously selling vertical lifts, it used to annoy me when customers would say they needed a ‘Kardex’. I’ve always had respect for the organisation, and a big part of the attraction of joining Kardex [two years ago] was their future commitment to automation. It is an organisation with a very stable background, excellent branding in the market and is correctly perceived to be the market leader. The company has a reputation for quality and stability.”

As Kardex continues its drive into the wider automation field, it has widened its focus from its previously core products – vertical lifts and carousels – and more on its newer technologies such as the Vertical Buffer Module. This, in conjunction with its picking software system (PPS), is driving the company to new heights and new segments.

“We’re a force to be reckoned with,” says Thornton. “We’re now able to attract a customer base that Kardex may not have communicated with previously, for example 3PLs and ecommerce businesses. We’re now looking at integration with conveyors, AMR solutions and robotics. Last year we also took on the AutoStore products to further widen our portfolio.”

My first touchpoint with Kardex would have been at an IMHX trade show in the early noughties. At the time its stand was dominated by a vertical lift that reached high into the rafters. “Back then, we were very product-led,” Thornton explains. “We don’t often take machines
to shows now. Yes, we have a leading product portfolio and that will continue to serve for many decades to come, but if you simply take a carousel or a vertical lift [to a show], that’s what you end up getting enquiries for. Kardex are now so much more than that.”

A solutions provider, Thornton says Kardex’s approach to Industry 4.0 is led by its software. “It takes our product range and lifts it to a different dimension. We also lead with pick technology and have a fantastic service offering called remote support. This enables us to dive
into the machines remotely in order to carry out assessments, for example servicing or cycles. We can see how the machines are performing live and plan preventative maintenance. That offers us a different dimension of sales support, which is a very exciting place to be.”

Kardex is particularly strong in an area Thornton calls ‘first-step automation’. “This is how we work with predominantly SMEs and larger businesses in order to lead them into their first foray into automation. “We are adapting as an organisation. We have robotics, conveyors, AMRs… That’s where the growth of the organisation lies, because that’s what customers demand. Automation was always something to
do with the big boys, but we can offer a level of automation at a relatively low cost, and that’s what makes us different.”

Vertical Lifts

Two major themes are emerging in 2023: labour shortage and high energy costs. Thornton believes Kardex is well equipped to address both of them. On the former, he says: “With a couple of machines and very good software we can manage pick patterns and throughputs that would previously require four or five people. We have discussions every week with our customers about the labour shortage, and we can help them overcome that.”

On the latter, he says: “We are always looking at the technology within our products to increase our green credentials. We have LEDs within
the machines to see what we can do to help lower customers’ energy bills. Companies that use a lot of automation look at their suppliers to
see how they can help them with that – we’re seeing kilowatt usage on motors becoming quite common in tenders.”

With a nod to Kardex’s heritage, this is a different company to the one I first encountered 20 or so years ago, and has its targets firmly set on the automated future of logistics.