brian-skelham-oct08.jpgPart of an internationally renowned materials handling solutions business, Diamond Phoenix is a market leader in the design, manufacture, integration and installation of innovative automated materials handling systems for today’s and tomorrow’s industry needs. Historically best known for its horizontal and vertical carousels, Diamond Phoenix offers an extensive suite of advanced equipment including static cranes and pallet handling, and has recently appointed Brian Skelham as its Senior Business Development Manager, with a brief to build Diamond Phoenix’s UK business in these areas. Its customer base spans a broad spread of industry sectors requiring the competitive edge that advanced automated storage and retrieval brings.

Diamond Phoenix has recently launched a major new product, EXACTPick, and is a frequent exhibitor at major UK warehousing and logistics exhibitions. Brian Skelham spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.

Warehouse & Logistics News – Brian, when did you join Diamond Phoenix, and where were you working before?
I joined this spring, shortly before Logistics Link South. I have 25 years’ industry experience in automated materials handling systems, with big name companies.

WLN – What does your present role entail? What is your personal involvement in each project?
My role is the development of new business opportunities across multiple market sectors, working with clients to progress effective projects from concept to implementation. I’m involved from first meeting to handover, the level depending on the type of solution and size of project.

WLN – Are you the client contact throughout?
I’m continuously involved throughout the project and ultimately the first point of contact for clients.

demo-area-llnorth-oct08.jpgWLN – What different types of materials handling equipment are in the Diamond Phoenix portfolio?
Our portfolio includes small parts storage; extractors and cranes; conveyors and sortation systems; and software solutions. We supply the complete infrastructure for moving items to and from storage and within the warehouse environment.

WLN – What size of projects is your equipment used for?
As a systems integrator, Diamond Phoenix has an installation base of over 300 systems worldwide, from a single carousel to a fully automated warehouse.

WLN – You recently launched a new product EXACTPick. Can you tell us about it?
EXACTPick™ is controlling software, designed to enable customers to maximise the efficiency and accuracy of their order fulfillment processes. We have developed the system based on feedback from retailers, and being highly flexible it can be staffed to handle variations in picking demands. It also can combine full case and break pack picking into a single system. As a result, reserve storage is minimised or even eliminated, and replenishment activities can occur as workers are picking orders.

WLN – Who are you aiming it at?
We intend EXACTPick™ for use primarily in the apparel and shoe industry, but it can also be applied to other retailing and manufacturing sectors involving light loads. EXACTPick™ is designed to use less floor space than a traditional rack or shelving system, which allows for high density storage, flexible staffing, and faster picking rates.

WLN – Any plans for further new products?
Diamond Phoenix continually invests in R&D for new technology, and we have several exciting developments in the pipeline for 2009 release. Watch this space…

WLN – Which sums up Diamond Phoenix better – product manufacturers or solution providers?
We’re focused on being a full service provider, though we will happily sell our equipment to other integrators.

WLN – Which different industry sectors are your solutions aimed at?
The name Diamond Phoenix is recognised and trusted across industry. We carry out projects ranging from picking and sortation solutions for retail distribution through to innovative workflow mechanisms for automotive or other engineering industries.

dp-maxtractor1.jpgWLN – What kind of projects do you carry out for them?
We carry out full turnkey picking systems in which the equipment is brought to a picking face for picking by light, covering storage and retrieval from finished goods through to dispatch. We provide whatever related equipment is required, including items sourced from outside, such as reach trucks if necessary.

WLN – How are you set up to create the right materials handling system for a client?
We have a UK sales and strong project management team. We also have corporate resource available in the US, and can use our extensive range of network partners such as manufacturers of conveyors and other equipment, so we have the flexibility to meet the need of every project.

WLN – What is the typical size project you carry out? What is your biggest project to date?
Our UK projects range from £30k-£2m. Our global projects are frequently worth in excess of $20m.

WLN – Where and when was Diamond Phoenix set up? Who owns the company now?
Diamond Phoenix started in the US in 1946, and was bought in 1998 by two former senior managers with Rapistan, the automotive storage specialists. They are still the current owners: Tom Coyne is CEO and Edward Larry Strayhorn is President. Larry has recently been elected to the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) Board of Governors for 2008-2009, and now holds the position of Vice Chair.

WLN – Where is your HQ? Where do you develop your technology?
Our world HQ is Lewistone, Maine. We also have a software operation in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

WLN – How big is Diamond Phoenix worldwide in turnover and staff? How many countries do you trade in?
Diamond Phoenix’s annual turnover is $50m. We have 150 staff and are represented on most major continents.

WLN – How important is the UK to you as a market? How does the UK differ from other countries where you operate?
An established UK market is an important part of our worldwide strategy, as our springboard into Europe. There’s been a complex attitude to automation here up to now: in some industry sectors it’s made them slower to accept it and more questioning. But once those questions are overcome, people are won over and there are some very good systems in place in the UK. It makes for a challenging but rewarding market.

WLN – When did you start operations in the UK? How big are you here in turnover and staff? Where is your UK base?
We set up here in October 2000. We now have £2.5m turnover and five full-time employees. Our UK head office is Milton Keynes.

WLN – Where do you make the equipment you sell in the UK? How much do you tailor it to individual clients?
It all happens in the US. We manufacture certain products and act as integrators for our own and other people’s products, in supplying the right solution. We manufacture our equipment in basic operating units, which are modular and flexible and can be tailored to the building they are in, or the specific operational requirement.

vertical5.jpgWLN – Who do you sell your products and systems to – end users, or systems integrators and suppliers of related equipment? Do you sell through distributors?
We have several revenue streams including end users, resellers and integrators. We also have a distribution network in the US because of the regional market and the sheer size of the country. We are currently looking at new distribution channels in various countries.

WLN – How compatible are your products and solutions with existing materials handling equipment operations?
One of our key strengths is integration. We are a full service provider and offer a totally integrated solution. If existing equipment needs to function with a new installation, we make sure it is fully compatible.

WLN – What technical standards are your products made to? What industry standards are you accredited to as a company?
All the systems we supply in the UK comply with CE standards. We look for supplier partners with ISO or similar accreditation: racking and so on must comply with the appropriate standard.

WLN – What are the steps in arriving at an automated storage and retrieval solution? How long does the solution take to design and develop?
We have a specific value proposition, a comprehensive approach to integrated systems fulfillment operations. There are five steps – system planning, fulfillment technologies, software compatibility, systems integration and customer care. System planning covers data analysis, concept development, project planning, technology application and operational integration.

WLN – How long does it take from sign off to implement a solution?
The timescale can be anything from 2-3 months for a simple conveyor system, to 12-18 months for a more complex solution.

WLN – Roughly what does one of your solutions cost?
Our solutions cost from £30k to £2m in the UK, from a single conveyor to an automated warehouse.

bostwick-braun-picking2.jpgWLN – Do you provide full operator training? Do you carry out service and maintenance yourselves?
We provide full training on site. We have our own service and installations manager, who leads our nationwide team.

WLN – What returns on investment will an end user see?
Many companies we speak to look for a return of capital expenditure in 1-3 years, and in terms of productivity, a two to six times improvement. We produce case studies, visible on our website, which demonstrate convincingly that we do deliver.

WLN – How easily can you reconfigure your solutions as customers’ operations change?
Our overall design process makes our modular units as flexible as possible, so with proper consultation and the same degree of forethought as at the start, we can adapt them. We installed some horizontal carousels for a client, who then asked us to relocate them within the business, which we achieved with the minimum disruption to operations.

WLN – The big UK retailers, for instance, are extending their operations elsewhere. Do you run projects in other countries from the UK, on behalf of UK companies?
One reason for setting up in the UK was as a stepping-stone into Europe. We’re currently developing several major projects in Europe, which will be serviced from the UK.

WLN – How ‘green’ are your automated solutions?
As a responsible business we are now constantly looking at our impact on the environment. One of the strategies we now have in place concerns the reduction in overall power consumption and waste, as a general part of our design criteria on all new projects.

WLN – Are you involved in any environmentally advanced projects to do with reducing waste?
We have quoted and implemented several automated solutions involving processing waste in a warehousing environment. The increased emphasis in industry on environmental responsibility means this area is likely to develop further.

WLN – Have you won any awards for innovation?
Yes, we have. Our work for Bendon Ltd, an international apparel company, won a CILT award for supply chain innovation for its distribution centre in Auckland, New Zealand, for which we provided all the external mechanical handling equipment. The full story is on our web site. We could easily implement similar solutions for customers here in Europe.

WLN – You regularly exhibit at warehousing and logistics trade shows. Which ones do you exhibit at? Has 2008 been a good year?
We exhibit at as many as we reasonably can: we’re usually at the Logistics Link events at Sandown, Stoneleigh and Doncaster. From our perspective, these shows have been very positive this year.

WLN – What is your proposition at these events – what sort of kit do you exhibit?
We promote ourselves as systems integrators with a breadth of expertise in automation. We’ve been exhibiting ‘live’ conveyors at this year’s shows.

WLN – You (Brian) have spoken about the automated storage and retrieval industry in the seminars at some of these shows over the last few months. What do you see as the future direction for the ASRS industry?
The consistent theme of my talks at these shows is that we believe ASRS has a strong future. With e-commerce imposing ever faster response times, we’ll rely more and more on ASRS as part of efficient supply chain operations solutions in everyday business. A report based on my seminar is also now available from our UK website.

WLN – Do the end users appreciate the potential benefits of ASRS?
The level of appreciation is certainly increasing. When considering automation, end users should understand fully the dynamics of their individual business and focus on the real gains. Among these gains are a comprehensive return on investment and substantial business benefits. Before investing in something that could last 10-15 years, interested companies should look at their whole business, now and in the future, to see the returns they stand to receive.

WLN – How is the world economic situation affecting your business?
I don’t think we will feel the full effects of the present economic situation in this market until next year or later. In any case, Diamond Phoenix is well placed with our technologies and client base to weather the storm, after which we will see customers coming back. Recessions alter the balance in vertical markets – in retail for instance, discounters do well, so in these times they will be the ones spending more on ASRS.

WLN – There seem to be many ASRS suppliers out there. Do you think there will be a consolidation?
There are quite a few suppliers, so you can never rule out consolidation, with the weaker ones falling by the wayside or joining forces with others.

WLN – Are customers asking you to reduce the budget or lower the spec on large projects, and how are you responding?
Diamond Phoenix has succeeded internationally by providing the right solution at the right time, and we will continue to do so. I have not seen any signs of budget cutting or spec lowering yet, but if we did, we would work with the client to find alternative solutions that deliver the same quality.

diamond-phoenix-logo.jpgWLN – Finally, where do you see Diamond Phoenix (UK) going from here, and what challenges do you most look forward to?
Diamond Phoenix has seen strong growth and expansion, a sound basis for going forward and for wider acceptance as a full service provider. I want to grow the business both here and in Europe, and look forward to working with a range of end users, supplier partners and integrators to do just that.

Diamond Phoenix (UK)
Tel: 0800 085 8229

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