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2021 MHI Annual Conference Recap

Last week MHI hosted its 2021 Annual Conference in Phoenix, AZ. After such a long time at virtual trade shows and on zoom calls, it was refreshing to reconnect with friends around the industry in-person. Representatives from Carter included Duane Glass, Joel Thomas, Kirstie Lassanske, Dan Barrera, Tony Santora and Gary Higginbothem.

The MHI Annual Conference is a thought leadership event for manufacturing, material handling and supply chain professionals that focuses on the technology innovation taking place across the supply chain. Carter’s goal for attending was to gain insights and learn best practices from robust education programming as well as network and connect with industry peers and clients we’ve missed seeing in-person over the last two years.

Dan Barrera Elected Chair of MHI’s CSS Industry Group

The most notable happening for Carter Intralogistics at this year’s Annual Conference was Dan Barrera being elected as the new Chair of MHI’s Conveyor and Sortation Systems (CSS) industry group. This is a huge achievement for Dan, who has been a member of CSS for many years in both his prior role at Lenze and at Carter Intralogistics. As members ourselves, the team at Carter is very excited to see where Dan can take the group.

Keynotes & Notable Sessions

This year’s MHI Annual Conference had a theme of embracing digital technology that allow material handling organizations to turn disruption into an advantage for your operations and increase your bottom line. This theme was applied to three different educations tracks: Technology, Workforce and Future Trends.

Day One: 

Day one started strong with an extremely impactful session in the Technology track from Deloitte’s Brock Oswald. It discussed the vulnerability and fragility of supply chains and how digitization can offer security in the face of continued global supply chains disruption. Michelle Weise followed up by bringing to light the issues Americans struggling to balance full-time careers and pursuing continued education that will keep them relevant in the workforce. She discussed the research from her book, Long Life Learning: Preparing for Jobs that Don't Even Exist Yet, including the keys to solving this problem: wraparound supports, targeted education, integrated earning and learning and transparent hiring. Before lunch, Mary, “Missy” Cummings, Ph.D. brought some much-needed realism to the world of AI, often plagued with hype and over-promises, in her Keynote “Automating Better and Safer.” Her Technology session talked about the challenges facing AI in both self-driving cars and the material handling industry and how using AI to assist — not replace — human involvement is the key to better and safer automation.

After lunch, Patrick Schwerdtfeger continued the Technology track with a different, more optimistic take on the future of AI and technology in the material handling industry and world in general. His session focused on machine learning and how AI learns differently and therefore brings novel solutions to problems that otherwise would not have been brought to light by humans alone. These solutions leverage the petabytes of big data available to material handling industry and are going to be paramount to solving problems caused by future disruptions to supply chains like we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic. Day one finished up with a final Technology track from Jon Battles titled, “Logistics Robotic Development and Industry 4.0.” This session talked about the rapidly developing Robotic technologies in supply chains in the context of safety compliance integration certification, standardization, work force and future needs.

Day Two:

Day two took a break from Technology and focused on the Future Trends and Workforce tracks. Ohio State University’s Terry Espers, Ph.D. started the day with a session on the new realities of Operating in a Post-COVID-19 environment with a keen focus on what they mean for the future of material handling and operational performance. Next came a Workforce session titled, “Gen Z and the Future Workforce” from Chad Autry, Ph.D from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. This session broke down the complex obstacles faced by a multi-generational workforce and offered best practices and insights for changing mindsets and company cultures that can attract next gen talent.

Tuesday’s first of two keynotes came from Jason Schenker, President at Prestige Economic and covered post COVID-19 economics, financial markets and technology dynamics that have provided a strong tailwind to material handling as well as why he believes material handling is facing potential headwinds in 2022 and 2023. The second and final keynote of the conference was titled “Rewire: Hot to Reconnect with Your Customers and Boost Your Business” and was all about the customer experience. In this session, Jay Bear, CEO/President of Convince & Convert Consulting taught attendees how to rebuild customer knowledge, retrain their teams, repackage products and services, regain their competitive advantage, reintroduce their brand to customers and reset their own expectations for success. The final session of the annual conference was from the Workforce track and analyzed the results of the Voice of the Blue-Collar Worker Annual Survey. The key takeaways were optimal strategies to attract and retain the best logistics employees in the market, the importance of developing policies empathetic to the workers they impact and the effect of state and federal programs on labor availability.

Networking Highlights

The conference wasn’t all educational — there were a lot of fantastic networking opportunities as well. Sunday started with an mPRO networking event and ended with a welcome dinner and celebration featuring neon lights, a live guitar duo, a Young Professionals Networking group event and a heated cornhole battle between Carter’s Marketing and Sales team. Unsurprisingly, the Marketing team won. Monday’s Siesta Dinner showcased vibrant colors, hand-made drinks and a full-suite of Siesta-themed attractions, including a beverage-serving, sombrero-wearing mule!


While those events were fantastic and offered great opportunities to reconnect with so many familiar faces, the highlight of the week was easily Tuesday evening’s Recognition Celebration. The Recognition Celebration gave MHI the opportunity to catch up with awards in-person that they missed during the pandemic year where the Annual Conference didn’t happen. The recognition celebration included a tribute to George Prest, the former CEO of MHI. It recounted his numerous achievements during his tenure and provided all the attendees to show their appreciation for him and what he’s done for the material handling industry overall. It was truly a special event and everyone at Carter is grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of it.

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