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Q&A with Aaron Prather: Why Attend Automate 2022

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Aaron Prather is the Senior Advisor for the Technology Research and Planning team at FedEx Express. He can’t wait to get back to Automate this year—here’s why.

AUTOMATE:
Aaron, what automation technologies are you most excited to see on the show floor?

AP:
I would say my main focus is going to be on some of the AMR [autonomous mobile robot] companies. Just what are they bring to market? The AMR technology continues to improve and expand, and I just would like to see what’s the next big thing that's coming down there. Because being at FedEx, we have to move things across our huge facilities and the AMR technology that has existed over the past couple years—and continues to grow—is something that addresses a very core need of ours.

AUTOMATE:
What kind of opportunities does Automate provide that other shows don’t?

AP:
I think there's more educational opportunities with some of the huge list of speakers. And also just the scale. This is the biggest show. And sometimes it is overwhelming that it's such a big show, but if you are an end user like [me]—a buyer of robotics and automation—that's what makes Automate so great, is everybody's there. And I can do those A/B comparisons while I'm there. I can see what's the next thing that's coming. A lot of the leadership for some of these vendors, some of the CEOs, senior vice presidents are there. I can really get a good gauge of what are their goals for this product? What is their timeline? That's going to be a real critical thing I think this year, is understanding what everyone's install timeline lines are right now, as we're still getting through the supply chain disruptions.

But because Automate is that show where you will have CEOs and senior leadership for a lot of these vendors, you can really get a good, straight answer of what [are] some of the potential limitations still out there because we're still going through some supply chain disruption; of what are their timelines on these installs. So you'll be able to go talk to one, get their timeline, understand where they're coming from. You can go talk to, maybe not even a competitor, but somebody in the same space that you might be looking at and get their timeline. And so, when you leave Detroit, you'll not only know what the technology is and what it can do, but what are some of the limitations out there. Because Automate is that show that brings all those key decision makers from both sides to you.

“It's always those little run-ins, those little side things you have that can become just as valuable because you make those connections face-to-face that you can't do on a Zoom call.”

AUTOMATE:
What makes Automate—and all trade shows—so valuable to attend in person?  

AP:
I think the great thing about trade shows, besides the booths and seeing all the cool technology, is just being able to talk face-to-face with somebody and make a connection. And it might be a connection that doesn't seem important at the moment, but it becomes something potentially huge. Because you hear what they're working on, what they're doing, what they're trying to accomplish. And when you get back home, when I get back home to Memphis, I might hear something from an operator saying, “oh, we really need to solve this problem.” Like, boom, I know exactly who I need to go to now, because I had that run-in, that “creative collision” with that person who told me what they're working on. I have their business card now and I can actually talk to them about, “Hey, I actually have a use case for you.” But if I didn't go to Automate to have that run-in or talk at a booth or a talk at lunch or dinner or whatever, where it might happen, I would not be able to solve this use case for my internal customer.

So that's one of the great things about the return of trade shows is all those other little connections you might make while you're there. I know I'm going in there with a plan of visiting some very key booths. But it's always those little run-ins, those little side things you have that can become just as valuable because you make those connections face-to-face that you can't do on a Zoom call. You can't do on a Teams meeting. That's where the magic of trade shows really shows up.

AUTOMATE:
Do you have any tips for planning for the show?

AP:
Yeah. My normal plan for these kind of shows is on Monday when I get there—with the whole sea of humanity, to say the least—day one's always a busy day. Two's normally even the busier day. So normally what I go in on Monday with is, I'll do a quick walkthrough of the show and very much limit how many booths I go into unless I have a prearranged meeting with somebody at that booth. But normally my first day I try and do a quick scan, just make sure I understand where everyone's at. If they have the technology in the booth that I'd like to look at, that will make then my next decision on Tuesday when I'm really going to go in and start talking to folks. But normally on Monday, I just try to get a lay of the land, see if they actually have the technology I'm going to want to look at their booth and just understand what I would like to then accomplish on Tuesday.

Tuesday is normally then—or day two—is when I start really asking questions, looking closely at the demos. And normally that's also when I start scheduling more of my meetings with individuals. And going back to what I said earlier, Mondays really, I just want those to be those one-offs of me running into folks and chatting with them and just understanding what I'm going to really want to focus in on day two. I already know normally who I want to talk to, but normally that walk around helps me look at my list and say, “okay, let me add another vendor to this.” Because I don't need to get everything done in day one.

And also I want to make sure I'm going to make the best of my time when it is time to actually sit down and talk to some of these vendors about what they're selling. So that's normally my game plan. And a day three is normally when I would do any additional follow-ups, take in some speakers and then call it a day.

AUTOMATE:
What makes Automate’s return to Detroit so exciting?

AP:
Having Automate back in Detroit is going to be huge. Because that's where a lot of these robotic companies are located just because that's where they naturally landed in the U.S. over the decades. So much of the manufacturing base is still located in the Midwest. So all the integrators are going to be there. And so the whole thing is, unlike some of the trade shows that might take place on the coast or down in the South, Automate is home. That's where everyone can get to really easily because it's mostly in their backyard. So that means we're going to have a much bigger trade show. We're going to have many more exhibitors and just more opportunities for those run-ins, those collisions that are going to lead to something else, potentially down the road.

“If you've never been to Detroit, this is going to be a great intro to the city.”

AUTOMATE:
How can attendees make the most of their time in Detroit?

AP:
I've been to Detroit before for other meetings and all that. Actually one of my last A3 meetings before the pandemic hit was in Detroit. The location is great, right there in downtown Detroit. Great views if you want to look across into Canada. But also it is going to be there at the shared facility with GM. So if you're a car nut, great place to be, because GM always has all their models down there in the basement area of the facility that a lot of folks will be staying at. Great food options down in that area and it’s going to be June and it won't be too hot hopefully by that time. Just a great walking-around part of town. So, I think if you've never been to Detroit, this is going to be a great intro to the city.

For those of us that have been to Detroit and know some of the great things that are going on downtown, it's just a great place to walk around when you're not at the conference and in the expo hall. Just being able to go out, stretch the legs, walk around, see some great architecture. If you're a car nut, going over to GM and seeing some of what they're showing off. It’s just, it's going to be great.

Don’t miss your chance to attend Automate, the nation’s largest automation showcase. Join us June 6-9 in Detroit, MI, USA. Register FREE today!


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