The Ultimate in Automation
One company is setting the bar for conveyor technology and branching out into a vertical world.
Located in Metro Detroit, Ultimation Industries LLC, a conveyor technology and automation company, has been in business for 30 years. Owner and CEO Jackie Canny was a finalist for the Amazon’s Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year Award in 2019. There were 1,300 businesses in total in the women-owned business category and six finalists. The company was also named one of 2019’s “Metro Detroit’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For.”
That might put a lot of pressure on someone, but you would never know that with Canny.
She got into this business through many twists and turns and says that having a diverse background helped. While in college, Canny worked in the financial services industry and then in the hotel industry and has held various sales and marketing positions in pharmaceuticals.
“Everyone was talking about offshoring of manufacturing when I acquired Ultimation in 2011. But I realized it made a lot of sense for many items to still be made in the USA — such as larger assemblies or systems that needed to be produced quickly and close to the end customer,” she said. “Conveyor systems and material handling equipment tend to be pretty bulky, and customers always want them as quickly as possible.” Canny saw an opportunity in metro Detroit, which already had a great manufacturing hub.
“I think it actually helps that I didn’t spend my entire career in the technical depths of the machinery world. I see things from a business strategy side and have a strong customer service background, which is critical for innovation. I think that helps me complement our technical team when we’re looking at how we’re doing and where we should be heading,” she adds.
It seems to be working too. Canny says that in the eight years since she bought the company, there has been a lot of growth — along with growing pains. “At times as we’ve grown, we needed to moderate that growth. I like to think that we’ve been lucky in the sense that our mistakes have been small and we try to learn from that. One of the lessons is we try to really focus on projects where we believe we have a strong technical capability or product offering that is going to be the best available.” She also believes that her products, made in the U.S., helped the company stay above the curve.
Click, Order, Ship
Ultimation recently added lighter duty, standardized systems to allow customers to just click, order and ship right from the website. “I think lead times are crucial for a lot of our B2B customers. Regardless of whether it’s a small gravity conveyor, belt conveyor or beam trolley, B2B customers need those products quickly. And the purchasing process has really changed. Purchasing and maintenance staff are using channels like Amazon and Google to find the best, fastest and lowest cost suppliers for all their needs,” Canny explained.
The product range sold through Amazon focuses a little more on items that are already assembled, ready to ship and able to be delivered by regular FedEx and UPS parcel delivery methods. That eliminates some of the items that are too long or wide for regular shipping. But it still includes over 100 of the top-selling material handling products like gravity conveyors, beam trolleys and flow rail systems.
Ultimation’s packaging customers order gravity (roller) conveyor systems to use as part of their packaging lines to increase productivity and efficiency. Some also purchase motorized roller systems from the company to integrate directly into their packaging machinery. The 24-volt motorized rollers are really amazingly compact movement systems, according to Canny.
Overall the largest base at Ultimation is the automotive industry, but the indoor farming and distribution center segments are growing quickly for them.
Ultimation recently expanded by putting its conveyor knowledge into developing customized material handling solutions for the vertical farming industry. The company is also investing in future talent by offering a $1,500 annual scholarship to students who submit innovative ideas for material handling systems.
Vertical farms can potentially achieve higher yields for the surface area dedicated to production by controlling the light, temperature, humidity, water and nutrients the plants receive. They also reduce ‘food miles,’ the distance that food items travel from the point of production to the table, and can reduce CO2 emissions from transport while delivering fresher and better tasting products.
“Conveyors are essential to vertical farming because they can make use of all the available vertical space of a facility and can move plants through automated systems as they grow,” said Canny. She adds that robots as well as overhead conveyors, floor conveyors and specialized plant material handling equipment can increase efficiency in planting and harvesting operations.
Ultimation has already completed a major system for a San Francisco-based vertical farming system, which is believed to be the world’s largest scale facility. The technology used in that project is proprietary and several customized projects with other customers are in progress.
Conveyors and automation equipment used in vertical farming includes gravity roller, belt and skate wheel or flow rail conveyors. These conveyors are among the most versatile because they help to reduce the manual labor of carrying items by hand. More recently, the technology used in larger vertical farming systems is including motorized and overhead conveyors, which take advantage of unused vertical space above a working area and bring plants down to an operator level when needed.
The company recently offered its first STEM scholarship, which includes a main scholarship of $1,500, and two others at $500 and $250 each. “We ask candidates to suggest some ideas on a particular area of material handling. For our first year, it was: How we can improve loading and unloading of trailer deliveries with material handling solutions? We want to help students with great material handling ideas to continue their education and ultimately contribute to our industry’s bright future,” Canny explained.
Ultimation’s formula for success is: Products made in the USA, sold directly to the end customer, shipped quickly and with the best pricing. And it is certainly working.
Ultimation Industries LLC is a woman-owned leader in the conveyor technology and automation industry. Founded in 1989, Ultimation designs, manufactures and installs machinery and equipment, automation devices, tire and wheel processing lines and conveyor systems for customers throughout the Americas. The company offers a line of proprietary automation systems and is also a leading integrator of Webb Power and Free conveyors. Ultimation’s e-commerce channel sells Webb, Ultimation and a wide range of other conveyor equipment. ultimationinc.com