Get this show on the road

9 March 2022

Modex is back after a pandemic hiatus, with the tradeshow happening in-person this year for the first time since 2020. Mike Straus highlights some of the events, exhibitors, and speakers that have attendees excited – and the new industry developments that will undoubtedly generate conversations in Atlanta this March.

After two long years of conference and tradeshow cancellations prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Modex is returning to Atlanta, Georgia, USA this spring, with the tradeshow set to take place from March 28 to 31 at the Georgia World Congress Center. Presented by MHI, the United States’ largest industry association for materials handling, logistics, and supply chain professionals, this tradeshow will bring together over 850 service providers and innovators, a variety of expert guest speakers, and countless attendees to network with. Over 100 free educational sessions and four keynote speeches will offer attendees the opportunity to stay up-to-date on industry trends.

Meanwhile, the conference’s Student Day will give high school, college/university, and trade school students face time with industry experts and professionals who can help guide and support young people in starting a new career.

Here are some of the things industry insiders are looking forward to when they attend this can’t-miss tradeshow – and their insights on the North American market.


This year’s conference will be the first time Modex has taken place as an in-person event since 2020. John Paxton, CEO of Modex organizer MHI in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, says there is no substitute for in-person events where attendees can see new solutions in action and speak one-onone with innovators and firms. Paxton says this year’s conference has some notable highlights to look forward to.

“We have quite a few sessions on automation and emerging technologies that have so much potential to transform supply chains,” Paxton says. “We also have several seminars that are hosted by MHI Industry Groups on a variety of topics. I also encourage attendees not to miss our keynote sessions. We have a great line-up of speakers this year, including Sanjay Gupta, Marriott’s Erika Alexander, and Shaquille O’Neal.”

Modex 2022’s keynote speakers will provide insights on four topics. Alexander, chief global operations officer for Marriott International, will speak on Monday, March 28 on the topic of women in leadership. Alexander was named one of the Top 100 Influential Women in Atlanta by the Atlanta Business League and previously received Marriott’s Diversity and Inclusion Trailblazer Award. She will share her strategy for empowering teams and building a diverse and inclusive organization with purpose.

On Tuesday, March 29, CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta will discuss what lessons organizations can learn from the Covid-19 pandemic and how society can prepare, at the individual, organizational, and government levels, for the next pandemic. In addition to his role with CNN, Dr. Gupta is also associate chief of Neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and a diplomate of the American Board of Neurosurgery.

On the morning of Wednesday, March 30, Paxton and Deloitte Consulting’s Thomas Boykin will debut the 2022 MHI Annual Industry Report. This presentation will give attendees advance access to the data contained in the report. A panel discussion will follow.

Finally, on the afternoon of March 30, NBA Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O’Neal will share stories from his basketball career. From 1992 to 2011.

The conference will feature a variety of learning sessions and seminars on emerging technologies and innovations such as AI and automation, predictive and prescriptive analytics, e-commerce and omnichannel distribution, cart delivery solutions, and autonomous mobile robots. On Monday, March 28, The Bolder Company will lead an industry forum on women in the supply chain industry and the five behaviours of a cohesive team.

Paxton says the North American economy has seen strong consumer demand, particularly in durable goods such as home goods, appliances, and automobiles. While Covid-19 has caused a significant shift away from tourism and entertainment spending, consumers have redirected those funds toward the purchase of goods, which has increased demand for hoists. Supply chain and infrastructure investment have further added to demand for hoist products.

“The consumer demand market dynamics resulted in a significant investment in manufacturing capacity,” Paxton explains. “Increased government stimulus and Covid relief funding pushed demand even higher. This ultimately resulted in a recovery with strong double-digit growth for the hoist and crane market this year as compared to 2020.”

Paxton says while the industry is facing a shortage of qualified workers, he views the labour shortage as an opportunity to tell the story of the many exciting and rewarding careers available in materials handling. That story, he says, starts with young professionals: “Connecting with young professionals and students is a focus for MHI all year long, not just at our tradeshows,” Paxton says. “One new initiative that we will be releasing in 2022 is a docuseries on the Jobs of Tomorrow. MHI is producing 12 of these episodes that will focus on material handling and supply chain jobs.” The Jobs of Tomorrow docuseries will be available on the MHI website as well as Amazon Prime.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has forced companies to make a number of operational changes, technology has enabled suppliers to adapt. Spencer Darr, director of sales, Engineered Products, Americas, Columbus McKinnon Corporation (CMCO) in Denver, Colorado, USA, says the pandemic prompted the company to move sales calls from in-person to online, engage in more video promotion, and host more webinars to enhance aftermarket technical support. CMCO saw the pandemic as an opportunity for technological innovation, and has capitalized on it: “Training is such an important aspect of the material handling industry,” Darr says. “During the pandemic, we partnered with a Learning Management System (LMS) provider to provide online training with self-paced, interactive courses, electronic certifications, and a chat feature to ask questions of our experts along the way.”

CMCO has also found a way to perform virtual equipment witness proof testing. While this testing previously had to be conducted with customers in-person, the Covid-19 pandemic has proven that a virtual process can work. This transition has saved time and reduced costs associated with testing.

In keeping with the trends being unveiled at Modex 2022, CMCO’s latest innovation is its new line of automation solutions. In November 2021, the company added an SPA linear actuator with Intelli- Motion technology to its portfolio. The actuator, built on Duff-Norton hardware, combines onboard variable-frequency drive technology with plug-and-play control and feedback. An optional Ethernet connectivity feature adds further control precision; the actuator can be connected to a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) without any conversion or intermediary equipment. “The SPA with Intelli-Motion gives operators the ability to program specific movement patterns with variable speeds, expanding the range of production applications to which it can be applied,” Darr explains. “Some of these applications include balancing loads on automated guided vehicles, synchronizing lifting tables, timing critical steps in a manufacturing process, and more.”

Darr says CMCO wanted to add more modern controls and communication methods to the Duff-Norton line. The SPA linear actuator is the fulfilment of this goal.

CMCO also launched the Hurricane Mini 360 in June 2021. This hand chain hoist, the smallest and lightest on the market, offers 360-degree rotation and is available in 226kg and 453kg capacities. The Hurricane Mini 360 is designed for multi-angle applications and enables the operator to lift from nearly any position. The target market includes service technicians, construction workers, and any work environment that requires a low-capacity on-the-job lift.

Darr says CMCO has seen growth from the food and beverage, oil and gas, pharmaceutical, and automotive industries. Electric vehicle manufacturers, in particular, are a growing segment for the company. Despite the initial economic downturn in 2020 from the Covid-19 pandemic, Darr notes the North American market is now trending upward and will post strong performance in 2022.

“We’ve seen increasing investments in the steel industry and power segments,” Darr notes. “There have been some decreases in manufacturing due to the global supply chain issues that are causing lead-time delays. The live entertainment market was hit the hardest during the pandemic, but it has shown signs of improvement in recent months.”

Many of the design and feature trends in CMCO’s recent launches are illustrative of the market trends in the United States. Darr says growing interest in “smart” technology that can predict and prevent problems or facilitate communication is driving interest in automation, predictive analytics, and advanced diagnostics.

“Columbus McKinnon has developed, and is developing, solutions that can help solve these high-value problems before they happen. Automated solutions also help reduce mean time-to-recover and having access to usage and operating trends data is key to ensuring maintenance teams and replacement parts are available when necessary.” Emerging smart and automation technology has a variety of benefits for end users. Automation, Darr says, can improve product quality, increase energy efficiency, boost productivity by eliminating redundant processes, and maximize uptime.

Safety is also an important driver of new technological innovations. Steve Napieralski, president, Oz Lifting Products in Winona, Minnesota, USA, says his company will be exhibiting its line of spark-resistant manual chain hoists and push beam trolleys, at Modex.

Oz Lifting will also bring models from its CompOZite, CompOZite Elite, and Tele-Pro lines to the tradeshow. CompOZite davit cranes are corrosion resistant, are made from an advanced composite material that is 40% lighter than steel, and are designed for no-tools-required installation. CompOZite Elite cranes use carbon fibre and high-strength aluminium construction and are designed with portability in mind. Oz Lifting’s Tele-Pro davit cranes, available in 225kg, 544kg, and 1,134kg capacities, come equipped with a telescoping boom that can be adjusted while under load.

Napieralski says he’s looking forward to engaging with the next generation of materials handling professionals at Modex’s young professional meet and greet day.

“Any time you can get the next generation involved in our industry, it’s a great idea,” he says. “The meet and greet allows them to rub elbows with industry leaders. The future of materials handling comes by way of new ideas and products that solve problems in a safe manner.”

The return of Modex to an in-person format is welcome news for many in the industry. Napieralski says the Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed how Oz Lifting conducts business. Oz Lifting sells through a network of industrial distributors, and the pandemic meant a lot of the employees at these distributors were working from home. This shift to remote working meant a transition from face-toface meetings to Zoom calls. “My entire lifting career has been spent meeting with people in person, not staring at a computer screen,” Napieralski says. “Covid-19 brought face-to-face meetings to a grinding halt, which was a somewhat difficult change.”

Covid-19 also illuminated the global nature of the supply chain. Napieralski says while 2021 was strong for Oz Lifting, the pandemic made him realize how interconnected different regions of the world are. “We had supply chain issues like everyone else,” he explains.

“Business for us was strong in 2021, but we realized just how much of a global marketplace we are. Just look at the auto industry; the lack of availability of a chip made in Taiwan essentially crippled that industry. I don’t think the supply chain issues are going away anytime soon.”

Oz Lifting has recently seen an uptick in projects for property management companies using davit cranes to raise and lower equipment to and from the roof of a building. The company’s composite davit cranes are in use at a hospital operated by Children’s Minnesota, a non-profit paediatric healthcare system in Minnesota. The hospital uses the crane to perform monthly equipment maintenance on air conditioners, condensers, and rooftop fans.

Despite predictions of an economic crash, the North American hoist market has remained strong. Jeff McNeil, VP, marketing and innovation. Gorbel, says the manufacturing and consumer goods sectors have outperformed expectations.

“When Covid-19 first started, economists were forecasting it would be as bad as the 2009 recession, or maybe worse,” McNeil says. “Our business fell off a bit when the pandemic first hit, but then it got stronger, and stayed strong. The economists concluded that ‘people buy things’. People can’t spend money on vacations and travel, so instead they’re spending money on consumer goods.”

Distribution and warehousing benefitted from a strong consumer goods market, McNeil explains, which has created demand for hoist products. While the travel and entertainment sectors initially took a hit, McNeil says those industries have started to recover from their decline. McNeil predicts that as the world emerges from the pandemic, the North American economy will return to its typical cycles. However, some challenges will persist.

“The semiconductor shortage and supply chain issues are impacting electronics, which we’re seeing with our suppliers,” he explains. “Getting product is difficult. Some industries have built a lot of inventory because they don’t have the parts they need. These supply chain issues will take time to sort out.” In spite of these challenges, Gorbel says it is continuing to come up with new technologies; from its Hybrid Work Station Crane to an enhanced version of its Tractor Drive product. and acquiring a Canadian company last year that makes Destuff-it, a product used in warehouses to load and unload floor-loaded trailers and containers.

CMCO launched the Hurricane Mini 360 chain hoist in June 2021.
An IOT (Internet of Things) Panel discussion at Modex 2018.
CMCO launched the Hurricane Mini 360 chain hoist in June 2021.
The Modex show floor.
A panel discussing The 2018 MHI Annual Industry Report.
Erika Alexander, Marriott International.
Steve Napieralski, president, Oz Lifting Products, Minnesota, USA.