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Risk-Takers & Growth-Makers

A&M Industrial

A&M Industrial brought two French-made cobots into its distribution center and then parlayed the supplier relationship into an immeasureable business opportunity.

by Kim Phelan

Ever noticed how opportunity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder? For example, one distributor’s ownership may rightly see an automated mobile robot (AMR) as a means to relieve physical strain for employees while magnifying productivity. Meanwhile, another owner could recognize the bots for all those benefits but also see a whole new and lucrative business landscape materializing right before their eyes. For the father-son team at family-owned A&M Industrial, headquartered 20 miles southwest of New York City in Rahway, New Jersey, the latter sums up a distinctly growth-focused approach to robotics adoption.

David Young, who joined his dad, Arny, in the business in the mid-’80s, is today joined by his son, Josh, and both, they say, share a penchant for strategic thinking and a passion for aggressive business expansion. And so, with a well-calculated, entrepreneurial appetite for risk, they sought to bring robots into the operations at their 80,000-square-foot distribution center in Cranbury, New Jersey, one of seven Eastern locations that include branches in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. But their purpose was greater than simply acquiring and assimilating the technology into their own warehouse – as the company embarked on its market research, the vision morphed into something much wider and infinitely more opportunistic: Get it, master it, show it, and sell it.

The year was 2020, and business was in a state of partial pause though not dormant; in the air, a strange comingling of chaos, quiet, fear, and restlessness. It was the perfect time to shake things up with a special project. At the time, Josh Young was working in the real estate division at JP Morgan when an article about AMRs came across his desk one day.
A&M Industrial

Before the cobots arrived, it wasn't uncommon for
to walk seven miles in a workday, pushing
Rubbermade carts loaded with hunderds of pounds
of products.


“The spark came from my son – I give Josh the credit,” said David Young. “He said, ‘Dad, A&M needs more innovative products.’ When I asked what he had in mind, he said ‘robots,’ and he sent me this article. It caught my attention, and I’d read a number of feature stories in “Industrial Supply,” as well, showcasing this type of product and different manufacturers. It all led us to a progression of thinking that this is going to be an emerging technology in our field.”
A&M Industrial
Demos of the EffiBots show how the
machines operate in "Follow Me" mode
in a DC or any industrial environment.

Over the ensuing nine months, A&M’s business development strategist and head of automation, Tom Trudell, took on the deep-dive task of researching the AMR industry, ultimately delivering a comprehensive analysis of the players, their business models, and assorted technologies available around the world. By the time Josh joined the business in April 2021, the company’s robotics knowledge bank was substantial and the Youngs were poised to make investment decisions. Their exploratory journey had shaped the strategy they would apply going forward, said David Young, to invest in the technology, test drive it, in a manner of speaking, within their own operations – and if they met with success, their plan was to market the products to their customer base.

“And this strategy has been successful,” said Josh Young. “I think it’s important when you’re having conversations with your end users to come to the table with innovative ideas and really be a value-add distributor with technical skill sets. Robotics is a foray into that type of offering, and it’s very eye-opening to customers when we show them the opportunity to streamline things with this brand-new technology that they may not have on their radar yet.”

Bringing innovation is not only a game-changer but a mandatory differentiator, according to David Young. With 40 years of distribution in his rearview mirror, he said today’s market is a completely different environment from the decades of product-line sameness the company once knew.

“Sometimes you won a contract with a big customer, sometimes you lost it, but there was not a lot of change in the industry for many years,” he said. “Now, the markets are changing, customer segments are changing. But being on the forefront of offering newer types of products and innovative technologies, that’s really what drives growth at A&M.”

A&M Industrial
A&M invested heavily to have its team members thoroughly
trained by Effidence so the team distributor could gain the
skill set and confidence to then train its own U.S. customers.

A&M selected French cobot-maker Effidence, whose technology is well known and accepted throughout Europe and around the world, but the manufacturer had not established a presence in North America – until they met the Youngs. The partnership quickly clicked as both parties realized their shared values of creating excellent customer experience, including the hard work of providing technical support. A small, privately-owned company with about 20 employees, Effidence offered a low barrier to entry for A&M with no minimum purchase requirement. Overall, a positive, comfortable vibe became the foundation for a friendly working relationship that was going to swing open a big door to new markets for both companies: A&M is now the sole U.S. distributor of Effidence robotics – including both the EffiBOT AMR and a new EffiBOT Stacker autonomous forklift arriving on U.S. soil by Q423, for which A&M is taking pre-orders.

The distributor currently uses two EffiBOTs at its distribution center (DC). Employees were naturally wary of the units prior to their arrival, wondering if their jobs would be threatened. Their anxiety was heightened by the presence of ominous crates in which the bots sat for six months until COVID-19 travel restrictions were lifted in 2021 so that Effidence experts could come train the A&M team. Two years later, the whole DC team embraces the technology for the “cool tool” that it is, said David, and in fact the staff bemoans their absence when the bots are taken out for demos to customer locations. Skepticism has been replaced with affection, evidenced by the naming of the robots, which are called Eva and Wally. The pair have greatly trimmed down the wear and tear on staff, who, on average, used to walk seven miles a day pushing industrial carts laden with hundreds of pounds of product.


With an ever-widening marketplace full of AMR technology options, why did A&M
A&M Industrial
The Youngs say workers miss the
bots when they're out on demo.
choose to partner with Effidence?

“We wanted something that would work really well in our existing facility and for our customers,” said Josh. “Because we’re in industrial distribution, one of the things that really distinguished the EffiBOT is it’s really meant for heavy duty industrial type environments. It has very large tires, and it’s an indoor-outdoor robot – it was actually originally made in conjunction with the French military as an outdoor robot, which is pretty unique. Its weightbearing capacity is very high [1,760 lbs.], which was attractive to us in terms of what we and our customers are moving. It’s also very versatile, and it places well into existing environments and buildings; for a lot of other robots out there, you kind of need to design a new building and design specific brackets.

“From a software and technology development perspective,” he continued, “Effidence did an incredible job. And they have a strong system of LiDAR and lasers that effectively allow it to evaluate its environment and go to the necessary locations while avoiding obstacles in a really seamless way along its route. We stress-tested the robots significantly. There was one test we did where we had the robot going full speed, which is 3.6 miles an hour, and we had someone run out right in front of it. This is a pretty big, heavy-duty machine, and the robot stops right on a dime. And it’s incredibly reliable.”

A&M Industrial
The EffiBOT, a collaborative robot (cobot) designed to work alongside with people, operates in two modes: In “Follow-me” mode, the robot employs its patented sensors and LiDAR technology to literally follow someone around the warehouse or plant. In autonomous mode, once the robot is loaded up, the warehouse picker transitions the machine to head to the packaging department, for example, and the robot will travel on its own to deliver material to the next destination. Employees can use a smart phone to summon another bot to keep the cycle of productivity humming uninterrupted.

Another benefit Josh Young emphasizes: ROI in under two years.

In November 2021, A&M Industrial was a bot-fluent expert ready to introduce the EffiBOT to their geographic market, known as the distribution capital of the Northeast. They hosted 100 customers and neighboring businesses for an open house featuring bot demos and trainings. Since then, the company has launched the robots into the North American market at several tradeshows including IMTS and Automate. Last year, the National Safety Council named Effidence one of the most innovative and safest AMRs, and Tom Trudell was invited to give a keynote speech about the technology.

“It’s up to us to market the product and I think we’re doing a good job,” he said. “We’re continuing to invest significantly in getting the brand out there because these units truly deliver ROI to end users.”

The ideal user for the AMRs will, obviously, have an operation that needs to move lots of heavy material and should have at least 10,000 square feet of space, the Youngs advise. The indoor-outdoor capabilities make EffiBOT suitable for many applications, and the flexible, adaptable robots separate from the pack when performing in a dynamic, continually-changing environment.

“It could be a manufacturing plant, it could be a distribution center, a third-party logistics provider, or any type of high-volume operation,” said David Young. “And I think the reason why this technology has been so well received as we promote it is that every company in every industry is struggling to find enough people to get the work done. Making sure everyone is productive and operating in a safe work environment is a market dynamic that really plays into this type of technology today.”
A&M Industrial
With a maximum speed of 3.6 mph, the EffiBot
can carry over 600 lbs. Even so, the heavy-duty
machine will stop on a dime if someone steps in
front of it. Employees can use a smartphone to
summon a bot to eliminate gaps in production.

DHL, a European-based shipping behemoth, has bought EffiBOTs direct from the manufacturer for some of its overseas locations within the last four years but couldn’t make investments for U.S. operations without domestically-located product support – A&M has solved that void. To date, the distributor has installed a number of EffiBOTs at one operation where moving many packages quickly and efficiently, while avoiding constantly-changing obstacles, is of urgent importance. DHL may also explore EffiBOT Stacker units in the future to further scale its efficiencies, taking advantage of simplified integration with a single software platform.

Another install example was a manufacturing company in Massachusetts that required material transport from building to building, thus capitalizing on the bots’ rugged build for outdoor work. And A&M has installed the AMRs as far as Alaska. Currently, the company is negotiating sales deals with some of America’s largest big-box retailers.

While A&M awaits delivery on the new EffiBOT Stacker units expected at the end of the year, the Youngs aren’t sitting still. They’ve purchased seven acres adjacent to their current DC and plan to break ground on a new headquarters and distribution center combo before 2023 is over. Beyond that, their company is looking toward an even wider array of customer applications for EffiBOT when they roll out compatible Nachi robotic arms in the U.S. market. But their most robust vision yet casts a future of A&M becoming a hub of R&D and manufacturing for Effidence in the U.S. to gain greater supply chain control while exponentially growing the product line’s footprint.

“My dad was very entrepreneurial, a risk-taker, and he really taught me the value of analyzing things, taking business risks, and making appropriate investments,” said David Young. “This was a six-figure investment that we made right in the midst of a pandemic crisis. But I really look at it as something he probably would have done. It’s really a tribute to his business philosophy and how we’ve been able to grow as a company.”
A&M Industrial

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2023, Direct Business Media.


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