Material Handling has Been Very, Very Good to Me

Written By: Rob Stepanek

Material Handling has Been Very Good to MeIn long ago SNL skits, a memorable character named Chico Escuela (played by Garrett Morris) used the phrase, “Baseball has been very, very good to me.”

I would like to use that phrase with a twist and say material handling has been very, very good to me.

I started in the industry in late 1995. The position I had was not engineering or application. I was downstream in the process, so I saw the engineers’ output in the form of drawings and cut lists. At times, I had to ask questions about what they released, and through this, I learned some of what they saw in a project and discovered the details they considered important.

While focusing on my part of the process, I was learning the bigger picture. The system layouts were completed puzzles with all the different material handling equipment pieced together to make a working solution for each customer. I saw my part in all this and felt a sense of pride about my contribution to each project.

Then I began thinking outside of my company and realized that practically everything that gets made (especially those in large quantities) needs to be conveyed. I grasped how important and encompassing the material handing industry was and still is today.

Along with this background, I took up the study of production and inventory management through the organization APICS. This showed me the science behind the application of the material handling equipment we supplied and how the controls and software combined with the hardware to deliver a product that improved the business of each customer.

In 2000, I became a Design Engineer working on individual pieces of specialty equipment and modifying standard sections of conveyor. I worked with system engineers to release the bills of large systems to purchasing and manufacturing. I looked forward to each new project because it was never the same thing twice. I enjoyed work and felt good about the part I was playing in the material handling industry.

However, all journeys have their ups and downs, and in January 2009, I was laid off. Out of work for 13 months, I finally found an engineering position, but it was in an entirely new industry. It was hard to get in this new groove, and after 15 months, I left that position and found work back in the material handing industry with Bastian Robotics. It is amazing what a change of scenery can do. I felt at home from day one.

What sets this new position apart from what I did earlier in my material handling career are the robots. Integrating a system with a robot in the cell puts an extra twist into the mix. It is something new and exciting for me. Once again, I find that no two projects are the same. What’s more, I see how the use of robots for material handling applications is growing at an amazing rate. The workload is steady and incoming projects and quotes promise a continued healthy business.

When I joined the workforce in 1992, after earning my BSME and following a tour in the Navy, high profile industries were on my mind for prospective employment (aerospace, medical, automotive, etc.). Little did I realize that when I started entering bills of materials for conveyors I was getting involved in such a huge industry with a vital role in growing our economy.

I have been part of the material handling industry’s ups and downs, and although I’m no financial expert, it seems to me that this industry is a leading indicator of the health of the economy. When times are good, companies budget more for capital equipment (robots, conveyor systems, etc.) to gear up for increased production. When times are not so good, belts get drawn in tight and equipment purchases come to a halt in anticipation of lower production.

Thankfully, we are returning to better times and not just for the material handling industry. Manufacturing and distribution facilities across the majority of industries are increasing production, and I am proud to be a part of an industry that helps these companies better serve a growing consumer base.

My work allows me great opportunities to expand my knowledge, apply new technologies and look for creative ways to solve issues within each project. The challenges are exciting and the future looks very bright. Material handling has been very, very good to me.

I joined the Bastian Robotics team in November 2011 as a Mechanical Design Engineer after serving as a contract engineer for 3 months. Past material handing experience includes 9 years as a design engineer and 5 years processing engineering releases. Design experience includes equipment such as belt, chain and roller conveyor; case and pallet conveyor; lifts; transfer units; sortation and merge conveyors. I live near St. Louis and am a lifelong Cardinal fan.

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1 comment

  1. Greg Lerdahl says:

    Rob, thanks for writing this. Not only is your resume and experience impressive, but your willingness to share your “valleys” is going to help someone keep the faith who is in that valley now.

    You are of more value both to Bastian Solutions, and to your many customers, because of what you have overcome in your life.

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