Looking into the future of Toyota Material Handling Europe

Toyota Material Handling Europe (TMHE) in Mjölby are mostly associated with forklifts but did you know that it is also a centre for innovation? We caught up with Hans Larsson, Director Strategic Innovation at TMHE, to listen in on future innovations, challenges, and the hopes for IndX2021.

We are looking for all kinds of solutions that can make us or our customers smarter, more efficient, sustainable, or better in any way, says Hans Larsson about the hopes for IndX2021.

-IndX2021 will be better in every way. During last year’s IndX we had a great turnout even though we worked really fast and with limited resources. We have come a long way by working smart, agile and fast, says Hans.

This year IndX will take an international turn to attract startups from all over the world.

-I am very excited to get more international startups involved because in that way we, actually, are establishing a startup arena in Europe, and that is pretty cool.

Hans is also looking forward to working together with the other companies: Väderstad, Siemens Energy and Saab.

-It is really fun, and we learn a lot from each other. Our products are totally different, but we still share a lot of the same challenges and since we don’t compete on the same markets its easier to be open and speak freely with each other.

Threat or opportunity?

”We want to be more innovative”, that was the request that landed on Hans table 2,5 years ago, it came from the management team at TMHE who found Hans, who has a long experience within the company, to be the perfect person for the job.

-I worked for several months to build a strategy mostly by talking to other big companies such as Google, Facebook, Scania and Volvo. But I also read a lot and participated in several conferences. I snooped around for all the information I could get and boiled it down to the way that TMHE in Mjölby should work with innovations in a way that fit into our business, structures, and culture.

He presented his strategy and it seemed to be right on point because the management said yes, and the strategy remains the same today. And since Mjölby is the location for the head office of TMHE with closeness to the biggest factory, management and Research and Development, the new Innovation Office got placed there.

The Innovation Office has three main responsibilities: Trendspotting, ecosystem of cooperation and testing and experimenting.

-Trendspotting means that we always scan for new technologies or trends in society such as sustainability, 5G or AI. We identify if this could be a threat we need to fend off or an opportunity we need to take.

The testing and experimenting part of their work is something that Hans believes must take a bigger role looking ahead. In the past development started with a product specification, but it does not work like that anymore, you can’t just order a “future innovation”. Instead, we must try things to be able to understand and learn if it is something we can take further.

Hans Larsson, Director Strategic Innovation at TMHE

Startups – a force to be reconned with

The ecosystem is built out of partners with competences that lie outside of TMHE’s core activities as well as keeping up the relationship with the academic world.  This is also where the cooperation with startups happen.Startups today are a force to be reconned with and a way to strong innovation and when we get a match, we find it to be very powerful.

– Within the eco-system we also have our suppliers and other partners who together has access to thousands of R&D-employees. We want to invite them to help us change the world going forward.

The testing and experimenting part of their work is something that Hans believes must take a bigger role looking ahead.

– In the past development started with a product specification, but it does not work like that anymore, you can’t just order a “future innovation”. Instead, we must try things to be able to understand and learn if it is something we can take further.

E-commerce and pandemics

Among the upcoming challenges for TMHE the big increase of E-commerce is amongst them. E-commerce has fundamentally changed the material handling industry in many ways. From sending pallets of goods to the different shops TMHE’s customers now must handle individual packets and returns, and with expectations on high speed. For TMHE this has further increased the focus on Automation, Connected products and Sustainability.

Another more recent challenge is of course the Corona pandemic that increased the discussion of resilient goods systems.Forklifts don’t get sick but the people who drive them do and pandemics like this one can be a threat to the supply of food and medicine. The pandemic has led to a bigger focus towards automatic systems.

Many of our clients have rather aggressive climate goals and some speak about becoming carbon positive by 2030. As their supplier we must follow their lead and in the same way, our suppliers are following us. The conversion is moving quickly and is driven by an honest will to make positive changes.

Hans Larsson, Director Strategic Innovation at TMHE
The applications for IndX2021 opens on June 2nd.

– Corona came as a chock to many of us and no one new how to act, we could call it a major Proof of Concept. It has led to an openness in our dialogue with our customers about the future trends and possible innovation projects. The pandemic has triggered many of us to become more innovative, things that were impossible one year ago are now inevitable.

Amongst TMHEs focus areas sustainability plays a big part. Since the main product, forklifts, run on electricity the business is already fairly green, but Hans means that there always are ways to improve.

– Many of our clients have rather aggressive climate goals and some speak about becoming carbon positive by 2030. As their supplier we must follow their lead and in the same way, our suppliers are following us. The conversion is moving quickly and is driven by an honest will to make positive changes.

What TMHE are looking for in IndX2021

Last year’s IndX ended with TMHE choosing to forward with the company Voysys to investigate the opportunities with remote controlled forklifts.

– Our products are used in extreme work environments, such as cooling rooms with – 60°C or foundries with extreme heat. Environments where it could be dangerous or stressful to work. With Voysys technique we hope to find a way to control the forklifts remotely. In this way the drivers can be placed in a safe, ergonomic environment. This is something that could change our entire business.

The project is moving forward and even though it has been slightly delayed by the pandemic Hans already sees it as a success story. He also has high hopes for this year’s edition of IndX.

– Last year’s focus areas: automation, connectivity and sustainability are still relevant for us, but focus areas does not mean that we wish exclude other ideas. We are looking for all kinds of solutions that can make us or our customers smarter, more efficient, sustainable, or better in any way. 

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