See how the company culture of Bastian Solutions has evolved since WWII to the modern automation era.
The Rust Belt of the United States depicts the declining industrial heartland of the Northeast during the 1980s. From Pennsylvania through to Michigan and Indiana, the steel- and automobile-producing region has never quite bounced back from these hardships.
But that’s not where this story begins.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, Indiana was known for its strong manufacturing base. During this heyday in manufacturing after World War II, and with so many soldiers coming back from the war looking for work, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union saw its numbers expand, with as many as 30,000 to 40,000 workers in the region joining the UAW.
To capitalize on the bump in the manufacturing industry in the region—and to create jobs for servicemen—a man named Elgan Stark founded the E.C. Stark Company, which provided material handling equipment including casters, wheels, and handcarts to manufacturing facilities.
“If it rolls, we sell it,” was the E.C. Stark Company motto.
“Everything in these manufacturing plants throughout Indiana was on casters and wheels. It fueled the growth of the company in the early days,” said Gregg Durham, Vice President of Sales at Bastian Solutions.
E.C. Stark Company became Bastian Solutions in 1962 when Stark’s son-in-law, Bill Bastian Sr., bought the company from him. Durham has been with Bastian Solutions since the early 1990s, right after he graduated from Purdue University.
“I’ve worked for Bill for almost 27 years. The Bastians’ are just amazing people and amazing leaders. There aren’t many times an employee sticks with his job right out of college. But they’ve treated me right, and I enjoy what I’m doing. Why would I want to go anywhere else?”
With over 64 years’ experience, Bastian Solutions, an innovative material handling systems provider, helps its clients improve their warehousing, distribution, and manufacturing operations.
Companies like Bastian Solutions are integral to the e-commerce industry. Last August, eMarketer predicted that retail e-commerce sales would reach close to $2 trillion, and that number is only expected to increase as technology gets better and consumers demand new products delivered faster than ever before.
“The growth in the material handling industry today is largely driven by e-commerce,” said Greg Conner, Vice President of Eastern U.S. at Bastian Solutions. “More and more people continue to turn to the internet as opposed to traditional brick-and-mortar stores. I know this is true for our family, as 90 percent of our Christmas gifts this past year came from online retailers such as Amazon.com.”
Even just a quick peek at Walmart’s website displays “free 2-day shipping” before you even see the products. Amazon is known for its free shipping—and incredibly quick turnaround time—through its Amazon Prime membership.
“This changes how goods are processed in distribution centers. Before, goods would be sent to stores in bulk quantities. Today, our industry has been driven to deliver at the SKU level, getting individual items to people. It’s a dramatic requirement of speed, and many facilities are processing an order within an hour.”
Where operators used to spend the majority of their time traveling—going down each aisle, picking the correct items for shipment, placing the items on a conveyor and loading them onto a pallet—today robots or shuttles do the very same work.
Conner has been with Bastian Solutions since 2005, and has watched automation, robots, and shuttles overtake the industry as he worked up from a project engineer to his current position.
The brand has grown by leaps and bounds since its humble beginnings in Indiana and today has a global presence and several successful brands underneath its umbrella. But before we can talk about the company’s growth through the decades, it’s important to understand the foundation for Bastian Solutions’ success.
One constant since the beginning, and certainly since the Bastian family took over the brand, is the culture, which is centered on family and family values.
Durham described a leadership team that is in touch with its employees, citing a personal example of his daughter receiving a congratulatory letter from Nan Bastian—the CEO’s, Bill Bastian II, wife—after making the honor roll at her school.
“Bastian Solutions has over 580 employees, and here’s the CEO’s wife sending something to my kid. It means a lot,” he said.
But the Bastians are more than kind.
“No one works harder than Bill II,” Durham shared. “And Bill Senior [today a member of the Board of Directors] is in his 80s and still comes in every day. The success of the company is due to its people, and the Bastians have set a great precedence for our staff.”
After Bastian Sr. purchased the company from his father-in-law in the early sixties, the company began working with a conveyor manufacturer out of Arkansas. Bastian Solutions moved to selling conveyors, another hot commodity in the manufacturing industry in Indiana.
This move was responsible for the next big period of growth for the company, and along with the other manufacturing necessities the company sold, Bastian Solutions was profitable and successful through to the 80s.
But like many other regions of the U.S., the 80s brought with it a downturn to the manufacturing market, and the nickname “Rust Belt” for the area.
“Manufacturing started dwindling a bit in the region. Detroit and some of the other Midwest areas were depressed too,” Durham shared.“But at the same time, distribution started coming into the state, and huge groups of distribution centers started opening. I don’t know if it was good luck or dumb luck, but Bastian Solutions made the transition, and the market has fueled the growth of the company through the nineties and into the present day.”
Besides Bill Bastian II, Durham was the first engineer Bastian Solutions hired. The investment into engineering talent served as the push the company needed to gear up and offer services, and complete projects, on a larger scale.
Bastian Solutions’ first seven bids were turned down because of “lack of experience”, but it was able to edge out the competition on a contract with the Postal Service in Indianapolis in 1992.
It was the organization’s first multi-million dollar project, and gave the company the experience and the proof that Bastian Solutions could provide the right solutions for its clients.
“When we were asked if we had done anything of this size, we could show them our work on the post office. That was the beginning of the bigger projects we work today.”
The job included providing vertical lifts and continuous lifts for conveyors, and a lot of automation to deliver the presorted flat trays that contained mail that was already sorted by specific destination.
The rest of the 90s were an important time for the brand. Bastian Solutions’ acquisition of ASAP Automation, a software brand out of Louisville, Kentucky, spurred the company’s growth in warehouse software offerings.
Now monikered Bastian Software Solutions, the organization allowed the brand to get into the Warehouse Control System (WCS) arena and tackle—and win—large projects and contracts.
When Bastian Solutions founded its controls group in 1997, and hired electrical engineers to lead the charge, the company was able to play on a whole other level.
“We used to subcontract that part of the business out. But with our own controls in house, we could lower costs, be more cutting edge, and control our destiny a lot more,” Durham said. “This, along with the acquisition of ASAP Automation, allowed us to compete with bigger integrators and manufacturers.”
The U.S. recession that hit in 2008 made the company realize that all of its eggs, so to speak, were in one basket. Bastian Solutions’ leaders wanted to look outside of the U.S. for business opportunities: if the economy on the homefront wasn’t doing well, it was important to have alternatives for profit.
Bastian Solutions opened its Sao Paulo, Brazil location in 2011, and has since expanded to multiple international locations in Mexico and Canada.
Today, Bastian Solutions has over 60 people in its software division and 40 people in its controls group.
“The main thing our leadership has driven home since the beginning, and part of the reason we’ve been so successful, is that we understand the importance of caring for the customer,” Durham said. “Our employees are the type of people who care.”
While attracting the right employees can be tough, Durham and the leadership team at Bastian Solutions have a network of organizations they work with, including connections with top engineering schools, to attract the right fit to the company.
Sometimes, professors will turn certain students towards Bastian Solutions, or make recommendations to the company regarding specific students. Once Bastian Solutions does hire the right talent, its leaders know that the company culture and the opportunities offered will often be more than enough to retain their new hires for the long term.
“The work here offers a lot of variety. There are opportunities to travel. New employees—even right out of college—can come in and immediately make an impact.
Durham shared that Bastian Solutions’ employees get a lot of autonomy to make decisions. While they are held accountable, this freedom helps build self-confidence as well as passion for the job and the project.
“An employee can be new out of college and suggest something, and more than likely his or her manager will say, ‘okay, let’s try it.’” Durham said. “At a larger company, everything is a decisions by a committee. At Bastian Solutions, decisions can be made quickly, and our employee base thrives on that.”
The level of commitment from Bastian Solutions’ employees doesn’t go unnoticed. While the company and its leaders provide the flexibility, the company’s workers put in the time—often overtime—when the hard work is needed.
“I think we offer a lot of the things the younger generation is looking for, specifically when it comes to flexibility,” Durham said.
These young workers will be the first generation of Bastian Solutions employees under its new owner, Toyota Industries Corporation (TICO). Bastian Solutions was acquired by the burgeoning automation group in January of 2017.
TICO is a leader in the forklift—known in the industry as fork trucks—business. To align with market changes and customer needs, TICO created a new business division to manage North American activities in the area of logistics solutions named “Toyota Advanced Logistics Solutions” (TALS). Bastian Solutions will be the first group company in the TALS operative structure.
“To better serve its customers, Toyota wanted to increase its presence in the North American automation space. They needed the right fit for their culture and how they go about doing business. That’s where Bastian Solutions came in,” Durham said.
“If you can find that cultural fit, you can work out the rest of the details.”
While the acquisition is still very new for the company, Bastian Solutions is very optimistic about the opportunities the acquisition will present.
Toyota is a big brand, and will undoubtedly give the company access to a larger potential customer base and new markets. Bastian Solutions also believes TICO is looking to invest in the brand.
Durham said that currently, 80 percent of their business is from repeat customers. This is a staggering number with all of the options out there and the sheer size of the e-commerce and material handling industry today.
Through Bastian Solutions’ superb leadership and the passion its employees show for their job, the company can do what it set out to do from the beginning: take care of the customer.
“At Bastian Solutions, as soon as you take your eye off the customer, you’re missing the point of why we’re in business.
“It’s something I teach to our new hires today, just as what was taught to me in 1990: do the right thing, and everything else will take care of itself. We pride ourselves on taking such good care of our customers.”
Part 2: How E-Commerce is Leading the Rise of Automation and Robotics
As the demand for faster delivery of products continues to reach the apex of possibility, many companies and their supply chains are struggling to keep up.
Automation and robotics are moving from passing trends to necessities on warehouse floors, but many of the companies interested in utilizing the technology don’t know where to start. Luckily, we know an expert.
BOSS Magazine introduced our readers to Bastian Solutions in our March 2017 issue. The material handling expert is committed to optimizing warehousing and manufacturing for its clients.
“The requirement from the industry to deliver products directly to the consumer’s doorstep has made problems more complicated and systems and solutions more sophisticated,” said Greg Conner, Vice President of Bastian Solutions. “It challenges us from an engineering perspective to provide critical solutions to produce the business goals our clients require.”
Conner attributes the growth in the industry to rapid changes in the e-commerce market. Today, technology is pushing boundaries of manufacturing and distribution’s speed of goods.
“In a distribution warehouse, it used to be that operators would go down aisles, pick items, place them on a conveyor that then led to a pallet,” he said. “The operator was spending the majority of his time traveling from one location to the next.
“But today, automation and robotics are doing the so-called heavy lifting. By utilizing a robot or a shuttle to pick and deliver a product to an operator, the time between picks is greatly reduced, thus increasing overall efficiency. This technology is referred to as Goods-to-Person.”
And just like automation and robotics are guiding the industry toward efficiencies that weren’t possible two years ago—let alone a decade ago—this tech is also in part responsible for driving the incredible growth at Bastian Solutions.
On top of this, the company’s continuous improvement strategies, and customized client experiences and products—such as ZiPline Conveyor and Exacta: Supply Chain Software—complete a balanced growth plan designed to take Bastian Solutions successfully into the future.
Innovation Driving Growth
“Our growth has come from how quickly we’ve adopted and employed these new technologies in our solutions for clients,” Conner said.
It’s not easy staying at the forefront of innovation, but Bastian Solutions is an old pro at it. Internally, the company employs a team that focuses on the evolution of technology. Research and development demand a lot of time, money, and energy, but the organization is committed to producing the best and most advanced solutions for its clients.
Although much of the company’s research and development is kept under wraps, Conner was able to give us an insider’s look into the types of technology Bastian Solutions is currently pursuing.
A stronger, lightweight, and longer-lasting composite pallet could replace the standard wooden pallet used since the start of material handling. The company has also spent time developing tracking tags for pallets, utilizing the IoT for a better understanding of where products are at any given time.
Conner and the leadership team at Bastian Solutions believe augmented reality will play a huge part in distribution centers shortly. The company is currently beta-testing the Microsoft HoloLens for a more advanced picking system in distribution warehouses.
Currently, pick to light is a technology that is widely applied. Lights and LED indicators direct operators to every product. But you need to have a light and an indicator for every location in the warehouse.
“Augmented reality is a great fit for our industry,” Conner said. “HoloLens can direct the picker to the right location in the warehouse, as well as display the quantity needed and even an image of the product.”
Automating the loading and unloading of a semi-trailer and other monotonous and sometimes dangerous jobs are also getting the Bastian Solutions’ technological upgrade.
Continuous Improvement Driving Excellence
Bastian Solutions’ motivation behind its significant investment in R&D is more than fiscal. Continuous improvement and lean practices are incredibly important to the team. ISO certifications, aligning its decisions with Six Sigma principles, and safe practices within the company and on the job help drive the company’s commitment to constant evolution.
“Advanced technology drives our culture,” Conner shared. “Our projects employ state-of-the-art technology, which wouldn’t be possible without our commitment to continuous improvement.
“If you stand still in this industry, the competition will pass you in no time.”
Customized Solutions Driving Client Satisfaction
Bastian Solutions knows it’s all changing: how products are made, batch sizes, how batches are distributed, the quantities being distributed. Automation and robotics are determining how products move within the market, and every single one of Bastian Solutions’ client's needs are different.
“Each project is unique,” said Conner. “Just because a customer competes in the same industry as another doesn’t mean the two need the same—or even a similar—solution. What we do brings engineering and creativity together.”
Bastian Solutions’ experts consult with each customer before providing a solution. The teams learn about its client’s business, take measurements, and apply analytics for how efficient the client’s current setup is. By working with the customer to create a custom design, Bastian Solutions’ customers can achieve their goals, and Bastian Solutions can quantify how the new solution saved on labor and/or money.
One of the company’s larger clients in the electronics industry recently benefitted from Bastian Solutions’ customized user experience. The company had an online presence through which it received orders throughout the day.
To meet the company’s goal of processing the order on the same day it was received, Bastian Solutions helped improve how quickly the company could complete picks. The company is now able to process new orders in minutes to keep up with the demand for overnight and next-day delivery.
It’s only a matter of time until more companies large and small will need to operate at this level. As a leader in material handling automation, Bastian Solutions knows it can continue making an incredible impact on the efficiencies needed.
“The growth of our company is facilitated by our tremendous supplier network and our incredibly committed and passionate employees. There is no doubt our growth would truly not be possible without our customers pushing us to develop new and better methods to get their goods to market.”
As a systems integrator, Bastian Solutions seeks out leading technologies in both material handling equipment and information systems coupled with proven operational strategies. Our experts combine the powers of scalable material handling systems, innovative software and custom automation engineering for complete, unique solutions. Our goal is to use these tools to help companies, across a broad spectrum of industry segments, become leaders in their industries.
Our history of solutions varies in complexity from simple, manual to highly automated systems such as mobile robots, goods-to-person technology, automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), automated guided vehicles (AGV), RFID, sortation, and conveyor systems. Every solution Bastian Solutions proposes is considered on its own merits to provide tremendous productivity gains and a quick return on investment.
Bastian Solutions HQ
10585 N Meridian St. 3rd Floor
Indianapolis, IN 46290