The pre-politically correctness-named Wigwam resort in Litchfield Park, Ariz., was the site for HARDI’s first in its series of focus conferences for 2014.

The March 9-11 event, which focused on operations and logistics, told members how they could position their companies to handle economic storms. First presenter Rick Blasgen, CEO of the Council Supply Chain Management Professionals, told the Heating, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International members in attendance that the supply chain is responsible for 8.5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

Ken Ackerman, president of KB Ackerman Co., gave cost-effective tips on warehousing and transportation, and predicted that one day that could include robots.

“In warehousing there’s a move into robotics,” he said. “I don’t think most HARDI members are going to be there anytime soon, but some of your suppliers may be. There are some experiments we’re looking at involving a robot that does packaging and will put one part into another box. It’s a robot that costs about $35,000 and will work three shifts, and the payback for a robot at that price is pretty fast.”

Robotics in HVACR distribution may still be science fiction, but science and software is everywhere in the industry today, according to Mike Mills, the vice president of education and professional development at Blue Ridge Inventory LLC.

These are tools you must use to purchase and manage your inventory, he said.

“Selling generates revenue, but buying right generates profit,” Mills added. 

The event was a hit with attendees, HARDI said.

Brandon Bateman, supply and logistics manager at Airefco Inc. in Oregon, agreed.

“The material of this conference was on point,” Bateman said. “All the topics were extremely relevant for my role and our organization.”