This Start-Up Got $42 Million to Create a Blue Collar Remote Work Model

What if a logistics company didn't need its employees to schlepp to a cold warehouse in the dead of night? What if the work could be done from anywhere else in the world via remote control? That's the idea behind the $42 million investment that ArcBest (NASDAQ: ARCB) and NFI Industries made into start-up Phantom Auto, which makes remote-enabled forklifts. In this episode of "Motley Fool's Metal and Power Half-Hour" on Motley Fool Live, recorded on Jan. 25, contributor Toby Bordelon tells his colleague John Bromels about the possibilities this tech has for companies and the blue collar workforce as a whole.

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Toby Bordelon: There we go.

John Bromels: Warehouse management has never looked so awesome or had such a rocking soundtrack.

Bordelon: I thought that was kind of cool. What we got here, we've got a company called Phantom Auto, it's a recent start-up. News yesterday that I saw was that two bigger companies, ArcBest, which is a big trucking company, and NFI industries, a logistics company based in New Jersey, they're jointly investing $42 million into this start-up, Phantom Auto, which makes these remote-enabled forklifts. Their technology, basically, you saw it. It lets drivers operating forklifts with video and audio streams remotely offsite, almost like it's driving game on a console. If you took your Xbox and got one of those driving wheels, like that's what's going on here, it looks like, and this is cool. What are the advantages here? Well, you can hire people to work in a central location. You don't have to have operators on-site at a specific warehouse. Operators can actually switch between different forklifts, even between different locations. Like one dude in, say, Cincinnati perhaps can be operating forklifts in New Jersey and Long Beach, California, on the same day, wherever he is needed. The other thing that's really interesting about this is people can work across time zones. If you go to the website of Phantom Auto, they have a bunch of different videos. One of them actually talks about struggles getting people to fill certain jobs in locations and shifts because it's, say, 5 a.m. at a warehouse by the water in January in New Jersey, it's cold. It's early. Nobody really wants to do that, but what if I could get someone in a different time zone in Europe, say, to work his normal shift, his normal workday and that translates into like 4 a.m. to noon in New Jersey. You can fill these less desirable shifts a lot more easily. Maybe that avoids paying overtime. Maybe that allows you to operate a facility 24/7. It's just expands your operating hours. Staff three full shifts with people who are just working their normal nine-to-five or whatever it is where they are. This is really interesting. We talked about during the pandemic, everyone who could was working from home for at least part of the time, what that tended to be is white collar jobs, office workers who had that luxury. With this technology, suddenly we're seeing on-site warehouse blue collar workers being provided with that opportunity potentially. You're democratizing the workforce. You're saying, yeah, this job, that traditionally you had to be on-site for, maybe you don't have to be on-site for anymore and maybe that opens it up to more people who might be willing to do it from a remote situation. This is really fascinating. NFI says their goal is not actually to replace workers, the goal is to add capacity with remote work as a possibility. They wanted to deploy 1,500 of these remote forklifts over the next three to five years in the U.S. and Canada. They're pretty serious about this. I like this, I think it's an interesting thing, it's an interesting development. We're seeing, I think, a reaction with technology like this to the labor shortage, because we have a labor shortage, what do we do with supply chain issues. Part of it is you can't get people to work and warehouse, they're not getting enough people to fill the demand there. What if we can automate this, what if we can make this a remote opportunity, does that help us solve our labor issue? It's not like we want to get rid of jobs, like we actually can't fill the jobs, what do we do? Technology is the answer to that or an answer to that. I think when I'm looking at this, it strikes me that it shows the industrial space is a lot more high-tech than perhaps you think it is. We don't often think about that in this area in warehouses, but a lot going on, right?

John Bromels has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Toby Bordelon has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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