May 30, 2019

Kenco expands innovation lab into R&D warehouse space

3PL will experiment with supply chain tech like mobile robots, autonomous vehicles, smart glasses, WMS software.

By Ben Ames

Third party logistics provider (3PL) Kenco Logistics will expand its innovation lab into a dedicated warehouse facility where researchers can test novel fulfillment approaches ranging from drones and robots to augmented reality and the internet of things (IoT), the firm said Tuesday.

Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Kenco first opened its Supply Chain Innovation Lab in 2015, and will now enhance that operation with a 10,000 square foot dedicated, physical warehouse space. According to Kenco, the move allows them to test potential supply chain management solutions and technological advances outside of a live operation, thus enhancing accuracy, sustainability, and implementation speeds.

First on the list for testing in the new space are products from autonomous mobile robot (AMR) provider NextShift Robotics, autonomous vehicle platform vendor Stocked Robotics, smart-glass picking software vendor LogistiVIEW, and warehouse management software (WMS) providers JDA Software Group Inc. and HighJump Software Inc.

Kenco researchers are seeking solutions that improve agility, flexibility, visibility, usability, and customer service, Kristi Montgomery, Kenco's vice president of innovation, said in an email.

"The market demands and pace of change drives supply chain providers to move to a proactive stance in delivering solutions to customers, versus maintaining the status quo," Montgomery said. "The major issues we face today are the need for complete visibility, labor availability/retention/costs, the pace of change with technology, the changing customer expectations (the Amazon effect) and rising costs of warehousing and transportation juxtaposed against the demand for lower product costs from customers, speed to delivery demands, space constraints."

Kenco has a track record of finding solutions to those riddles by piloting with both startups and more established vendors, she said. "We have a philosophy of testing a minimal product (or functionality), determining success factors, and quickly determining to move forward or not - if yes, then we iterate forward and deliver a more robust solution potentially with a partner vendor," Montgomery said.

The expansion of its R&D lab marks Kenco's latest step in rolling out new solutions for its customers, following past initiatives like a smartphone app for shipment visibility and advice on applying IoT technology to supply chain challenges.

Kenco's expanded innovation lab is the latest example of supply chain firms across the industry scrambling to adapt to the flood of new technology by measuring its potential use—and return on investment (ROI)—for logistics operations.

For example, JDA has its own innovation lab at its "Customer Experience Center," opened in 2018 in Scottsdale, Ariz. In Chattanooga, the software firm supports Kenco's innovation program by offering its warehouse management, warehouse labor management, and supply chain management (SCM) platforms for additional research. JDA says its software products help Kenco's lab simulate every major type of fulfillment ordering—including pallet, case, each, and kitting—and to demonstrate the two types of robots.

Likewise, parcel delivery and contract logistics services provider DHL has a solution design center in Columbus, Ohio, and an innovation lab in Chicago, following its other labs in Germany and Singapore. Engineers at those sites are assigned to examine new solutions and decide whether to promote or discard them, choosing leading candidates to deploy in pilot tests to measure their impact in real world DCs, the company said.

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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