Automation: Intelligrated opens its doors

New headquarters showcases the company’s success at meeting new distribution needs.

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I spent Wednesday morning at Intelligrated’s new 122,000 square foot headquarters in Mason, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati better known as the home of the Kings Island amusement park. Heck, you can see the tops of the roller coasters from Intelligrated’s parking lot.

It was a festive occasion. The lobby of the building was festooned with orange and black balloons, Intelligrated’s corporate colors. Even the cookies were orange and black – and tasty. There were a number of both interesting and quirky details designed into the building. Instead of straight lines, hallways and walkways are curved or angled. That was by design to embody the nature of conveyance systems. The tech center that showcases Intelligrated’s conveyor and sortation solutions was very cool. And the food in the I-Bistro, the company’s inhouse food court, was excellent.

Chris Cole, CEO, and Jim McCarthy, president and COO, could not have been prouder. They had the tough luck of founding the company right before 9/11. It did not slow them down. Intelligrated posted $435 million in revenue in 2011 and placed number 10 on Modern’s list of the top 20 worldwide materials handling suppliers. Intelligrated says its bookings have grown by 60% over the last two years.

The new building is a reflection of that success. For starts, they needed the space to accommodate new hires. Last year, Intelligrated added 180 new employees, including 125 technical and professional positions. All told, the company currently employs over 2,100. Cole said they have plans to add 200 more employees in 2013. The building was designed for 20% growth in head count.

While I like to watch automation in action as much as anyone in our industry, what I found most interesting was a conversation we had about the role of software in today’s materials handling industry. Intelligrated started life as a hardware company with a focus on conveyor and sortation systems. Yet last month, Intelligrated purchased Knighted Software, a provider of warehouse management (WMS) and warehouse control (WCS) systems targeted at retailers. Many of the Knighted’s clients are operating highly-automated DCs that serve multiple sales channels. They fill orders to replenish stores, ship directly to consumers and perhaps serve wholesale channels. They’re trying to do that under one roof and with one inventory, with an emphasis on timely delivery and accuracy. That requires new thinking.

Intelligrated made a point of saying they’re not out to compete with traditional WMS systems from the likes of RedPrairie and Manhattan. In fact, they work with those guys every day. But, as Cole and Greg Cronin, executive vice president, explained, many of their retail customers with highly automated systems are asking for a different approach to order fulfillment. “We worked with a consulting group to review our business,” Cronin explained. “Our retail customers told them that as they add more automation and complexity to their systems, they don’t want separate WMS and WCS systems. They want one throat to choke.”

They also want something else. The phrase that Cronin and Cole used was an order fulfillment system that works “at the speed of automation.” That describes a warehouse management and control system that can make real-time decisions about how to allocate picking, packing and shipping tasks in a way that balances the work flow across a facility.

Knighted’s experience with complex retail distribution systems, like the Gilt Groupe’s Kentucky DC, seemed like a natural fit. And, as more retailers look to our industry for automated solutions to their new distribution requirements, Intelligrated is betting that having a more expansive software footprint will be a competitive differentiator. 

The day was a reminder of just how far our industry has come in such a short time.

You’ll be able to read about the Gilt Groupe’s approach to complex, direct-to-consumer order fulfillment in the January issue of Modern.


About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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