The last mile

The Last Mile

When the pandemic hit last spring and governments began issuing shelter-in-place mandates, online ordering and home delivery volumes in the United States skyrocketed. By one estimate, requests for information on food delivery apps (from grocery stores as well as restaurants) have almost tripled. Another telling statistic: Americans over 50 (who have long preferred shopping at brick-and-mortar stores) are now shopping online in record numbers.

The penalties for those who fail to execute well in this demanding environment are severe. More than half of online consumers are willing to look elsewhere if they are unsatisfied with a home delivery experience.

For sellers of all kinds, it’s the “last mile” — that portion of a delivery’s journey ending at your doorstep — that is the most expensive.

This has long been true. For telephone and cable TV companies in years past, getting a network to your neighborhood was much less expensive on a cost-per-foot basis than getting from your neighborhood to your home.

SRG Global, a division of Guardian Industries, now has a role in testing new ideas for conquering that last mile. That’s because some of the same products and technologies it has developed for the biggest names in the automotive industry can be adapted for concepts designed by the biggest names in retail, such as robotic delivery devices that may soon be driving up our sidewalks and driveways.

“We have one client who is discovering the many ways we can help accelerate their innovation,” said Merritt Gaunt, the president of SRG Global. “What started with a simple request to quote on the production of an exterior housing for a delivery vehicle has evolved into a true partnership to validate different materials, accelerate time to market, do computer-simulated testing and develop seamless integration of lighting elements on their autonomous delivery vehicles.”

Gaunt emphasized that testing transformative designs and ideas for companies outside Koch is about more than just proving they can work. “They must not only be functional, they must be something that can be safely and profitably made.”

By sharing knowledge with a non-Koch company, SRG Global was able to develop a process for chrome-plating 3D printed plastic parts used for automotive and non-automotive components or products. “That’s tougher than it sounds,” Gaunt said, “because with most objects that are 3D printed, we don’t get good chrome adhesion. We can’t always get an attachment point.”

SRG Global’s success in figuring out a fix for that problem has attracted the attention of a major computer company. “They are very interested in our technology now because it could lead to an entirely new category of electroplated products.”

SRG Global has also become a testing ground for concepts being developed by other Koch companies, including Phillips-Medisize and Molex. “We’re working with them on electroplating plastics, which is important for preserving the longevity of parts.” But plating also brings problems. “Some plated parts need to emit frequencies without interference from coatings. We’ve been able to offer some important knowledge based on our experience in discovering what will or won’t transmit.

“We see all kinds of big opportunities as a lab for Koch as well as others,” Gaunt said. “We’re no longer anchored to growing at a certain pace or being a certain size with a set offering of products. Thanks to our change of Vision and the freedom of the Koch Labs concept, our team has already proved we can do some really amazing work.”