When you think about it, research labs are some of the most awesome places on the planet, where the mysteries of science unfold. Whether it’s agriculture R&D to develop drought-resistant crops, or the discovery of a new therapy for cancer treatment, laboratories drive innovation and move the world forward.
These laboratories, whether they are in universities, healthcare centers or pharmaceutical companies, must be outfitted to not only be conducive to high-tech equipment and power needs, but at the same time, to manage temperature control, storage and, of course, comfort for the people who devote long hours and brilliance to their work.
That’s where Kewaunee Scientific Corporation plays a key role in the research community. Headquartered in Statesville, North Carolina, Kewaunee is a leader in outfitting labs throughout the world with fume hoods, casework, workstations, and all the custom furnishings these unique spaces require. It’s a top-tier company in a very niche industry.
“Research consists of some of the brightest minds in the world,” says Chris Webb, General Manager of Business Development for Kewaunee. “Research attracts the greatest minds and the laboratory is a big part of this process. That attracts great minds in architecture with the design of these facilities. You have the best attracting the best. We are in the middle of all that ingenuity with our furniture.”
Webb has been in sales and product development in the industry for 28 years and he’s still learning things every week. “That is because research is always changing. The needs of the world change and research has to keep up with it; technology changes and research has to keep up with that. It is getting more diverse and always changing and we reflect those changes,” he shares.
Kewaunee has been in business since 1906, so it knows how to keep pace with the times and the demands of new methods and technology. The team works closely with clients to design, manufacture and install lab essentials, like steel and wood laboratory furniture and workbenches, fume hoods and worksurfaces: think sophisticated workbenches and cabinetry for the chemistry sets of Industry 4.0.
Kewaunee has a long track record of success in this realm. “In our archives we have these old catalogues that were leather-bound and people who ordered from the catalogue would have their name embossed in the catalogue,” Webb says. “It seemed very glamorous. We have been in the laboratory world a long time.”
When Webb started working for Kewaunee almost 18 years ago, the focus was selling from the catalogue. Now it is almost the polar opposite. The team does a lot of custom work and problem-solving for new projects, and being green is also incorporated into the work. Kewaunee uses a powder coat system, for instance, that has no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and any by-product materials go to recycling companies, so very little goes to waste.
Indeed, the company is innovative and forward-thinking on many fronts, and has the LEED points and accolades to show for it. R&D Magazine recently recognized Kewaunee and its project partners for their work on one of the Top 2019 Labs of the Year, located at the University of Texas at Dallas’ new engineering building.
“People come to us for specific things,” Webb says. “They know that if they can draw it, we can design and make it. Customizing is part of our day-to-day.”
George Washington University in Washington, D.C., for example, called on Kewaunee to create something very unique for a new lab. The company’s product developers and engineers spent nearly a year meeting with the project architect to develop a new concept workbench. “It was a complete custom one-off that went into the university and met their design needs.”
To illustrate the project’s complexity, consider a bench that is actually a cart you can put something in – much like an island cart in your kitchen with worktop above and storage below. It’s on wheels, so you can move it to exactly where you need it on any given day.
Take that idea and make it bigger and better, Webb explains: “Make it four feet wide and 30 inches deep. Make it seven feet tall and make it so that you can put 1,700 pounds on it. Then make it so that you can adjust the height, so you can put it at standing height or you can bring it down to sitting height and have shelves overhead.”
Next, factor in your power source, so you have an outlet in the upright, along with wires coming out of the top of the unit that you can plug into a grid in the ceiling. Then add plumbing fixtures for flexibility, so that a researcher can easily hook up whatever equipment they may need. And make sure that everything is mobile.
Kewaunee has delivered such adaptable systems and products for forensic crime labs, industrial chemical companies and biotech R&D applications – environments where precision and attention to every last detail is crucial. Webb proudly calls Kewaunee “the company of the future,” on a great upward trajectory. Case in point is a new product Kewaunee has underway called CODA – a first for the industry and “extremely unique.”
CODA stands for Collaborative Design Architecture, which is a double entendre, he says. The company partnered with an outside industrial designer.
“No one in our industry has ever done that. Typically, furniture is designed internally without a designer so it reflects the limited ability of that particular manufacturer, the people and the machinery they have to create something. We wanted something that was thinner, sleeker, stronger and pretty to look at,” says Webb.
“We were challenged to use different materials like aluminum which is lightweight and it creates more of an aesthetically pleasing look,” Webb says. “But they also have to handle 2,000 pounds. So, it really does both. We are receiving fantastic feedback.”
Webb credits the new product to the company’s strong leadership and a solid team that is not afraid to think outside the box. And that’s made Kewaunee an industry frontrunner for more than 100 years.
How’s the next century shaping up? As Webb puts it, “When the lab users see what we can do with CODA, than we can really bring another level of excellence to the industry.”