Lean operations

08 June 2018

LKE is more than a manufacturer of trolleys and lifting equipment, it helps a broad range of companies bring a systematic approach to their handling operations. HSS editor Simon Duddy recently met up with the LKE team in the UK to hear more. 

Manufacturer of load-carrying systems LKE Group made its official launch in the UK in 2014 and has not been slow making an impact.

“We’ve won contracts with some of the best brand names in the automotive and construction worlds,” says Bernard Molloy, chairman of LKE Group in the UK.

A lot of customers are driven by a need for efficiency in their operations as lean principles take over from older, less efficient ways of working.

Simran Bourne, projects manager, LKE Group continues: “Customers are trying to eliminate single load movements, empty runs etc. A tugger train system addresses a lot of these issues. For example, the volume you are able to move in a given environment with the tugger trains is more than a forklift, frequency of deliveries is reduced, and it allows companies to remove the forklift from the production environment due to safety concerns.”

LKE focuses strongly on bespoke solutions.

Caterpillar in Desford uses around 150 LKE products, with the platform built to a specific size to fit their requirements. 

It was an advantage for LKE that it could deliver the products in a reasonable turnaround time. The design period took 3-4 weeks, while manufacture took eight weeks. 

Simran explains: “While most construction and automotive companies try to stick to standard euro dimensions, inevitably, they have their own equipment that comes in various sizes. Caterpillar had pre-existing product bases and needed platforms to fit this. It tends to take around 12 weeks from go to delivery, although there are often issues and variables along the way.”

A better handling system allows companies to accommodate changes in specification more easily. They can programme the delivery of the correct part on the right trolley at the right time, to accompany people with the right skills.

Bernard adds: “In a straightforward application, off-the-shelf products are fine, but there are many times when you’ve got to engage with the client and make prototypes and trial equipment to prove solutions, that’s what makes the difference. It’s not just a question of buying a product, it’s about proving the handling system.

“The Worcester Bosch boiler is essentially assembled on LKE trolleys, they are so easy to manoeuvre.”

There are scarcely any industries that are not in need of lean principles. Perhaps the last to catch up is aerospace. It is at the advanced end in many respects, says Bernard, but it is a long way behind automotive in terms of production line efficiency. As Boeing outlines here, the big aerospace companies are now putting their processes and supply chains under intense cost pressure.

Bernard explains: “We need to drive those few extra percentage points of efficiency. In automotive every pound is a prisoner. In aerospace that wasn’t so key an issue, now it is. Simran will go in to customers and help develop the concept alongside the forklift manufacturers. Partnerships are key now. It used to be about price and service, now it’s about providing a unique solution to make the customer more productive.”

As well as adding efficiency and saving cash, by reducing movements, the ergonomics of physically moving the trolleys is key.

Most of LKE’s trolleys and dollys are towed with a tug, but have to be able to moved by hand too, so LKE has developed a number of systems and features that allow for that.

“We make sure handles are at the correct height, for example, and that the correct castors are used on the right surface,” says Simran.

“If you use the wrong castor on the wrong surface it can either drag or move too easily. We also have unique steering systems that allow for movements in tight environments, with 360 degree rotation on the spot. We also have brakes on our handles to stop any unwanted movement, as well as toe protectors on the castors.”

A number of verticals

LKE is perhaps best known for its work in the manufacturing sector, but it is by no means its only important market. Many of the trolleys deployed by Deutsche Post are supplied by LKE. The company has also secured a contract with Berendsen in the UK for a laundry room application. The firm also has a good range of stainless steel and aluminium pallet trucks and lifters for cleanroom and Pharma. LKE has doubled its UK business in this niche in the last two years.

But it is perhaps the retail sector which has the most potential.

Bernard explains: “We are seeing a move to bespoke equipment, because eCommerce picking demands are changing warehouse processes. Clients want different sorts of trolleys, for instance, so pickers can pick more products on one trip.”

Online retail is forcing design changes including the ability to be loaded easily onto vehicles. 

“This makes robust brakes essential,” continues Bernard. “When there is a wagon full of trolleys this serves as an extra precaution, although they are always strapped as well. Also, when the trucks are coming back empty it’s inefficient, so we have developed trolleys that go from four sided to two. It basically folds in on itself, freeing up storage space. We can get 55 on a truck.”

What next for LKE? The company sees the automated side growing in importance, and is carrying out a lot of development on kit for automated systems. Watch this space.