Companies & Industries
On a roll in Telford
By Staff writer - Issue 3
GKN Wheels, one of Shropshire’s great names in traditional manufacturing, reveals how it has adapted with the times to become a world leader in its field
Leading engineering company GKN Wheels has a long history in Telford spanning more than 100 years. The company can trace its origins back to 1854 when a three-man partnership between Joseph Sankey, Charles Hartill and Samuel Jackson laid the foundations for the industrial organisation Joseph Sankey & Sons Ltd. This eventually came to be known as GKN Sankey Ltd, operating as part of the world famous Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds group of companies.
In 1910 the manufacture of wheel products first took place at the Hadley Castle Works. In fact the world’s first all-steel pressed wheels were manufactured by Joseph Sankey at that time – strong, mass-produced and economical, these marked a real leap forward for the industry as a whole.
Throughout the next 60 years Joseph Sankey became part of the GKN Group and grew to be recognised as the foremost authority on the design and manufacture of heavy wheels for the agricultural and construction industries.
By 1970 over three million wheels were being produced annually, with the company employing 6,265 people in Telford at its height. The company turned its focus to the high-end off-highway and agricultural markets for customers including John Deere, JCB, Case New Holland and Caterpillar. In 1989 GKN Sankey and Karl Moller Nagbol of Denmark merged to become GKN Wheels.
As well as being the original manufacturing base, the 9.4-acre site is the location for the divisional offices of GKN Wheels and GKN Structures, which is a specialist in the design, manufacture and supply of systems and components essential to the automotive industry, off-highway and defence markets.
GKN Wheels and GKN Structures is part of the GKN Land Systems Division of GKN and has manufacturing bases in China, Denmark, Italy, the UK and the USA. Major, world-class test centres are sited in Woodridge, Illinois, USA and Carpenedolo, Italy which are responsible for testing wheel designs for manufacturers of off-highway machinery used in the construction, agricultural, mining and material handling sectors.
Land Systems is a global organisation with over 5,000 employees worldwide and annual sales of more than £1 billion.
Today GKN Wheels’ manufacturing facilities benefit from multimillion-pound investment in production, processes and painting systems. Customised solutions, drawing on sophisticated design and development capabilities, are backed by a proactive service support team focused on adding real value to the supply chain.
GKN Wheels’ products are designed and manufactured to serve in the most challenging environments, as Steve Norgrove, managing director of GKN Wheels & Structures outlines.
“Continuous investment in research, development and testing – and commitment to engineering and design excellence – lie at the heart of our reputation for outstanding products and service.
“We continue to work on industry leading innovations that will meet the demand for bigger payloads, increased speed and ever more stringent technical specifications. We have made significant investments in both laboratory and field testing equipment and have some of the most advanced purpose-built systems in the industry.
“GKN Wheels works closely with OEMs to develop wheels that enhance performance in any application. Each new design must meet the requirements of the customer and application, providing strength and durability without adding unnecessary weight. This assists in minimising fuel consumption, while maximising payloads.”
The dedicated facility at GKN Wheels’ European Technical Centre in Italy can test sections of large multi-piece wheels quicker than ever before. The process takes a ‘slice’ of each wheel and subjects it to a series of stress and durability tests, providing robust performance data that can be extrapolated for the entire wheel. The nature of the facility means that the tests can be completed in a much shorter time than usual, helping manufacturers to take design decisions quickly, prior to placing orders for new or modified machinery.
Only when completely satisfied with test results does volume manufacturing begin. Total quality management techniques ensure that every wheel matches the requirements of the original specification once designs go into production.
GKN Wheels has expanded into the mining market, providing a greater choice of wheels for mining equipment producers. One of its most advanced product offerings is the 57-inch wheel, which is widely regarded as the workhorse of the industry.
Other advancements include the development of bespoke solutions for off-highway applications to meet specific, often challenging conditions, most notably the harsh climatic conditions that wheels are subjected to in Australia.
The company will be exhibiting at forthcoming global exhibitions including MINExpo in Las Vegas in September, Eima in Bologna, Italy in November and Bauma Shanghai in November 2012.
Earlier this year the manufacturing site in Telford was awarded the Carbon Trust Standard after the company took action on climate change by measuring, managing and reducing its carbon emissions. The Standard certifies that organisations have measured, managed and reduced their carbon emissions across their own operations, and are committed to reducing them year on year.
Steve Norgrove, says: “The Carbon Trust Standard is a great way of raising awareness it comes to carbon management best practices.
“Cutting carbon delivers tangible benefits. We have already reduced our carbon emissions by 5 per cent as part of the initiative and are committed to making further reductions in the future. In the current climate it’s essential that we remain competitive, and we are working with our teams globally to take on new initiatives which help us to stay at the forefront of wheel manufacturing.”
An exciting future lies ahead for GKN Wheels as technology advances and new solutions continue to move at pace to address customer’s performance and operational issues. GKN’s global support offering and new product development ensures the industry can rely on them preparing for the challenges ahead in rapidly changing markets.