New Chapter for GKN Wheels & Structures

Since launching as a leaner, more focused business GKN Wheels & Structures has set out a program of significant investment in its facilities, technology and product ranges.

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With a proven pedigree and unrivaled range, GKN Wheels & Structures designs, manufactures and supplies products and solutions for the most demanding and technically-challenging environments.

Having formerly been part of the broader GKN Land Systems division, in January 2017 GKN Wheels & Structures was launched as a leaner, more agile and more focused business. With a commitment to meeting the needs of customers across a wide range of market sectors, the company has embarked on a program of significant investment in its facilities, technology and product ranges, with over £20 million already committed over the next 2 years.

GKN Wheels & Structures Managing Director, Paul Wyatt, outlined his vision for the business, “We have an experienced, talented and incredibly focused team of people, who share my aim of making our business the best wheel and structures organization in the world. In fact, in many areas, we’re there already: our product development, test facilities and manufacturing capabilities are truly world-class, but we’re constantly striving to make improvements across our business, to achieve the ‘gold standard’ in everything we do.

“We aim to listen and quickly respond to the ‘voice of the customer.’ Whether that is in developing new products, delivering the best quality products, or driving cost out of the supply chain, we will continue to work collaboratively with our customers to understand their needs and then to deliver the best solutions to meet them.”

With a global footprint, the company operates from seven manufacturing plants across Europe, the United States and China, with investment planned during the next 2 years at a number of these facilities.

At Telford in the UK, a major program is underway to deliver the best off-highway wheels’ rim line and paint facility in the world, including automotive-standard electro-coat and powder paint capability. Upon completion, the manufacturing process will be significantly enhanced, with an extended range of wheel sizes, shortened changeover times and increased batch-size flexibility all being achieved.

In the Lianyungang plant in northern China (now 100% owned by GKN) new paint and robot welding capabilities will be commissioned by the end of 2018, with a new automated weld cell being installed in NagbØl, Denmark within the same time frame. Meanwhile in Estherville in the US, the second phase of a long-term investment program will begin this year with a fully-automated production line being installed to provide customers with an increased wheel size range as well as improved efficiency and quality within the plant. This is in addition to the recent investment in state-of-the-art hubs and spindle manufacturing and test facilities at its sister locations in the US, Armstrong and Woodridge.

The company’s roots are in engineering excellence and its market-leading product range reflects this wealth of experience and expertise. GKN’s wheel range spans single and multi-piece units which are capable of operating in the harshest of environments – including mining, agriculture, construction, defence, forestry and material handling – while the product development programme drives new initiatives to add value to the customer. An example of this is the innovative, patent-pending Profi-Grip wheel, which has been developed to help manufacturers deliver more torque to the wheel without the tire slipping on the rim, or being damaged by aggressive knurling.

Paul continues, “Our customers are looking to develop bigger machines that are capable of carrying increased payloads and at faster speeds. Our role is to work closely alongside them to provide the technical expertise that will help deliver this, bringing together a combined wheel and tire solution that meets their specification. We work extremely closely with global tire manufacturers to deliver fully integrated solutions that we know will deliver the optimum performance, value and whole life cost.”

The company’s investment in paint technology has led to major advances in finish quality, and the e-coat and powder coat facility at Telford will enable GKN’s wheels and chassis to offer the best-in-class finish, with significantly enhanced resistance to salt spray - with no ‘blind-spots’ that are inevitable with conventional spray paint finishes.

In addition to its product development programme, the company is also at the forefront of exploring new technologies, and is currently leading a cross-industry group that is investigating the cost-effective manufacture of composite materials, particularly for automotive structures. With the opportunity to produce lighter and stronger components, the development group includes original equipment manufacturers, technology companies and academic research organisations – as well as drawing on the extensive experience that exists within GKN’s aerospace business.

Paul concludes, “As part of the GKN group we are supported both financially and technologically, enabling us to truly establish a world-leading company. At the same time, GKN Wheels & Structures is a very lean and agile organization that can evaluate and respond quickly to our customers’ needs and any market changes.

“Having manufactured the world’s first steel wheel in Telford in 1910, we are proud to supply safety-critical wheels and structures to many of the world’s leading brands, including Caterpillar, CNH, Agco, Fendt, Jaguar Land Rover, Bentley, Toyota, JCB, SANY, Liugong and John Deere and we will continue to work closely with all our customers to make sure we always to listen to their voices.”