Lighter, cheaper, stronger, more sustainable and more economical – these were the requirements Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Kraker had in mind when imagining a completely new trailer generation some 20 years ago. The resulting moving floor design has since contributed to building a well-known brand under his family name, especially in the Benelux region, Germany and Scandinavia. Yet with success soon came pressure to grow and expand in order to keep pace with growing market demand – a resource-intensive challenge de Kraker didn’t necessarily want to rush.
That is now about to change. While the Dutch industry personality was able to resist the urge of rapid expansion for quite some time, slackening demand in his home region has prompted him to make the product more available across central and northern Europe. And, with Eastern Europe on the rise as well, opportunities in Poland and beyond are also tempting the Dutch industry personality. “Already, our fastest growing market is Poland,” de Kraker says. “Based on that success, I can see a lot more trailers leaving for Eastern Europe in the short term.”
To cater for the brand’s imminent expansion, the company is currently building a new plant right next to the old one – the new one to produce Kraker’s well-proven standard models at a relatively high speed, and the old one for the growing number of custom builds that require more time and one-off design work. Poised to open in mid-2016, the new factory will mark the official commencement of Kraker’s internationalisation strategy.
The revolutionary new model meant to translate the company’s success in the Benelux region to the European stage has been dubbed K-Force. According to de Kraker, it marks the departure from traditional welding for the brand and the move to using bolts as the main connection point wherever possible.
Again, Jan de Kraker took his time with the decision to change his recipe for success, saying the course adjustment had to be backed by a thorough technical investigation before it was taken. As part of the investigation, de Kraker and his engineering team analysed the welds on a range of older trailers and found that those headed towards the ten-year mark had a higher possibility of developing micro cracks along the welded joints. Bolts, meanwhile, appeared to be stronger and more durable.
“The stiffness resulting from a bolted construction is quite unique. Bolted connections also pass on less stress to the trailer body and will lead to less metal fatigue in the long run,” he concludes – pointing out that the computerised machinery acquired to tighten the bolts on the new model is programmed to never forget a single connection.
“It’s the way of the future. Bolted connections last five times longer than welded connections and even after being overloaded by 300 per cent, they still hold,” he adds. “They also open up new design opportunities. For example, one improvement we introduced were extra lintels on top of the wheels. They are so close to each other that it is impossible to weld them to the chassis, but by bolting we were able to go down that path.”
On the quest to make the new model lighter, yet more robust, de Kraker’s team also made improvements to the sides and sub-frames, which saved some 250kg per unit compared to previous generations of Kraker trailers. Reinforcements were added above the wheels and around the kingpin.
Underneath the chassis, Kraker engineers collaborated with fellow Dutch company, VDL Weweler, to design a new, flexible suspension system that is suitable for multiple axle brands – BPW, SAF-Holland and Valx. The only part that has to be exchanged is a brace to match the axle, says de Kraker. “Theoretically, a customer can now order one trailer with three different axles. It’s very convenient for everyone involved.”
According to de Kraker, the new model will be available once the new factory is up and running later in 2016. While he does not plan to increase the company’s 70-strong workforce, he is expecting trailer production to double by then. Lead times, meanwhile, are planned to drop significantly – in line with what the ever-changing European market is expecting from a cross-continental player.
To make sure transport doesn’t dilute the new time advantage, de Kraker even developed a new system that allows to carry a maximum of three trailers on the one trip, all while staying within legal dimensional and weight limits. “The ability to export two extra trailers on the same trip will bring significant advantages to Kraker Trailers, as many customers order no more than one or two trailers at a time,” he says. “This has been a problem for nearly all manufacturers in the past – increasing market share elsewhere leads to increasing transport costs. With our new method, we are now ready to make that next step well-prepared.”