Turning a challenge into a new product: KP1 adds value and productivity with co-creative innovation

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Turning a challenge into a new product: KP1 adds value and productivity with co-creative innovation

Back in 2006, Elematic was presented a challenge from French-based KP1. Can you develop a new product to put loops into hollow-core slabs? When representatives from the two companies put their collective thinking together, the LoopMaster was born.

KP1 is France's leading producer of precast concrete elements. The company supplies construction systems for the building industry and specializes in prestressed concrete elements. It is an innovator in its field and, as Bart Deman, the chief executive officer of the KP1 Group explains, the company has always placed safety as a primary component in any product it develops. "The construction industry does not have a very good track record as far as safety is concerned, and the major construction companies have clearly expressed their determination to improve their performance in this area," he points out. The lifting process of hollow-cores is one area where KP1 recognized progress could be made. "We wanted to develop our own system that combined a high level of safety on the building site with high productivity during the production process in the factory," says Deman. The LoopMaster machine that Elematic developed with KP1 allowed the team to achieve this goal. Open innovation proved its worth. Early testing and development Initially, KP1's need stems from the fact that in France the lifting of hollow-core slabs is no longer allowed without fixed lifting hooks in the slabs. "Companies had to install the lifting hooks either manually or by machine. In the long run, the cost of manual installation was too high," explains Leena Raukola, who works as a manager of mechanical design and product development at Elematic. She served as the project manager for the LoopMaster effort. Basically put, LoopMaster is a machine for installing lifting loops to hollow-core slabs. The production capacity depends on the slab that is produced. The speed of the LoopMaster tries to stay as close as possible to the speed of the extruder. "What makes LoopMaster special is the method of installing the hooks," emphasizes Raukola, "which are done under the prestressing strands." Early discussion in 2006 between Elematic and KP1 led to project specifications. The research and development teams from both companies played important roles in creating the first prototype, which was tested two years later at KP1's Ciel factory. An important element in this co-creation was figuring out a way to add a loop in the concrete without adding additional concrete. One of Raukola's main contacts at KP1 was Pierre Joel, who was the project manager on the client's side. "This was the beginning of a series of tests that aimed to define the different parameters and settings for each slab," says Joel. "Each test helped to specify a resistance breaking breakout. Over time, the trial runs clarified the range of parameters of the different movements and allowed us to choose the types of vibration for compaction of concrete after placement of the loop." Installation of machinery KP1 now operates five LoopMaster machines. Each plant equipped with the machine can produce 400 to 800 square meters of hollow-core slabs, depending on the number of production beds. "After the prototype was accepted, we delivered two more machines to KP1's Poincy factory and another LoopMaster to the Graulhet factory. The fifth machine operates at Pujaut factory starting this March," says Michel Aalto, Elematic's export manager in France. The technology used by the LoopMaster is patented with two separate patents. Elematic own one patent and KP1 another. The patents are not competing. "It gives us great satisfaction to see companies grow and prosper. We are proud to contribute to KP1's success," smiles Aalto. Before KP1 launched its development program for the lifting loop, it scanned the market to look at all the alternatives. "We contacted Elematic and found out that they were already working on the same subject. From there, it was logical to bundle our forces and work together on the project," explains KP1's CEO Deman. Elematic's know-how was in mechanical and automation engineering, which was very much needed in this project. KP1 was active in factory testing and product specifications. Combined efforts allowed the project to move forward. "The result shows that it was the right decision. Elematic has vast experience in the hollow-core production and related machinery. They are not mere machine suppliers but understand the whole production process." Exceeding customer needs The open innovation needed to launch the LoopMaster was part of a long-term partnership between client and company. "We have been a customer of Elematic for more than 25 years. All of our four hollow-core factories use Elematic extruders," says Deman. When in 2003 KP1 acquired an additional site, the first thing the company did was replace the existing machines with new Elematic machines. "They are probably the best machines available for this application. Our experience in using these machines and working with Elematic gave us the confidence to launch ourselves into this project." As for the end result, Deman says that his company is very satisfied with the LoopMaster. Elematic did a lot of mechanical and automation design work to find ways to increase the speed of the machine. KP1, on the other hand, brought its expertise in testing and hook design. "The machines allow us to place the lifting loops under the prestressed strand without altering the core of the slab and without adding extra concrete. In addition, the machine does not degrade the productivity and production process. It also includes a number of features ensuring correct placement," he concludes. Luc Bresse also played an important role in overall project management for KP1. "We divided the process into several lots," he recalls. Important sub-components included process evolution, internal tests campaigns, external certification tests, quality insurance procedures and acceptance from regulatory authorities. Looking back he says that while it took a long time to get from an idea to working product, it was worth the effort. "What KP1 received was an efficient process with exclusivity in France. In turn, what Elematic received was machine and a process that works - and, of course, a good reference." Print here the KP1 LoopMaster reference brochure

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