The family business Werkzeugbau & Kunststofftechnik Kruse GmbH (WBKT) of Egeln/Germany recently launched an innovation for sports enthusiasts: track and field athletes all over Germany are now attaching blue screw-on plastic spikes to the soles of their running shoes. The spikes from WBKT are as strong as conventional replacement spikes, but are far less expensive.
Platics vs. metall
Anja Kruse, who manages the company WBKT together with her father and her husband actually has her daughters to thank for the development of the spikes, which are also referred to in German as “Dornen” (thorns). Over recent years, Anja had spent a lot of time at sports grounds –not because she was a fitness fanatic, but because she was accompanying her twin daughters Laura and Michelle to training sessions and competitions. Mother Anja would take a small box along with her containing spare spikes for her daughters’ running shoes – together with a key to attach them. “The spikes wear out and you have to replace them on a regular basis,” explains Anja. “As time goes by, that gets pretty expensive, because each shoe needs between 5 and 7 spikes.” Since the replacement spikes made from metal are very expensive, Anja got the idea of making them from plastic – after all, her company WBKT specialises on the production of cast plastic components. “The only question was whether we could find a plastic that was strong enough and that didn’t wear out as fast as the conventional metal spikes.”
The Kruse family set to work experimenting. Thanks to a grant from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy as part of the “go-Inno” programme, they were able to launch their project in 2016. The toolmakers at the company looked into how the project could be realised from the technical perspective and designed a corresponding injection moulding system. When the machine began producing its first small runs, the daughters came back into play. “We tested 25 different materials doing sprinting, the long jump and hurdles on both tartan and cinder athletics tracks to find the perfect plastic,” explains Anja. “Laura and Michelle tested the spikes first before they were joined by other athletes at their club, MLV Einheit.”
Once the plastic that had the right attributes had been found and the athletes gave their thumbs up, the spikes entered series production, and the “blue thorns” have been available to buy since November 2016. They are sold at sports retail outlets and on Ebay, Amazon and WBKT’s internet shop. The Egeln-based company is yet to have launched a major advertising campaign. “The word has basically spread around the sports enthusiasts and athletes. I take bags of spikes along to each competition which we pass around. It works well, as the athletes come back to us and order more,” explains Anja. Once the first 10,000 spikes had been sold, Anja kept her promise and thanked her daughters for their support during the test phase: the eleven-year-olds wanted to be the brand ambassadors for the product – they now appear smiling on the track on a poster which hangs on the wall in their mother’s office.
The 6mm long spikes from Egeln fit all regular track and field spiked running shoes. They are easy to attach and remove with the special key with which they are delivered. The material not only means they are cheaper to make, there is also another positive: they are lighter than their equivalent metal spikes. “That’s important with running shoes. Those familiar with the story of the Adidas brand know that brand’s founders, Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, were always interested in developing lighter weight sports shoes.”
The spikes are just one of many different things manufactured by WBKT. The company which was founded 27 years ago by Lutz Kruse as a one-man business in the basement of his family home has grown steadily ever since. Today, more than 30 employees work in the areas of toolmaking, tampon printing, assembly and plastics processing. To optimise the production processes, a second plant in Westeregeln entered into operations in 2003. Here, modern injection moulding machines are used on which small, medium and large series batches are manufactured. The injection moulds are built on-site so that customer requirements can be implemented individually. The Egeln-based business works, among others, for medical technology companies and the automotive industry. “We also produce micro-components which weigh less than a gram,” says Anja Kruse, pointing to some tiny, coloured pointers, which are subsequently to be installed in measuring instruments.
In addition to the many customer orders that make up the daily business, father Lutz Kruse, daughter Anja Kruse and her husband Michael Otto also have fun getting new ideas up and running. In addition to their plastic spikes and a telescopic wall hook, they now want to promote a bristle-free toilet brush. The brush is easy to clean, and dirt and germs pearl away from the surface of the slats thanks to the “Lotus effect”. The brush has already made it onto the television show “Galileo” on TV channel Pro Sieben for being “the cleanest toilet brush in the world”. “We’ve bought the patent from the inventor, it's a great product,” says Anja Kruse. “We have also improved the brushes a bit, we’re making them here in the factory, and now we want to market them.”
author: Dana Toschner