The process of developing, manufacturing and then launching a new product is demanding at the best of times. However, in the middle of a global pandemic, those challenges skyrocket. Not only did I want to ensure that we maintained our quality and service standards across the business, but I also had a new product idea I wanted to get off the ground: LITELOK CORE. Like every other business, when COVID hit, LITELOK needed to quickly adapt to the changing times. And this is how we did it …
Having started the business near my hometown in Wales, my motto has always been to do everything with “love and care” from the design stage to the product testing, the manufacturing and fulfilment. So, when we had to transition to skeleton staff and introduce remote working, it was important this wasn’t forgotten. And, I’m pleased to say that it wasn’t. For instance, our Operations Manager Rachel, who’s in charge of packing and dispatching product, went above and beyond to keep LITELOK in full motion. Unable to work with the team in the warehouse, she cleared her dining room at home and, with the help of her son, dispatched all product orders directly from her home.
At the start of the pandemic, sales in non-essential items dropped, although this soon changed when the Government encouraged people to keep up daily exercise. Due to cycling being accessible, COVID-safe and low cost, and bike shops were able to stay open and that’s when cycling boomed. Even motorcycle and scooter sales experienced huge growth as people steered clear of travelling on public transport. Unfortunately, on the flip side, this resulted in thieves taking advantage of the increase in bikes, ebikes and motorcycles on the roads.
For me, this highlighted that I had to get cracking on developing the next level of security for our composite locks which I’d already been experimenting with. With a pandemic-enforced self-isolation, I was able to bunker down in my back garden railway carriage workshop and get creating.
In order to start developing and testing new innovative materials, systems and designs, I relocated and upgraded all of the equipment I needed, and then spent many hours making and breaking locks, as we always do to ensure the highest of standards. But, of course, the pandemic meant this came with numerous new challenges.
For example, I was unable to visit suppliers and manufacturers in person, and there were constant delays in getting materials and parts. I would order weird, wonderful tools and materials from wherever I could to be delivered to my home. I was working remotely away from the Engineering Team who’d also creatively set themselves up at home, including our Engineering Manager Adam, who spent hours tinkering in his caravan parked on his drive. I even had to view testing machines that the team had made from scratch over the security cameras in our offices.
After working through many iterations and going down various blind alleys, we were finally happy that we had created Sold Secure Bicycle Diamond, Motorbike Gold and ART3 ready technology. I will never forget standing outside Sold Secure’s testing lab in a mask like an expectant father waiting for my new baby to pass its rigorous testing regime. When we did, LITELOK CORE was officially born, and we were ready to move into production mode.
To launch LITELOK CORE, we decided to go back on Kickstarter, the platform we used to launch LITELOK globally in 2015. We love how it reaches out to a community of people who really want project creators like us to succeed. It was worth it. We pre-sold 1,669 locks. Now, all we needed to do was make them!
Like all our products, the complex nature of their design and unique combination of materials mean LITELOK CORE isn’t simple to produce, and when you throw a pandemic into the mix, ensuring its special features get the requisite special attention isn’t easy. For instance, LITELOK CORE has a layered, flexible security strap which we call Boaflexicore Plus. The braided outside sleeve provides abrasion resistance. Next a bonded plant-based polymer provides the first line of defence whilst also offering corrosion resistance and weatherproofing. In the third layer, 19mm (¾”) interlocking hardened steel exoskeleton links absorb destructive energy during attack whilst encasing the high tensile, marine grade steel core. All layers flex in sync to retain maximum flexibility without compromising on security. For comparison, a typical D or U lock might have 12 component parts, whereas LITELOK CORE requires 56-102 components, depending on length.
Due to its intricate design, the volumes required and COVID-related price increases, we discovered that no-one in the UK could cost effectively manufacture the fine grade aerospace steel exoskeletons for us. We came up with the idea to make our own machine to do it for us. We designed and procured an 11-metre-long laser processing machine from Asia, using precision components from Japan and Europe. After the order for the machine was raised, we had a delivery date of July 2021. But what happened next was not in our plans. Pandemic supply chain issues meant the supplier had difficulties sourcing the precision parts which caused a significant manufacturing delay. Then, there was a major shipping delay as a result of the ‘Ever Given’ ship getting stuck sideways in the Suez Canal with around $10b of the world’s freight on board. This cost us several more months so it wasn’t until November 2021 that the machine finally arrived and was craned into position to be commissioned.
After we overcome these hurdles, we set about making the tens of thousands of parts required each week to feed the production beast that we’d created. Until we hit another pandemic stumbling block. There was an unexpected gas shortage, plus an HGV driver shortage. As the laser machine needs nitrogen to assist with the clean processing of the aerospace steel parts, this meant we lost days, then weeks of production. We had to act.
What we did next was something I’d never imagined having to do. Rhys, our Lead Process Development Engineer suggested that the only way out of the problem was to generate our own nitrogen on site. Despite requiring a large investment, we were in.
Within weeks we had our own nitrogen-making machine, which was super-exciting because not only do I love the science behind how you do this (nitrogen makes up nearly 80% of the air around us), but it also meant we were able to reduce our carbon footprint and take another environmental step forward. Having our own machine meant we were able to prevent lorries making 500-mile round trips to deliver cylinders of gas.
The last major challenge was finding and keeping people to run our new production line. Although we’ve automated as much as we can in our sophisticated manufacturing facility in South Wales, we still need people to run the processes. In a post-Brexit, COVID world, staff have been in short supply and like everyone else we’ve been regularly affected by COVID outbreaks and periods of enforced isolation. However, we now have a fully functioning LITELOK CORE production line and are busy fulfilling our backorders and gearing up for the new season.
We feel a huge sense of achievement to have been able to make these locks without compromising on quality. Already, we’re really encouraged by the positive feedback we’ve been receiving. We know it’s been frustrating for customers who’ve purchased a LITELOK CORE and have had to wait for delivery, so thank you for sticking with us. Hopefully this blog will give everyone a better appreciation of the challenges we’ve faced and the efforts we’ve had to overcome them.
Finally, I’d like to give a huge thanks to everyone in the LITELOK Team for all they’ve done to make LITELOK CORE a reality in the midst of a terrible global pandemic. As Helen Keller once said, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.” It’s this that has been and always will be at the CORE of all LITELOK’s achievements.
Professor Neil Barron
LITELOK Founder, CEO