With a product range that is designed to make it safer and easier for accessible travel, few know the wheelchair accessible vehicle market better than Koller Engineering. Company director, Dean Koller, discusses the challenges of coming up with solutions that are safe to use and straightforward to deploy.
Some of the most famous companies in the world found success in a different part of the market to the one they originally set out to serve, and in many ways Koller Engineering can count itself part of that group.
Established in 1981 by Max Koller, the organisation’s formative years were focused on the precision manufacture of components for the aviation industry. During this time, there was a request to design and manufacture parts for a wheelchair restraint, which was when Koller spied a gap in the market for quality wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) products.
Since switching its focus to what it is known for today, the company hasn’t looked back, developing into a leader in the design and manufacture of WAV products. But one thing hasn’t changed: it is still a family-run business, with son Dean and daughter Leoni heading the operation.
Dean (below) says the company really prides itself on delivering unbeatable customer service that has allowed the team to build strong relationships with customers. “If a customer requires a product to be adapted in any way or they need it urgently, we have the ability to do this, for example we can make passenger harnesses configured to the user’s disability,” he explains. “We often get involved with local authorities who require a specially adapted product for a disability and work together to come up with a solution.”
At its Yeovil-based premises, the company has fully equipped CNC and sewing/assembly workshops so it can produce bespoke parts to very short lead times. It can also repair operator damaged products where possible rather than customers having to order a complete replacement, saving the customer money.
“Our team are experts in the field and have many years’ experience in the industry,” he says. “They really are a fountain of knowledge on wheelchair tie-down and occupant restraint systems (WTORS). For example, Andy Nurrish, our sales manager, runs training sessions on how to use our products. Customers can learn on-site how to use WTORS correctly but, most importantly, safely — something we are very passionate about.”
Koller can point to a whole list of innovative products that it has developed over the years. One of its first products was the aluminium lockable, an anti-rattle fixing enabling seats to be moved easily to provide a flexible vehicle layout. “What makes it special is that it is the lightest product of its type on the market and this is still the case today,” says Dean. “It has also been extensively proven through testing and operator use to be extremely strong, therefore giving customers peace of mind.”
“There are over 1,000 wheelchairs available on the market so you need to be sure your products can work with the passengers”
Excel 120 Combined is another product worth highlighting. Koller was the first to market with a combined wheelchair and passenger restraint system. This system has been crash-tested and proven for use on wheelchairs up to 120kg plus passenger, making it incredibly versatile. It has proved to be one of its most popular restraints as it covers most wheelchair weights and offers space-saving advantages. The NEXXUS 200, meanwhile, was conceived by the company’s in-house R&D team to secure wheelchairs of 200kg plus passenger and it’s the only combined wheelchair and passenger restraint system like it on the market.
While Koller is constantly striving to come up with new innovations for the disabled travel market, the company is well aware of the need to ensure that existing solutions are properly deployed. So why is it so important for people using products like wheelchair restraints in commercial vehicles to have training?
“The passenger must be safe and, to ensure maximum safety, training is imperative. With safety, things have to be done properly so the knowledge of the operator on the WTORS products being used is really important. We must also respect the passenger’s dignity. When fitting a passenger harness for example, consideration must be taken to how this is fitted, and this is something we cover in our training. Time is another issue. Operators may need to get several passengers onboard safely so training on the efficient use of the product will help here. We must also not forget that operators who are fully trained can spot equipment that is damaged or unsafe to use, therefore putting passenger’s safety at the forefront.”
Dean’s top tip for specifying wheelchair restraints is simple: know the products you need to restrain. “What is the weight of the wheelchair and do you require a restraint that can withstand excess weight? There are over 1,000 wheelchairs available on the market so you need to be sure your products can work with the passengers,” he comments.
Koller’s background might be in aviation parts, but its focus and dedication continues to ensure it reaches new heights in the mobility sector.