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How the Shopping Trolley Changed The World!

How the Humble Shopping Trolley Changed Everything

There have been hundreds of inventions that have changed the world over the last decade from sliced bread to the iPhone. However, when most people consider life-changing inventions, they never care to mention the humble shopping trolley!

The invention came as part of a far bigger shift in the way people shopped. In 1916, the first supermarket was launched. The concept was simple, no longer would customers have to ask the shopkeeper for individual items. It also resulted in far larger spaces for products and essentials to be showcased. It was the end of individual service and heralded in the idea of "self-service".

Initially, the first supermarkets would provide wire baskets to their shoppers, much like the ones we have today. However, the wire baskets caused some issues due to their limited capacity and inability to carry large or bulky items. The invention of the shopping trolley is credited to Sylvan Goldman. Sylvan owned a supermarket in Oklahoma and instantly recognised the drawback of the wire basket, plus the obvious impact on his bottom line. Initially, Sylvan made far larger wire baskets which were even worse and very difficult to carry. It wasn’t until he experimented with adding 2 baskets to a four-wheeled cart that he had his eureka moment. After some refinements, Sylvan created the world’s first wire shopping cart. In June 1936, he trialed some of his new "shopping carts" in his Humpty Dumpty and Piggy Wiggy chain of supermarkets.

Sylvan thought he had cracked it and they would be an instant hit with his struggling customers. He was wrong. It seemed people didn’t understand this new shopping aid and just ignored them in favour of the traditional wire basket. It was then that Sylvan decided not to give up and instead paid actors to walk around his store and demonstrate how to use them. After a few short weeks, people got the message and his trolleys were in constant demand. They became so successful that he patented the design and his invention is still used in virtually every country around the globe.

So there you have it, the story of the humble shopping trolley.

How are Shopping Trolleys made?

Recently Formbar’s Managing Director, Hannah Lewis, was invited to visit the Marsanz factory in Spain. Marsanz was founded over 50 years ago and manufactures a wide range of commercial equipment, but they are best known for their range of shopping and transport trolleys.

Formbar have been dealing with Marsanz for a long time and to get to visit the factory where the products are made was extremely interesting. The manufacturing process starts with huge rolls of different gauge steel wire. The warehouse with all this raw material piled up on the big spools was an amazing sight.

The rolls are taken to the first room with the computerised cutting machines. Each cutting machine is programmed to produce the exact lengths required for the model of shopping trolley being manufactured.

Bars of different lengths and thicknesses are cut at great speed falling into large bins. This wire is then bent into shapes, all programmed by computers depending on the manufactured model selected. The machines bend the steel wire as if it were willow, it looks like no effort at all. Some of the shapes then need to be welded at the joints which are completed by hand, with each part being held in the welding machine.

It was great to see these different shapes and lengths, now when looking at the shopping trolleys we offer I can see the individual components and shapes, it makes a trolley like an Airfix kit! These shapes and lengths of wire are all labelled according to the model they are for and loaded into bins and pallets to be moved on to the next stage.

The next room the machines get even bigger, amazing robotic welding machines that are programmed to precision weld according to the model being manufactured. The wire lengths to create the base of the basket are laid onto a former by hand the former with the wire then rotates with the basket the welding robot has just been working on so this one can be removed and the former loaded while the robot is working.

The wires are loaded into the former by hand. This precision process makes each shopping trolley identical and accurate neat welds give the trolley longevity. The basket base with its long side wires then moves onto the next former again loaded by hand this puts on the wires on the side of the basket, the strengthening bars, the distinctive oval shape on the front of the basket and again these rotate into another robotic welder. At the end of this process, the basket is made but in a flat form.

The basket is then folded up to create the front and sides, this is done around a former with the machine bending the wire so easily and accurately. The baskets were all loaded into each other on pallets. The quantity of them going through the manufacturing process was staggering.

In other rooms, the same process is being repeated to create the chassis frames in steel wire and tubular steel. The process is the same as making the baskets, cutting, bending and then loading them into formers for the welding robots to accurately weld. See these in all their raw state without the baskets on them I really saw how technical the designs are to give the strength and longevity the trolleys need to be reliable in stores.

Finally, all of the components come together to go through the very technical plating process. The components are hung on hooks that hang from a conveyor that again in an automated process according to the model, the components move along the track, dipped for the required time into each bath.

Marsanz has different runs of these baths all being expertly manned and monitored so depending on the size of the component it will fit correctly in the electroplating baths. At the other end of this process, the dull dark steel that goes in is shiny and all the welds are covered and protected from rusting.

These shiny chassis frames, baskets and back flaps all then move on for their extra protection of a layer of polyethene over the top of the plating. They are again loaded onto hooks on a moving trackway and go through a process where they are sprayed white with the plastic coating and then they slowly move along the track to go through the oven to be baked and for the plastic coating to turn translucent.

The coated components are then put together by hand by a team of experts. First on go the Tente castor and wheels onto the up turned chassis frame. The basket is then attached to the frame using the patented assembly system which was a much quicker job than I expected, showing the efficiency in design and the innovation that Marsanz really show expertise in. The naked trolleys without black flaps or handles are then moved onto the finishing room. The trolleys being finished are the ones that are due to be loaded onto trucks and containers the following day reducing the time trolleys need to be stored again improving efficiency.

Seats are clipped into the back flaps, the back flaps are then attached to the trolleys using hydraulic pincers then the handles and end caps are put on by hand. The trolleys all in their neat long lines are then moved ready to despatch via quality control.

Each trolley is checked that the wheels are balanced with all 4 in correct contact with the ground, this is done by a few individuals who have been doing the QC for many years and can spot faults quickly and can feel if a trolley is unbalanced.

The process of loading, and protecting the trolleys with cardboard, bubble wrap and sheets of hardboard is such a skilled job. When the trucks are being loaded with mixed models it is like an ultimate game of Tetris to maximise the space on the truck and get as much in as possible. Each truck is different, each model is different.

Formbar was founded in 2005 and launched due to the breakup of a larger business. Formbar retained the distribution agreement with Marsanz and the supply contracts with afew convenience symbol groups. From this small foundation, Formbar has grown to be a specialist UK supplier of trolleys and baskets to National Retail Chains, Convenience Symbol Groups, Independent Retailers, Garden Centre Groups, Independent Garden Centres, Launderettes, Hotels, Academic Institutions and more.

In 2019 Hannah Lewis, who had been working for Formbar for 10 years, took the opportunity to purchase Formbar to be able to drive it forward with ambition. In the first three years since this change of ownership, Formbar has succeeded in achieving substantial growth, doubling turnover by attracting many new customers and introducing new innovative products.