Quality and performance, at a price to compete
With plenty of brand choice in the agricultural tyre market, price is often used as a guide to quality and performance when choosing replacements. However, one Indian manufacturer is confident its tyres offer equivalent performance to major brand tyres, despite its lower price tag. David Williams visited its newest plant to find out more.
Balkrishna Industries Ltd (BKT) is a relative newcomer to the agricultural tyre market. The family-owned company was formed in 1987 to produce off-highway tyres filling a gap in the market which had been dominated by premium and budget brands with nothing in between to suit the average user. Before this, since 1954, the company had produced bicycle tyres. Currently turning over $840M, BKT’s range of 2,400 tyres is produced at five plants in India and more sizes and patterns are added monthly. Most of its production is agricultural, with 95 per cent exported to 130 countries, but its share of the Indian domestic market is only 20–30 per cent partly because it has concentrated on producing higher quality tyres meeting more stringent demands of overseas users.
Farmers Guide factory visit Farmers Guide was invited to visit BKT’s newest plant at Bhuj, 800km from Mumbai. The factory is the world’s largest off-highway tyre production facility, with 13 advanced mixers capable of producing 350t of tyres per day. Construction of the Bhuj plant began with a traditional site blessing in August 2010, and groundworks started in January 2011. By March 2012 the first solid tyres were produced. The plant will meet growing demand, with its agricultural tyre sales increasing
rapidly world-wide, including to Europe where demand has doubled during the past five years. The modern plant includes the latest tyre manufacturing technology ensuring quality, reliability and performance comparable to the best known brands. The location of the plant is at first surprising; in a desert area, away from any centre of population, with only poor road links, no access to a good water supply and in an area where earthquakes are frequent. But, to meet the objectives, more than 120ha (300 acres) was needed and the potential site identified was 126ha (312) and, crucially, it was within easy reach of two main ports. Two reservoirs were constructed to suppy water for fire fighting, and an electricity supply was installed bringing power from 13km away. Volcanic soil up to 7m deep was removed and replaced by soil suitable for foundations and groundwork. One of the biggest challenges was ensuring a reliable labour supply and BKT solved this by building an on-site village for its workers and their families. Approximately 400 family homes and 90 bachelor apartments were constructed with sports and entertainment facilities, a kindergarten, small supermarket and medical facility, all within the plant walls. Power for the plant and housing was assured by the construction of a 20MW on-site coal-fired power station with a 4.5MW back-up plant ensuring essential equipment can operate if the main plant fails.
Tyre testing & development
The new 130ha (325-acre) site is in a desert area some distance from any centres of population. An employee village, within the site walls, provides excellent housing for more than 400 families and 90 single inhabitants.
But, the facility BKT is most proud of is its tyre testing centre, due for completion in 2017 and occupying 10ha (25 acres) of the site. This includes a variety of operating surfaces offering wet and dry product testing and is so advanced the company has already been approached by vehicle and equipment manufactures keen
BKT’s Bhuj tyre production plant was built to meet increased demand for its tyres and ensure top quality and performance at a competitive price.
The imposing plant entrance. Security is tight.
The state-of-the-art test facility occupies and allows trials of agricultural tyres on different surfaces and varying load conditions. Tests on farm with users are also used to assess performance.
Mr Dilip Vaidya is president and director of technology and said he believes IF and VF specification tyres will replace standard radial tyres within the near future.
to hire it. BKT describes it as one of the most advanced in the world and, together with on-site static test equipment, it will allow fine-tuning of tyre compounds, carcass and tread designs. BKT president and director of technology Dilip Vaidya has been involved with agricultural tyres for more than 40 years including 35 years in their development. “We have a very experienced team,” he explained to Farmers Guide. “Our main strength is our ability to create new tyres to meet demand very quickly, and this is because we make all our own moulds using 3d modeling for their design. We can make any changes immediately, whereas almost every other manufacturer would need to
source new designs from their mould producer. Our quickest development of a completely new tyre was just 45 days, but the average time is six months from start of design to supply.” The company offers IF and VF-type tyres, seen as the most advanced available currently, and asked about how BKT’s offering stacks up against highly regarded competitors, Mr Vaidya said these are always used as the benchmark during development. “It is no use us developing the latest tyres and testing them against low quality brands,” he said. “We always test against premium brands as this is the standard we aim for. Comparison tests show our tyres perform as well as any other tyre brands overall. For some aspects of performance, particularly including working life, we are often slightly ahead and for others we might be slightly behind, depending on the compounds and tread patterns, but overall our premium tyres are a match for any other premium brand.”
Leading in latest technology Mr Vaidya added that IF and VF tyre technology is likely to take over from standard radial tyre design during the next few years to the point that continued over...
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