European Soil Like Home Turf for BKT
In less than 20 years Balkrishna Tyres (BKT) has developed a strong presence in the agricultural tyre segment and brought to market one of the widest ranges of agricultural (and other off highway) tyres currently available. It is only as recently as 1988 that the company’s first factory, in the West Indian district of Aurangabad, entered production with a modest annual production of 3,000 tonnes; today the company has an output in excess of 30 times that, and much of BKT’s annual production is destined for global markets, including our own.
According to information the company presented at November’s Agritechnika show in Hanover, Germany, exports now account for 95 per cent of BKT production. Of this amount, 70 per cent is exported to Europe (by comparison the next largest export market, North America, generates only 11 per cent of export sales), with 2006/07 sales in this region valued at approximately £58 million. Tyres for agricultural applications make up the bulk of European sales, BKT representatives added. In the UK and Northern Ireland the BKT range is exclusively marketed by RH Claydon Ltd.
BKT is the ‘favourite son’ of Balkrishna Industries Ltd, which in turn is owned by India’s Siyaram Poddar Group, a company with an annual turnover of £246 million. The off highway tyre specialist has of late undergone rapid growth; in the 2006/07 year total sales of BKT products increased by 47 per cent to £91 million, which followed a 2005/06 sales increase of 39 per cent (to £62 million). Growth in export sales has more or less been in line with this overall trend. For 2007/08 BKT projects total sales of £122 million, a huge chunk of the group’s earnings.
The evolution of the BKT agricultural tyre range has been a swift one; in 2004 the company introduced its first 85 series tyre, presenting its first radial tractor products at the Reifen Essen show. The following year saw the introduction of 70 series tyres, and in 2006 came a 65 series plus row crop and flotation radials. New at Agritechnika in November 2007 was yet another new product offering – a 60 series tractor tyre known as the AgrimaxForce.
The AgrimaxForce is intended for larger, high-powered vehicles (those above 250hp) that are employed in large area farming, and the tyre permits maximum carrying capacity at 1.6 bar. In this new range BKT has introduced what it calls “IF Technology”. This designation refers to the qualities designed into the tyre that permit a high level of sidewall flexibility and an optimised footprint during use at this lower pressure. The reported end benefit of IF Technology is that a larger number of the tyre’s lugs are in contact with the soil, even in the footprint’s central zone, an area that typically suffers when low-pressure wide rim tyres operate at maximum load. The phenomenon of flat spotting, reports BKT, has been overcome in the AgrimaxForce through the use of polyester cords in the tyre’s carcass instead of the traditional nylon cord construction. The polyester tailored cords and coating bonds are also said to ensure a more enduring cord to compound adhesion even when operating in prolonged high strain continuous cycles.
At the end of 2007 the BKT AgrimaxForce was available in a 900/60 R42 rear wheel size and 710/60 R34 front wheel size, both ‘D’ rated for on-road speeds of up to 65km/h. New additions will fatten out the range in 2008. Other key products in the BKT agricultural range include the Agrimax range, available in 65, 70 and 85 series and the Flotation FL360, a radial tyre specifically designed for trailers. The complete range is too vast to individually mention – the company’s current catalogue lists hundreds of sizes and patterns of radial and bias tractor, trailer, implement and flotation tyres.
Behind the development of the AgrimaxForce was BKT’s research and development team of 43 engineers. For BKT, research and development is of vital importance to its ever expanding range, and therefore the company invests 3 per cent of total annual turnover into this area. During the development of any new product, and the company claims it has the capability to introduce 160 new products within the course of a year, the in-house BKT team calls upon 3D software design plus both indoor and outdoor test facilities. The company reports that it conducts a total of 480 hours of testing on field and track every year, plus a further 16 hours of indoor tests and 10 controlled tests in which the performance BKT products are evaluated in comparison with that of key competitors.
In 2006/07 the company’s three production facilities (Bhiwadi and Chopanki in Northern India and Aurangabad in Western India) possessed a production capacity of 100,000 tonnes, an increase of 25 per cent over the previous year. And growing worldwide demand for BKT products means that further increases in capacity are on the cards; for 2007/08 the company projects an annual capacity of 130,000 tonnes.
Looking further ahead, it can be readily seen that BKT has its eyes on an even larger share of the agricultural and wider off-highway market – in fact, the company’s stated vision is to “attain global leadership in agricultural and construction equipment tyres.” To accomplish this BKT have a number of projects already planned. During the 2008/09 year the company’s Chopanki facility will be upgraded to accommodate the manufacture of large agricultural tyres as well as forestry tyres and OTR radials. The following year BKT intends to establish a fourth manufacturing plant, in the Western Indian state of Gujarat.