Starco introduces ‘lite’ version of puncture-free Flex range
When Tyres & Accessories spoke to Starco at last year’s Reifen trade show in Germany, it was apparent from the products the Danish company had on display that it was moving away from its traditional role as solely a tyre wholesaler to also being a manufacturer of wheels and assemblies with an increasing focus on specialty wheels. Starco has now broadened its activities in this direction with the release of a further development of its Flex range – the Flex lite.
The main selling feature of the Flex range, first released as the Flex Pro in 2007, is its ability to deliver the qualities of a pneumatic tyre while being air-free and thus immune to punctures. Successfully pairing these two benefits is, of course, something of a holy grail to many tyre designers, so it must be pointed out that the initial target audience for the polyurethane Flex range has not been the motor vehicle users catered for by most tyre makers, as Starco explains: “Where the risk of punctures on motor vehicles and heavy equipment may be reduced by more robust tyre design and construction or solid rubber tyres – both of which imply increased weight and cost – such solutions are not suitable for low speed applications such as wheelbarrows, sack trucks and other portable equipment.”
Yet despite the step forward the Flex represented, it didn’t address an existing cost issue, namely that mounting a tyre upon a wheel is a process whose cost is difficult to justify in a relatively low-priced product. Enter the Flex lite, Starco’s solution for manufacturers of small-wheeled, low-speed vehicles looking for mounted pneumatic tyre performance without the associated cost. This new addition to the Flex range differs fundamentally from the Flex Pro in terms of the process used to manufacture it. The Flex lite is a hard polypropylene injection-moulded wheel with an integral polyurethane tyre, which is injection-moulded directly onto the wheel. The entire assembly is moulded in a single process, eliminating the need for tyre fitting.
Aimed at lightweight, low-cost and domestic applications, Flex lite wheels have a standard bore of 35mm, into which a range of adaptors may be fitted to match a wide variety of axle diameters and offsets, and it accepts both nylon and ball bearings. Admittedly, the perceived performance of the Flex lite is slightly lower than that of a pneumatic tyre, however Starco believes the lower demands posed by the lightweight applications it will be paired with mean any performance factor will be far outweighed by the product’s puncture-free endurance. For heavy-duty professional applications that once were the pneumatic tyre’s sole province, the Flex Pro remains Starco’s recommended tyre of choice. To illustrate the range’s durability, Starco reports that during testing a Flex Pro large wheelbarrow wheel endured the equivalent of a 150 kilogram load at five kilometres per hour for 1,000 continuous kilometres – with no noticeable wear or degeneration of the polyurethane material or tread surface.
“Experience shows that Flex products make economic sense,” states Starco Europe group marketing manager Brian Lorentzen. “The investment in a Flex wheel is typically far less than the cost of downtime and repair of a single puncture in a pneumatic tyre – and Flex wheels usually outlast the equipment on which they are fitted.” The Flex Pro has already been adopted by a number of manufacturers as an OEM fitment, adding to its popularity as an aftermarket product. With the Flex lite, Starco is confident its obvious appeal to professional and consumer end-users will open up a new distribution chain for the company via DIY centres and builders’ merchants.
Both the Flex Pro and Flex lite are manufactured by Starco in Europe and are 100 per cent recyclable. Starco confirms the entire range is fully compliant with European Reach regulations and all relevant health and safety regulations. In reporting this, the Danish manufacturer also calls for consumer caution – the distinct yellow tyres in the Flex line-up have already been imitated by a number of no-name products that offer neither European compliance nor a comparable level of performance and durability.
In announcing the Flex lite’s introduction, Starco discloses that the two Flex ranges now on offer are “just the beginning.” The Danish manufacturer says that, having established and proven the manufacture of puncture-free wheels, it is now exploring additional applications for both ranges. More specific information on future uses for the Flex will be given at a later date.