Starco shares on ‘quest for ultimate FLT tyre’
Starco’s new plant in Sri Lanka has now been manufacturing the company’s Tusker and Unicorn fork lift tyre ranges for a year, and the Danish firm says its entry into regular production completes an endeavour that required several years of investment and commitment.
Some years ago Starco, who has supplied solid rubber fork lift tyres for many years, noted that there was room for improvement in the design and configuration of solid rubber FLT tyres. Therefore in 2006 the company began developing its own design for a solid rubber FLT tyre, which was launched the following year as the Tusker. At the time production of the Starco-designed tyre was outsourced to other manufacturers.
Yet despite the improvements the Tusker delivered compared with conventional FLT patterns, the engineering team at Starco say they still weren’t satisfied. “It was difficult to find other manufacturers whose production technology and quality assurance processes could deliver a product that met the stringent Starco specification and it was difficult to find manufacturers with the production capacity to deliver the product,” explains company CEO Peer Ejlersgaard. The challenge of overcoming the difficulties experienced with outsourced manufacturing led Starco to consider establishing its own solid rubber tyre manufacturing plant – thus giving the company complete control of the product from design to delivery.
Starco admits that it had limited experience in tyre manufacturing at the time – its area of expertise being wheel manufacture and tyre design. Erik Spencer, who today is regional director for Starco Nordic Group, travelled to Sri Lanka, the worldwide centre for solid rubber tyre manufacturing and the country where keynote companies such as Trelleborg and Solideal have their operations. “We started with very few contacts in the region, but we soon met and engaged Susantha Perera, a local man with over 20 years experience in the industry, to join our operation.”
At the same time, Starco implemented a new company-wide global strategy and appointed Richard Todd as chief operating officer for production; Todd was assigned the task of implementing a LEAN programme throughout the group. In August 2011, Todd and Perera joined forces and began to design and develop a new factory in Sri Lanka. They also a local Starco subsidiary, securing the necessary business permits and finding a premises. “Susantha’s local knowledge and understanding of the manufacturing process was the key,“ says Richard Todd, “and having a local man also gave us access to all the best local suppliers.”
By November 2011 the factory was completed, the company’s tyre moulds had been shipped from Thailand to Sri Lanka and Starco was ready to train its employees and commence production. Following extensive training and tests, the first containers of Tusker tyres were shipped to market by March 2012.
Richard Todd, who has spent the past two years implementing the LEAN programme throughout the Starco group, states: “To establish a new factory, commission the production line and train the employees so that deliveries commence within six months is an impressive achievement.”
Like all Starco manufacturing sites, the Sri Lanka factory has adopted the Mini Business Unit (MBU) as the framework for planning, implementing and evaluating the entire manufacturing process, integrating the manufacturing team with all other company employees worldwide who are involved in the logistics process that relates to the factories products, all the way to the customer.
Todd shares further plans for the Sri Lanka site: “Beyond our own stringent product specification and QA programme, we are working hard to achieve ISO 9001 and 14001 certification. The involvement of the employees in the MBU, our in-house training and our group LEAN programme are bringing excellence within our grasp.”
Starco CEO Peer Ejlersgaard is proud of the new factory and says “it gives us a great satisfaction to see the result and to know that we have complete control of this product, giving us a competitive edge in the marketplace. Before, we had many good ideas for solid rubber tyre products, but we were limited by the manufacturing opportunities available. Now, the sky is not the limit.”
The Sri Lanka factory currently has a production capacity of up to 80,000 tyres annually. The factory manufactures 4 to 20-inch solid rubber tyres in standard rubber, non-marking rubber and easy-fit configurations, and the company now offers three product ranges; the Tusker three-layer range designed for demanding 24-7 FLT operation in all temperature conditions, the Unicorn two-layer tyre designed for single-shift FLT operations, and Makhna, which Starco describes as “special tyres for special applications.”
Starco says its solid rubber FLT tyres are designed and manufactured to give optimal performance and a long service life: “The tread design is configured to offer the highest net-to-gross ground contact area whilst accommodating the considerable axial stresses to which FLT tyres are subjected during constant tight manoeuvring. The design ensures optimal and safe stability under load, excellent steering precision and a tread which has good self-cleaning capabilities when exposed to muddy or snow-covered terrain.”