Do it right – do it yourself

The paint chain can carry up to 18 tonnes of wheels along its 280 metre length when fully loaded

In 2015, the production of STARCO GS – formerly Gebrüder Schaad – wheels was transferred from Switzerland to the STARCO factory in Beli Manastir, Croatia in order to realise cost advantages and to better serve customers located within the European Union. At the time, the ISO 9001 and 14001 certified Beli Manastir facility was only equipped to manufacture wheels up to a maximum diameter of 30.5-inches, however demand from customers – both existing and new – has necessitated the installation of new facilities to handle the production of larger wheel sizes. STARCO reports that, after searching the market for suitable equipment, it set about developing its own solution. This is now in operation and has allowed the manufacturer to increase its production portfolio to include complete dual wheel solutions for agricultural vehicles.

STARCO considers itself an expert in low volume production and fast production line changeovers, however it wanted to invest in becoming a stronger supplier of high volume products while maintaining a scalable, flexible and lean setup. This production also needed to accommodate ‘e-coat’ technology (see textbox), which STARCO uniquely offers for pressed wheels. STARCO wheels are only painted for aesthetic reasons, by the way – the e-coat prevents rust from developing.

The development project started in 2015 with a quote from a potential supplier for a new paint chain that would carry wheels through the Beli Manastir plant’s e-coat facility. STARCO considered the quote expensive and noted that it “failed to answer some of the key areas for improvement.” It was at this point that the company first considered the option of building its own solution, and it assembled a team of technical, quality, production, and financial specialists for brainstorming sessions. The result of this collective thinking was the development, construction and testing of a paint chain prototype in the final quarter of 2015.

The latest evolution within STARCO’s dual system portfolio is the Emc2 range

The latest evolution within STARCO’s dual system portfolio is the Emc2 range

Based on its experiences with the prototype, STARCO decided to go ahead and build its own full-scale solution. The new, 280 metre-long paint chain was installed in August 2016 and was up and running by the final quarter of last year. The STARCO solution costed 60 per cent less than the initial third-party quote, and the manufacturer claims to have already realised a 32 per cent improvement in capacity; additional increases are expected in 2017 when the next generation of hook design is implemented.

“Our customers within the segments specialised and agricultural vehicles require STARCO to offer larger wheels – some in low and some in high volumes. We are now ready to deliver and keep investing in improvements to match future demand,” shares Sven Holmes, STARCO’s segment director for Specialised Vehicles. Holmes adds that dual wheel systems, wheels for agricultural implements and industrial tractors – product lines where STARCO anticipates an increase in volume – will benefit in particular from the new facility.

The paint chain can carry up to 18 tonnes of wheels (each 54-inch wheel weighs up to 230 kilogrammes) along its 280 metre length when fully loaded. It consists of more than 24,000 individual components, each of which was designed and assembled in-house by STARCO Croatia. STARCO comments that the paint chain’s “unique design ensures automotive standards and highest quality levels right first time, while safety and reliability have also “been enhanced with the addition of multiple new drive systems which offer redundancy in the event of one unit failing.”

About e-coating
The e-coat facility is an electrodeposition coating process in which steel wheels are given a priming coat that will prevent rust and corrosion throughout the wheel’s normal working life. The coating applied in this process serves as a rust prevention coating in itself and also serves as an excellent primer to prepare the wheel for subsequent bespoke painting. With e-coat, STARCO is using the latest automotive nanotechnology pre-treatment, and the manufacturer claims that this nanotechnology, along with the design, makes e-coat “an environmentally friendly process” throughout the whole system. STARCO is the only manufacturer of pressed wheels to utilise e-coat technology.

“This will generate the capacity we need to grow whilst taking the product quality to the next level as demanded by our OEM customers. It gives us a much leaner process with faster flow, less production stops and less manual work,” says Mario Biscan, general manager at the STARCO factory in Croatia. He adds: “This internal development and production of equipment based on our insight in daily operations, improvement opportunities, extensive know-how and mindset of continuous improvement open a lot of opportunities for similar projects.”

From component to complete wheel supplier

The installation of the new paint chain presented STARCO with the opportunity to expand its agricultural dual wheel portfolio to cover complete wheel solutions in addition to the components that were previously available. The company says this extension of its dual wheel portfolio will benefit customers by facilitating improved lead times and simplifying the supply chain. The quality of the solutions it offers, adds STARCO, are original equipment standard and use the same e-coat and powder topcoat technology found on products supplied to OEMs.

“We have customers in markets with very different requirements and applications; for instance, stability duals in mountainous Switzerland and traction duals in the Ukraine. Despite the difference in need, our product range can easily satisfy such varied requirements,” comments Sven Holmes.

STARCO’s dual wheel production now entirely takes place in Croatia. “Our factory has high flexibility and is specialised in low-volume production,” shares Mario Biscan. “Where our competitors take hours to change over a production line, our steel wheel production line for the spun wheels can change from one product to another in less than 20 minutes – for instance between a 20-inch and 54-inch wheel.”

The latest evolution within the company’s dual system portfolio is the Emc2 range. STARCO views the patented clamp system utilised on these products, which allows the dual to be simply mounted and tensioned whilst attached to the vehicle, as being “key to the success of the STARCO dual system.” The manufacturer adds that it understands the need for precise fit when it comes to the dual wheel itself, and for this reason the integrated Emc2 spacer duals have been developed to cover 46-inches. These duals are calibrated twice to ensure a positive and accurate fit for maximum power transfer and reliability.

STARCO’s dual wheel systems for agricultural vehicles are designed in Switzerland and are available for 15 to 54-inch wheel sizes. The Beli Manastir plant also produces ‘Made-to-Measure’ agricultural wheel solutions in 20 to 54-inch sizes and ‘Hi-Tech’ products, which are provided for very specific, unique original equipment applications such as airport fire engines and ultra-high capacity load carriers.

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