by Bruce Button
Who knew that as many as 59 components are needed to produce a high quality off-road tire? Not me! Not until I visited the BKT Tire Plant in Bhuj, India did I learn that.
It was a pleasure to be invited to visit BKT’s newest and most modern tire production facility in India, by the people at BKT, where I could learn more about the tire making process. Their new plant is now producing their large quarry truck tires as well as agricultural and other industrial use tires.
Landing in Mumbai’s airport at 10 p.m. their time on a Wednesday, I was amazed to see the amount of traffic and the number of shops that were still open. Coming from a rural Upstate NY village, where we’re lucky to see lights in the houses on at that time of day, the contrast was amazing!
Mumbai is a metropolitan area of over 23 million people. As congested as the traffic seemed to be, it always seemed to keep moving. We spent our first day acclimating to the time change (10 hours) and taking a bus tour of Mumbai with its cultural and historical sites.
Day two started at 4 a.m. with coffee and pastries in the hotel, before taking chartered motor coaches to the Mumbai Airport where we boarded a chartered flight to Bhuj. Since there were about 120 of us journalists from all over the globe, the experience for our hosts, was like herding cats. Nevertheless, BKT’s staff kept us in line and on time just the same. After our 2-hour flight north, we landed in Bhuj where we took tour buses to the plant that was about an hour from the airport. Along the way, I was able to observe some tobacco fields, rice fields and many of the nation’s sacred cows.
When we arrived at the plant, we were greeted by a bagpipe band from Nepal. Again, our hosts served us more food. Did I mention we had a meal on the plane on the way up? By the end of the day, I counted that I had been served six meals!
Just to give you an idea of the scale of this plant, it sits on 300 acres. The building itself covers 37 acres and it contains two floors. Our group guide was one of the engineers for BKT. He was well versed and quite humorous at times.
We started our tour by seeing the raw material storage area, the chemical mixing area and then the rubber batch mixing equipment. At that point, in the manufacturing process, the material is raw black rubber. Batches are made specifically for where the rubber is going to be incorporated in the tires. Different compound specifications are used for coating the belts, surrounding the bead, tire liner and tread area. It is at this point that a sample is taken from each batch and put through rigorous testing for elasticity, wear, correct compound and much more. This all takes place in a climate controlled lab near where the raw rubber is stored.
The next processes we observed were the creating of the tire bead, laminating the belts (either steel or fabric) and slicing rubber for placement onto the actual tire making equipment. All of their equipment is state of the art and highly automated. This ensures them a high quality product.
Once all of the components are ready, they can start to assemble the actual tires. We saw solid tires, agricultural tires and industrial tires being made. Once the green tire (uncured) is assembled, it is sent on to curing and molding. This is where the tread pattern is formed and the tire is finished. Depending on the type and size of the tire, it can take up to 8 hours for a tire to cure.
Once the tires are removed from the molds, the finished tires are transported to final inspection. Smaller tires are hand inspected but the large quarry truck tires enter an x-ray machine for final inspection.
Since I am from a publishing company where I am accustomed to seeing the large electric motors that our presses require, I was curious about where their electricity came from. During the tour, I noticed dozens of pieces of equipment that required 200 hp electric motors and I know how much juice we need to run our 100 hp electric motors, let alone a motor that was twice as large. My question was answered when we were taken on an outside tour of their entire facility, riding the grounds on golf carts. They have their own, state of the art, coal fired, electric generating plant. Because they use a number of chimney scrubbers to protect the environment, there is no visible pollution from this plant. They are especially, environmentally conscious.
Because of the location of their plant and the need for skilled labor, BKT maintains a campus on their grounds. There is housing for over 400 families and 90 bachelor apartments. They also have recreation areas, a hospital and a fire department on site.
We ran out of time to actually tour their warehouse, but driving by it, we could see the immensity of it. Tires are transported about 60 kilometers away to the Port of Bhuj for shipping to dealers and distributors around the globe. As the day wound down, we returned to our five star hotel in Mumbai for our sixth meal of the day.
I don’t think anybody made it past 10 p.m. that night! I also discovered that my phone has an app on it for fitness that I didn’t know about. It alerted me and said I had hit my goal for the day, 11,000 steps! That compares to working the ConExpo/ConAgg Show in Las Vegas.
I think like most people who are the end users of tires, whether we use them on a tractor , a forklift, a TLB, a telehandler or a haul truck, we think of tires as a tool to get our job done. No tires, no work! What I saw during my visit to BKT Tires, was the investment in time, in research, in production and in testing, that goes into making quality tires. Every one of their more than 2000 tire variations has its own unique components, mold and tread pattern.
BKT Tires definitely educated me on the tire making process and they impressed me with their corporate culture. They also told of how they give back to the schools in India in a big way. I would be proud to be riding on any of their tires!
Lee Publications GM visits ultra-modern BKT tire factory in Bhuj, India
by Bruce Button