By TA News Bureau:

BKT is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of off-highway tyres with over 92 per cent of its products exported to more than 130 countries across five continents. It is a one-stop shop for all off-highway tyre solutions. One of the keys to its success is its research, innovation and adaptability to changing technological scenes. Heading its R&D work is Dilip Vaidya, BKT President and Director Technology. The company’s R&D centre handles everything on tyre technologies: from designing to creating new compounds to improve tyre performance, and to implementing more efficient manufacturing processes. Excerpts from the interview

Innovation and cutting-edge technologies have been driving the outstanding growth of BKT as one of the global leaders in the specialised segment of OTR tyres. Can you give us a brief on your R&D activities and accomplishments in the past five years?

BKT has always been committed to innovation allotting requisite funds regularly to research and development since we consider these investments as the key to success for competing in a complex global market with rapidly evolving needs. We carry out various R&D activities at each of our plants to develop new compounds and products needed for meet varied customer needs. Our R&D centre located at Bhuj plant is one of the largest and most-modern. For the development of new sustainable raw materials, new tyre compound aiming to improve tyre quality and performance, we have six laboratory facilities at the centre: Three Physical Labs, a Microscopy Lab, an Analytical Lab, a Chemical Lab, an Ageing Lab and a Compound Lab.
It also houses “Supernova” – High Tech Simulation Lab, which provides simulation on the vehicle applications as well as many other such initiatives for abundant research activities. Our major accomplishments in the past five years include the completion of the all-steel radial OTR range with the 49-inch tyres for dump-trucks, 45-inch tyres for loaders and different underground mining tyres.

As you plan to produce still larger tyres up to 63 inches, what are the constant challenges that you face in developing specialised rubber compounds and moulds?

Every geographical market has a different need in terms of the product. This is due to the fact that each region has different terrain and weather conditions (sometimes extreme), under which the tyre needs to deliver optimum performance. So, the challenges are many. The mining sector is one of the toughest sectors. In those rocky, abrasive and harsh environments, tyres are exposed to extremely high mechanical stress and fatigue, to heavy loads, and the toughest handling and transportation conditions. However, the experience of our R&D as well as the product development team comes handy and we are continuously offering specific products for all such markets. Our range in OTR tyres has been developed based on all such factors, and today it has transformed into a remarkable one.

You are closely collaborating with Kultevat Inc that is working on TKS dandelion to produce tyres from this alternative to natural rubber from Hevea. What are the advantages of switching to dandelion? Does it not call for development of new rubber compounds?

BKT has begun working with the U.S. biotechnology company Kultevat Inc. to develop processing methods that would lead to the use of dandelion-based latex in rubber compounds that could be used in making tyres. The agreement with Kultevat for TKS rubber is a great step forward in our R&D activities in terms of both sustainability and innovation. This project is fully in line with the goals expressed in our R&D Mission: To research and develop cutting-edge material technologies to support future BKT business challenges, in terms of innovative product technology.
Yes, it would involve development of new rubber compounds, as due to higher molecular weight and strength of TKS rubber, we have to work on processing challenges.

What are the technological changes that you are working on that would make BKT different from the competition as you drive to increase your global market share up to more than 6-7 per cent in the coming decade?

An area we are focusing on is the use of nanomaterials or nanocomposites, which can provide enhanced performance. Under this, we have done research into graphene, which is wear and puncture resistant. These ongoing projects will focus on the development of high-performance compounds by means of nanomaterials or nanocomposites providing enhanced thermal and mechanical stability. Research in this field focuses on graphene, nanoclay and nanocellulose. In this context, BKT’s recently opened carbon black manufacturing plant also comes into play.

You stock 2800 different SKUs and the average time to market a new tyre at global level is 6-8 weeks. It is certainly a huge challenge. How is your R&D coping with this challenge?

World-class infrastructure at our various plants coupled with the vast experience of our R&D team, who is keeping their eyes and ears on the ground, are major factors contributing in overcoming any such challenges. We are passionate about offering complete solutions ie. entire package to our customers and all our efforts are focused in this direction.
Also, we are researching solutions to cope with sensor-assisted autonomous transportation, enhanced tyre and equipment integration systems, data flow and analytics optimisation for increased productivity – all this in compliance with the megatrends of sustainability, diverse mobility, electrification and safety.

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