Thursday, February 22, 2024

With its state-of-the-art Bhuj plant, BKT enters the future

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Indian tire manufacture BKT is truly entering the future. Since the inauguration of its Bhuj site in 2015, the multinational has been able to map out its future years, thanks to uniquely solid income and infrastructure in the global Off-Highway tires sector.

And it is not a vague project, it is on the contrary a well-designed and very significant growth plan, which thanks to the enhancement at Bhuj, aims at annual tire production of 600,000 metric tons (MT) and which envisages the achievement of 2 billion dollars in turnover in three years.

We know full well how much BKT loves to take up the gauntlet. Is the market changing direction? BKT finds the best way to keep up. Is the pandemic bringing global logistics to its knees? BKT is ready before everyone else. Is the planet demanding responsibility from companies? BKT demonstrates its commitment with concrete projects, because such an attitude simply reflects the cultural imprinting from which it comes.

Hence the next three years, which are so clear in BKT’s vision, are nothing but the continuation of a path built with foresight and commitment, by listening closely to the market, but also thanks to limitless courage and passion.

Bhuj 2012-2023: +262.60% hectares.

When the first tire rolled off the Bhuj production line in 2012, the plant was located on an area of 123 hectares. Then it was a $500 million investment. Before starting the works, the desert landscape was completely arid, there was neither water nor electricity. But after the laying of many kilometers of drinking water pipes and power lines, the site grew exponentially: 126 hectares in 2016, 131 in 2019, 137 in 2021, 258 in 2022. By the end of 2023, the forecast is to reach a total surface area of 323 hectares, of which 283 have already been acquired.

More space thus means more possibility to install new machines, to accommodate more test areas, to increase volumes and all that goes with it. A forecast for growth which does not stop and which, on the contrary, is the basis to meet the increase in demand. Just to mention the most recent trends, BKT’s business has increased by 49% compared to the pre-pandemic period, a remarkable peak that bears witness to how the Indian multinational is always ready for new opportunities and challenges.

And again in concrete terms, from the distant 92 MT production per day in 2015, Bhuj ended 2022 with its best result ever, 436 MT daily.

More efficient machinery, more production, more safety

Bhuj today sees more efficient machinery installed, with features that make it possible to work faster and more precisely, increasing the quantity of production and the quality of the finished product. This means, for example, that the amount of product discarded is reduced, increasing the sustainability of the manufacturing process and consequently reducing production costs; processes are also becoming increasingly reliable, and most importantly for BKT, occupational risks are drastically reduced and worker comfort improved.

Self-produced Carbon Black.

A further strategic choice by BKT to enhance the Bhuj site was to invest in its own Carbon Black plant. The plant came into operation in 2017, when the first 65,000 MT/PA of Hard grade carbon black was produced, the type of carbon black used specifically in the tire tread.  In the following year, production increased from 65,000 to 110,000 MT and saw the addition of production of soft grade carbon black, which is used in the casing compound to improve its strength and durability, generating less heat. In 2021, total production of the two types of carbon black reached 138,000 MT per annum, while last year it rose to 165,600 MT per annum.

The goal for 2023 is 198,600 MT, in addition to this, the Research and Development department plans to add a third type of carbon black, the “Specialty carbon black”. It is a type of carbon black with unique properties compared to that used in rubber compounds, such as high resistance to coloring, a high level of purity, a low ash level and very low level of PAHs, which make it suitable for use in specific applications such as paints, plastics and inks.

 The wellbeing of the “BKT family”.

The expansion of the plant means an increase in production capacity, but operational logistics have also improved significantly, which has allowed the introduction of new specialist workers, as well as providing greater flexibility in production and storage flows.

Speaking of work, the construction of new facilities also marked an improvement in employees’ safety conditions, an aspect which BKT takes very seriously; the community that operates on the Bhuj site today is very large, at the end of December 2022 the number of people working there was 4,776. BKT dedicates significant investment to the wellbeing of its community every year, through for example the expansion of the area housing the families of employees (now almost 1,000 people live there), in the care of their health, in the education of their children. In short, a true all-round “community factory” which remains a virtuous model among the first in the world in the manufacturing sector.

A good use of resources.

Wellbeing for people, of course for BKT also means wellbeing for the environment, an essential condition that today must be part of the strategies of all companies which define themselves as responsible.

Bhuj is a model for this too. Already in 2013 the internal power plant was created to have a reliable and controlled source of electricity. Today, both solar panels and the cogeneration plant make it possible to self-produce energy; in 2022 the cogeneration plant was expanded, from 20 MW to 40 MW, and projects are still underway to increase the power of self-produced renewable resources.

Water is also at the heart of BKT’s virtuous path towards Sustainability. Since 2019, the Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) principle has been adopted, which means that no liquid waste is released outside the plant. All water used in the plant is treated, purified and reused. The objective of the ZLD principle is to conserve water resources, reduce the environmental impact of wastewater discharge and improve the overall efficiency and sustainability of the plant.

Carbon black production made more sustainable.                       

BKT has also introduced a new approach to the carbon black production, by making the whole process more sustainable.

First of all, carbon black transportation: BKT substituted bulk bag containers with mobile silos. This means that the tire production plant receives the carbon plant with the aid of mobile silos transported pneumatically to the storage. This will make BKT save on packaging, i.e. 100,000 bulk bags in the next few years.

And not only that, but the whole transportation system is also designed to reduce energy usage, consumption and quality, too. Every transfer system is controlled by weight and by energy used. And the future goal is challenging: reducing energy consumption up to 70%. This translates in saving more than two million kilograms CO2 emissions per year, which are comparable to 5,000 apartments of 100 square meters each.

At the same time, the gas used to manufacture carbon black is now ending up in a co-generation plant able to reuse 75,000 cubic meters of gas per year. This means saving 215,000 MT of coal per year.

Research opens up the future.

BKT’s Research & Development division was the cradle which allowed the Bhuj site grow into what it is today and has guided its innovation and growth, constantly expanding its boundaries and facing new challenges as they arise. Established in 2017, this hub develops both products and processes, to ensure the company can maintain its international leadership. Led by a specialist team of researchers and analysts, it remains one of the most important and up-to-date research centers in the world in the tire sector.

Looking for the right solution also means testing it. For this reason, in 2017, a special Test Track was inaugurated. With 6 different tracks, this circuit includes tracks for tire performance tests in dry and wet conditions, an asphalt track and a sloping concrete track. Thanks to a wide variety of tests, many important characteristics such as traction, handling, comfort, soil compaction and much more can be measured here, thanks to high-precision devices and instruments.

Back to the future.

“People have asked me if all this was really necessary, so much in such a short time,” says Rajiv Poddar, Joint Managing Director at BKT. The goals we set ourselves when we decided to open the Bhuj site were proportional to the financial solidity of the time, but above all to a vision which is as great as it is concrete.

 Analyzing the market and anticipating it, with passion and foresight, is what we have done in all these years. Growth has always been in step with demand, not without – let me say it – courage and creativity, but never without our objectives and investments having solid foundations.

Global tire demand is growing and we see no signs of it slowing down over the next 5 years. This is a demand which started to rise during the 2020 pandemic, and which today is above pre-Covid levels. Will it be difficult? Will it be a challenge? Our vision is simple, which is why it is very concrete.The journey we started out on at Bhuj in 2012 was never a return journey, but one to prepare ourselves to discover the future.”

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