By Sharad Matade:
Steelbird International, a manufacturer of rubber components and automotive filters, will make two-wheeler and e- rickshaw tyres to mitigate the likely loss from its filter business due to electric vehicles. “In electric vehicles (EVs) there will be no filters, which is our major business segment. We want to counter the loss of business if EVs are going to replace ICE vehicles. Our core competency is in rubber products, and tyre and tubes were the only rubber products that we were not making. We are going to make them,” Manav Kapur Executive Director, Steelbird International, told AutoParts Asia.
Steelbird International will begin tyre production in its new plant near Hyderabad in April 2018. The company had launched its two-wheeler and e-rickshaw tyres during the recent Auto Expo-Component Show in Delhi. Initially, the company will produce tyres in ten different sizes and six different patterns.
E-rickshaw tyre production is a strategic decision for the company as no major players have pursued into it aggressively, though the number of e-rickshaws is on the rise. Now most of the e-rickshaws are using scooter tyres. There are big differences between the two as the role of e-rickshaw tyres is different in terms of speed, payload and design from the scooter tyres.
Scooters can go up to 100 km per hour while the e-rikshaws move around at 30 km. A scooter carries only two people, the e-rikshaw is for five. The scooter tyres move in manoeuverable radius, whereas the rikshaws go flat. For an even wear, e- rickshaws need flat tyres with different engineering design. “We have designed a tyre purely for e-rikshaws,” Kapur said.
The company is in talks with OEMs for the supply of its e-rickshaw tyres. It is setting up a different marketing department for this.
Tyres for two-wheelers will be for the bikes with low-power engines. They will be sold in the aftermarket. Steelbird will have to compete with established players like MRF, Ceat and TVS Srichakra to sell its motorcycle tyres. “We will take the support of our brand, which has penetrated the market with a network of over 5000 dealers in India and the neighbouring countries. Our brand is very well connected with consumers and mechanics. There is space for everyone,” he said.
The company will export tyres to Nepal, where it has a strong presence. It is yet to work on the Southeast Asian markets that have large number of e-rickshaws and two-wheelers. “In India, we will initially focus on the northern region which has a better presence of e-rikshaws,” Kapur said. Though no initial production figure has been disclosed, the company has closed orders for 30000 tyres a month for one particular size of e-rickshaw tyre.
Steelbird International will open a new filter manufacturing plant in Pantnagar, Uttarakhand, with an investment of Rs40 crore and an installed capacity of 60000 filters daily. This will take the total capacity of the company to 100000 a day. This plant also is expected to start production in April.
Steelbird International started filter manufacturing five decades ago and Royal Enfield was its first client. Today it has over 900 employees and produces dampers, bushes, bellows/boots, gaskets, mats, oil seals, o-seals, and rubber to metal bonded components. It has a dedicated filter component manufacturing facility to produce different types of filters: spin on, element type, reticulated foam, polyurethane filters, and plastic moulded filters. The company also produces air, oil and fuel filters for automotive application.
“Steelbird International is one of the oldest filter makers for two-wheelers and three-wheelers in India. We have widest experiences in our business segments. We make filters on the basis of the actual need of the engines with required standards and we have our own test labs. We import filter media from across the world. We can produce an air filter with an efficiency rate of 99.99%,” Kapur said.
Though there will not be filters in electric vehicles, the company has taken a calculated decision to set up the plant for current and future demand. “The current highest selling two-wheelers are having combustion engines and electric vehicles will be in the market after about a decade. Even after the EVs, combustion engine vehicles will be plying on the road. We do not see any downtrend in the next five years and we want to capitalize on that demand,” he said.
The new filter plant will mainly cater to the domestic market, with exports to Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka and a little bit to Italy and Germany. Almost 70 percent of the company’s business comes from the aftermarket, and the rest from OEMs.
Steelbird International has a development facility with state-of-the-art machinery to produce conventional and technologically advanced rubber components. The machine capabilities range from conventional compression moulding to advanced art rubber injection mouldings. The company has already implemented industry 4.0 at
a unit in its Pantnagar plant. “We have internet, sensors and embedded technologies that have taken over the entire operations. Now we have made sure that the new plant will have less people on shopfloor. Everything will be captured on the machines smartly and that will help to analyse the data,” Kapur said.
For quality standard, the company has decided to go in for paperless quality inspections in the new plant. “Earlier we used to have before and after inspection reports on paper. Now the quality engineers will visit the shop floor with tables and data is captured on them. The data is never lost and can be used for analysis at different levels and for different products. These new technologies will give us an upper hand,” he said.
Steelbird International Tyres
For the electric vehicles, Steelbird International has developed tyres with the LUG pattern which can be used on both rural and urban roads. It has high load-bearing capacity, high towing power and improved surface contact area. Chakka is the brand the company has designed especially for electric vehicles.
For two-wheelers, it has launched Infinity, Ranger, Voyager, Rovolve, Orbit, and Ferro. Tubes will be manufactured with special butyl rubber for better air retention. Infinity is designed for on-road and off-road applications, having block pattern, low RR, better breaking and traction force and non-skidding features, and high curve stability. Infinity is for rear wheel fitment.
Ranger gives maximum grip on both wet and dry surface. It comes for rear wheel fitment and offers good breaking and traction force. Voyager is designed to fit for rear and front wheels and has rib pattern, special treat compound, low RR, and good aberration resistance. Due to these features, Voyager has better traction, ease of ejection of stones from the groves and low noise generation.
Rovolve gives smooth driving and is made for urban and rural use. It generates low noise and better traction, uniform wear and can be fitted on front and rear wheels. Orbit is for front wheel fitment and offers ease of ejection of stones from the grooves and high wear resistance. Ferro has superb grip with rib pattern which gives better traction, uniform wear, high wear resistance and low noise generation.