Committed to improvement

Sanjay Melvani standing with hand on a tire
Meet Sanjay Melvani, a Sri Lankan native who runs Trelleborg’s operations in that country. Loving the business of producing tires, he wants it to roll better each year.

Tires manufactured in Sri Lanka get equipment rolling all over the world — at airports, warehouses and many other environments where goods are handled. 


“We produce tires for all the larger brands of handling and agricultural equipment,” says Sanjay Melvani, the Managing Director for Trelleborg Wheel Systems in Sri Lanka. 


A reject rate of just 0.1 percent speaks for itself. Melvani’s smile contains an element of pride connected to production efficiency and to the level of trust given to him as he is managing one of Trelleborg’s largest manufacturing sites.  


Trelleborg has two plants in Sri Lanka, situated about nine kilo-meters apart just outside Colombo, in Sapugaskanda and Biyagama. Together they employ nearly 1,000 people who every month produce more than 1 million solid and pneumatic tires for forklifts and other material handling equipment, as well as for agricultural and forestry machinery


About 90 percent of the tires produced are solid, designed to take high loads and to be cut- and  punch-resistant. Pneumatic tires, which account for the  remaining 10 percent of production, are used where machine and operator comfort, maximum traction and grip are important. 


“Every year we have performed gradually better than the previous year in operational performance and safety, and in striving to make tire manufacturing more sustainable,” Melvani says. “But if we are happy with what we did yesterday we are never going to reach a level of excellence.” 


That is what gives him the energy every morning to  commute for more than an hour, on a good day, through a busy and  heavily trafficked Colombo, to meet 
up with his team. 


“It’s not that I love the tire business, so to speak, it’s the business I love,” says Melvani, who joined Trelleborg in 2008 as finance director for the Sri Lankan facilities. 
This was in the midst of the financial crisis, a  challenge that suited him well. 


When five years later Trelleborg acquired a U.S.-based multinational with manufacturing sites in the U.S. and China, Melvani took over the financial functions for all three 
 facilities. He spent most of the following two years with a suitcase as his closest companion. 


“It was a busy and exciting time, which gave me a good understanding of cultural aspects and operational variations in different parts of the world,” he says. 


He took on the position as Managing Director for the Sri Lankan operations in 2014. 


“Important for us is that we can source all-natural rubber locally.” He explains that Trelleborg is one  of the few tire manufacturers that actually use 100 percent locally produced natural rubber. 


In Sri Lanka there are about 134,000 hectares (331,000 acres) of land under rubber cultivation.  A  significant proportion is cultivated by smallholders. Trelleborg deals not on a farmer level but through larger suppliers. However, the company is involved in several farm community programs to increase knowledge about productivity and sustainable rubber farming, and the company gives financial support to ensure replanting. 


“We have also donated rubber tapping knives which for an outsider might sound a bit strange, but the key in the tapping is the knife,” Melvani says. “You can either kill the tree or achieve the maximum out of it during its lifetime. That’s why we have reached out to help farmers increase their productivity in this way, as well as by donating rubber plants to sustain availability.”


To build awareness of safety and the code of conduct, Trelleborg also carries out educational programs for its suppliers who source the rubber produced by the farmers.  


“In the future we are moving toward a potential shortage of natural rubber, and it’s important to support long-lasting and sustainable rubber production,” Melvani says. “We also have to find alternative ways to improve the productivity and availability of natural rubber.” 


The R&D department in Sri Lanka is an incubator for ideas about new materials and how to best optimize the use of raw materials. New prod-ucts using a higher percentage of recycled pneumatic tires have been developed while ensuring that the quality aspects of the tires are maintained at the defined levels. 


“We are also trying to find other natural and environmentally  friendly materials that can be used in tire production, such as coconut, corn starch and other natural mate-rial, but the research is still at its cradle stage and we have to ensure a high-quality end product,” he says. 


To make production more sustainable, Trelleborg has re-engineered its Sri Lankan facility’s steam production process and introduced an advanced biomass-fired auto feeding boiler. The production of steam is essential to the tire curing process and is traditionally carried out by a furnace oil boiler, which produces substantial carbon dioxide emissions. The biomass-fired boiler, installed at the larger facility in Sapugaskanda in 2019, has reduced CO2 emissions by over 90 percent. 


“We are constantly looking at other means to reduce our CO2 footprint, and our next step will be to put up photovoltaic panels to  generate electricity,” Melvani says. 


In Sri Lanka, Trelleborg has been singled out as best performer on many occasions by the local authorities. In four consecutive years Trelleborg received the 
 presidential award for being the highest-value-added exporter in the rubber sector. 


“Even during the Coronavirus pandemic we were awarded a certificate from the Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI),” he says. “We were the first-ever company to be certified by SLSI with the Covid-19 Safety Management System Certification. The risk mitigation protocol we have in place has become an example for the rest of the industry.


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