GRI: Innovation, a must for Sri Lanka’s rubber sector to sustain demand in global market

Prabash-Subasinghe-Sri Lanka, the world’s eighth largest natural rubber producing country and is currently the seventh largest rubber exporter, according to Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB), has been known for its high quality rubber products.  Its rubber sector, which accounts for 153,000 metric tonnes /year natural rubber output, is poised to becoming a US$4 billion/year industry by 2025, as underscored in the Rubber Industry Master Plan 2017 – 2026. Sri Lanka’s solid industrial and specialised rubber tyres segments are among the industry’s driving force. According to the EDB, Sri Lanka tyre manufacturers supply about 20% of the global solid tyre demand .

Rubber Journal Asia (RJA) interviews  Prabhash Subasinghe, Managing Director of Sri Lanka-headquartered Global Rubber industries (GRI), a leading manufacturer of specialised tyres, ahead of the World Rubber Summit (WRS) 2018  to be held on May 7 and 8 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.  The Summit, with the theme “Breaking Barriers towards Sustainable Growth”, is organised by the International Rubber Study Group (IRSG), in collaboration with the Ministry of Plantation Industries of the Government of Sri Lanka. At the WRS 2018, Subasinghe will be chairing the session on the “Sustainable Growth Path for Rubber Product Industry: What Fast Growing Economies Can Offer”.

In RJA’s dialogue with Subasinghe, who is also the Chairperson of the Sri Lanka Association of Manufacturers & Exporters of Rubber Products (SLAMERP), he explained that consumption for natural rubber continues to rise. To sustain demand, it commented that the industry needs to increase production and output efficiencies via continuous development, research and innovation in the machines and technologies utilised, in order to meet the future needs of the global market.

“This increase in global trade and demand for natural rubber is on account of fast growing economies, and the largest pull by demand in the natural rubber industry is for tyres”, he furthered.

RJA asked: “How has Sri Lanka’s strength as a key natural rubber producer serve as advantage for GRI Tires?”

“The rubber industry of Sri Lanka has made a tremendous contribution to the country since its inception in 1876 and is becoming a pioneer in the natural rubber industry in Asia. As of now Sri Lankan natural rubber has become an industrial raw material with global significance, “ Subasinghe stated.

He added that the turnover of Sri Lanka’s rubber industry currently stands at approximately US$1 billion. In 2017, rubber product exports were estimated at US$ 855 million, or a year on year growth of approximately 11%. “

“Sri Lanka is not simply a natural rubber producer, but a nation that successfully produces increasing quantities and higher quality of environmentally and socially responsible natural rubber. This gives GRI utmost confidence in its source of high quality raw material.”

“In manufacturing any product, the quality of raw materials is of extreme importance when considering the output and its performance. GRI especially attains the advantage of employing the highest quality natural rubber held within the borders of the country, towards the production of its specialty tyres (such as GRI’s Globestar Wide Tread and the XPT SS tyres, among its roster of specialty tyres); this has helped GRI rise to the ranks of a world class company. “

“Furthermore, almost 65% of the rubber plantations in Sri Lanka are owned by small business holders, therefore by establishing and mounting our roots in the rubber industry of our home country, GRI finds pride in working to support local plantations in their growth, give back to our local community and contributing to the economic growth of the country, “he quipped.

Meanwhile, amid the robust demand from the agriculture and construction segments, GRI sticks to producing specialty tyres.  In January this year, the company has also started up its US$40 million-advanced manufacturing facility in Sri Lanka to produce Radial Agriculture Tyres . “ We will be focusing on the US$25 billion specialty tyre industry which is poised to grow year on year, owing to the rise in demand for construction and mining machines, along with the growing demand for agricultural equipment. GRI has therefore initiated its next strategic move to further expand and diversify its roots in the vibrant Agriculture and Construction Industry, thereby effectively specialising in the playing field of the production of all off road specialty tyres,” he said.

Subasinghe emphasised that innovation is of “utmost importance” to remain competitive and weather challenges. “Today we live in an ever changing and dynamic world where innovation is of utmost importance, technology has dramatically changed from what we saw in the last decade or the past century. New machines and gadgets are invented to make the jobs easier like never before. However, GRI has embraced this change. The team at GRI has utilised some of the most advanced technologies available, with globally recognised machines that allow for an increased degree of precision, lower operator dependency and much greater automation in our factories. These factors continue to drive GRI forward and will result in enhanced consistency, higher quality, greater efficiency, reduced cycle times and wastage, “he said when asked about how it dealt with challenges – if any, that it has encountered.

He furthered: “We understand the importance and implications of major technological shifts in our industry – the prevalence of IoT (Internet of Things), the opportunity that machine learning or AI (Artificial Intelligence), Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality can provide in making better decisions.”

“Looking to the future, GRI will embark on an even more ambitious and exponential innovation programmes. In our complex and uncertain world, we rise to the challenge. We are now well into establishing an innovation lab that will harness many of these technologies to drive our business forward. This new frontier is something that we at GRI are all deeply interested and passionate about.”