BLUE WATER, IBS JOIN FORCES

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Bridging technology from two continents, injection molders Blue Water Plastics Inc. of Marysville, Mich., and IBS Brocke GmbH & Co. of Morsbach-Lichtenberg, Germany, have formed a strategic alliance in the automotive market.

The union of the two large injection molders, both with annual sales of more than $100 million, already has produced results. The allied companies have contracted with Volkswagen AG to make interior trim components for the German carmaker's redesigned Beetle, which is expected to begin production in July at VW's Puebla, Mexico, plant.

The Beetle's trim components will be manufactured at Blue Water's Tultitlán, Mexico, plant, which the company has operated in partnership with molder Campco de MÚxico SA de CV of Tultitlán since 1993. In anticipation of the project and other expected contracts, the plant is in the midst of a major equipment expansion.

Five injection presses, ranging in clamping forces from 500-1,500 tons, have been installed at the plant within the past year. Blue Water plans to add another six presses by the end of 1997, giving the 38-year-old plant a total of 21 presses.

Brocke, which does most of its molding work for German automakers, secured the VW contract, said Douglas Zurick, Blue Water's director of sales and marketing. Brocke will provide production tooling for the trim components, while Blue Water will injection mold the parts.

Besides the VW contract, Brocke and Blue Water expect other rewards from the alliance. The German company needs to open doors to the North American market, where Blue Water does the bulk of its business, said Matthias Pfeifer, the company's international sales manager. Currently, Brocke confines most of its work to the European continent.

``We have to move outside Germany,'' Pfeifer said. ``Even our European customers, such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz, have come to North America. The alliance should give us the opportunity to become more global and take advantage of opportunities in North America.''

Within the past year, both BMW AG and Mercedes-Benz AG have opened plants in the United States — BMW in Greer, S.C., near Spartanburg, and Mercedes in Vance, Ala. While IBS works with both automakers in Europe, it currently supplies no parts to the U.S. plants.

From Blue Water's vantage point, the alliance introduces the molder to technology used primarily in Europe but under consideration for future models by the Big Three automakers.

The two companies are exploring ways to bring Brocke's technology to the shores of North America.

One such technology used by Brocke for German carmakers is in-mold lamination of interior trim pillars, panels and door edge finishers. The lamination process, also called back molding, involves the low-pressure molding of fabric to a polymer-based substrate, such as polypropylene or ABS.

In addition, Blue Water's agreement with Brocke includes the potential use of nylon-composite engine covers and accelerator pedals. Currently, Brocke supplies the noise-absorbing engine covers — some with an automaker's logo molded into the material — in Europe to both BMW and Mercedes-Benz, and the plastic accelerator pedals on European models made by VW and Audi AG.

``Brocke brings some new technologies that are compatible or complement Blue Water Plastics,'' Zurick said. ``That allows us to better serve our customers wherever they might be.''

Both companies make plastic components and systems for interior trim and under-the-hood assemblies.

Brocke also molds plastic components for household appliances and the recreation industries, although its automotive work accounts for 65 percent of its business.

If the alliance produces enough new contracts, the companies will consider an equity venture, said Joseph Bostater, vice president of international sales for Blue Water. That could lead to the opening of a joint manufacturing facility in North America, he said.

Blue Water operates seven plants in the United States, as well as the Tultitlán plant with Campco.

In addition, the molder formed International Automotive Components SA, a sales and marketing firm based in Paris, last fall.

That partnership includes Somomeca Industries, a mold builder and injection molder in Chalon-sur-Sa├┤ne, France, and Zanini Auto Grup, a wheel cover and interior trim molder in Barcelona, Spain. The Brocke alliance is not part of International Automotive Components, Zurick said.

In addition, Blue Water also has a strategic alliance with Caro Manufacturing Co. of Caro, Mich., to make blow molded parts for automotive heating and air-conditioning systems.

Blue Water, which has 1,227 employees, recorded 1996 sales of $109.1 million.

The company is listed 39th in sales among North American injection molders on Plastics News' 1997 ranking.

Brocke, which operates five plants in Germany, also has alliance agreements with IBS Filtran GmbH, an oil-filter supplier in Morsbach-Lichtenberg, and IBS Voss GmbH, a manufacturer of automotive electrical parts based in Cologne, Germany.

The German company, which has 650 employees, recorded 1996 sales of $110 million.