FILM INSERT MAKER EXPANDS

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Tight space and the need for rapid parts deployment have forced Serigraph Inc., a maker of in-mold decorative inserts, to move its automotive operations to a new, larger plant.

The West Bend, Wis., company will enlarge its automotive insert capacity significantly by shifting manufacturing work to a new, 166,000-square-foot building on the company's 80-acre site. The $10 million building also will serve as corporate headquarters and a research and development technology center.

The automotive division is to move from a nearby, 90,000-square-foot building. The existing building will become a training center and house secondary printing operations. Manufacturing operations will be shifted to the new building by the end of May, with new corporate headquarters scheduled to be operational in June.

The company supplies in-mold decorative film for use on instrument panel cluster bezels, door panels, radio bezels and other interior parts.

Serigraph buys the film, made from polycarbonate and other thermoplastics, which it screen prints and then thermoforms or hydroforms.

The hydroforming process, also known as bladder forming, involves shaping the film by applying pressure under ambient temperature conditions. The film then is shipped to an automotive supplier for insertion in a single step during the injection molding of the interior part.

The new facility will house the largest screen-printing operation in North America, said Al Curtis, Serigraph's vice president for marketing. The firm is adding new screen presses, and new thermoforming and hydroforming lines, but did not say how many.

Besides the lack of space, the move was spurred by the demands of suppliers for quick product delivery, Curtis said. The company serves a variety of Tier 1 interior suppliers and the Big Three U.S. carmakers.

``To be a player in the automotive market, we must have the capacity to deliver on time, and the understanding of what a customer requires,'' Curtis said. ``We expanded our capacity significantly so we could keep meeting those delivery requirements as we continue to grow.''

The new plant also includes a biofiltration system to eliminate volatile organic compounds from screen printing. The system enlists millions of bacteria that literally eat away VOCs in special clean rooms that house the screen presses.

Besides serving the automotive industry, Serigraph also manufactures graphics and decorative inserts for consumer goods such as household appliances, computers, copy machines and electronic devices; sporting goods and lawn and garden equipment; and signage and point-of-sale merchandise.

After the expansion, the company will operate five plants in West Bend and another plant in Querétaro, Mexico. The company, which has more than 1,100 employees, recorded annual sales of $112 million for its 1996 fiscal year.