WARREN, MICH.-At Automotive Mould-ing Co., Vice Chairman Drew Peslar likes to remind everyone that ``no company has a right to exist.'' That may explain why things seem to be moving so fast at the auto parts supplier. ``We're risk-takers,'' Peslar said. ``We invest where we think the action is going.''
If Automotive Moulding is right, and the company has been very right in recent years, much of the action is in plastics. The company is planning an ambitious, $11 million capital equipment investment program during the next two years, most of it for injection molding machinery.
Last month, Automotive Moulding completed an $8.6 million paint line expansion at its LaGrange Moulding Co. unit in LaGrange, Ga. The upgrade will allow the company to paint molded exterior parts as long as 8 feet.
The privately held company, a maker of both metal and plastic exterior automotive trim, expects total sales to increase from $87 million last year to $120 million in 1995. While both the metals and plastics segments of its business are growing, the injection molding and extrusion operations at Automotive Moulding, now representingabout 40 percent of sales, are expected to grow at a faster rate.
The company's largest customer is Ford Motor Co., but it also supplies most other auto-makers in North America.
The Warren-based supplier was founded in 1948 by Peslar's grandfather, Norman Smith. Smith, a sales manager for an auto parts firm, at the age of 56, mortgaged his house and started manufacturing a small piece of metal grille trim for the 1950 Plymouth Special Deluxe. The company did not get into plastics until 1973 when it started a small molding operation from scratch.
As plastics became more important to automakers, Automotive Moulding added injection presses to make side moldings, cladding, valance panels and other outside trim. The company now has four molding plants, and injection presses in most of its other plants.
Automotive Moulding, with only 10 presses in 1990, now has 24 presses with clamping forces of 50-1,650 tons. Within the next 12 months, it plans to add nine presses with clamping forces of 250-2,000 tons. The part maker usually purchases new machines from Cincinnati Milacron Inc., but is not exclusively committed to a single vendor.
Maintaining a modern molding facility, with the latest computer controls, is important in achieving what the company likes to refer to as ``impeccable'' quality, said President Norman G. Peslar. Automotive Moulding strives for highly uniform, or repeatable, manufacturing processes to eliminate parts defects.
``If your part measures the same way every time, that's where your quality comes from,'' he said.
If current projections hold, Automotive Moulding will have doubled its sales in the past five years - without adding a single foot of factory floor space. To arrive at those productivity gains, the firm gradually has been converting to lean manufacturing.
A centerpiece of that program has been the establishment of modules, or work cells, where hourly employees are responsible for the entire process of producing finished parts, rather than just one or two steps. Compared to traditional mass-production methods, the modular approach has allowed Automotive Moulding to reduce inventory, work in process and the scrap rate.
Production employees also are asked to understand the business more thoroughly and take more responsibility for results.
``People want to be involved in their jobs,'' Drew Peslar said. ``And we're providing an opportunity for that.''
The company also fosters teamwork by managing a variety of employee committees to manage quality control and development of new products. Under one suggestion program, more than 16,000 ideas for improving all aspects of the business were generated by the company's nearly 800 employees.
The company's push for greater teamwork, including even the most mundane tasks, extends to everyone.
For example, at the company's technical center in Warren, a garden patio filled with green plants, a goldfish pond and lawn furniture has been shoehorned in among the toolmaking machines. The idea was to use the garden spot as a reminder to employees not to get caught up in conventional thinking. One of the teamwork tasks assigned to Al LaFlamme, vice president of manufacturing, is to go into the patio every so often and dust the leaves of the plants.
The company knows it faces some very tough competition. As automakers narrow their supply base to fewer and larger firms, some with sales of $500 million to $1 billion, many suppliers are energetically bulking up.
But Drew Peslar does not buy into the theory that size alone is a guarantee, or even a requirement, for survival.
``It's a smorgasbord of manufacturing capability and technology capability,'' he said. ``That's how you bring the best value.''
He is convinced that Automotive Moulding will prosper as long as it maintains its manufacturing standards and invests in new technology. ``It is a journey to the horizon,'' he said.