Masland Corp. and Sommer Allibert SA will become partners in the manufacture of soft-surface automotive interior trim and acoustic components in the United Kingdom. On Feb. 28 the companies announced plans to form a joint venture to design, develop, manufacture and sell the products to the United Kingdom market. Masland, based in Carlisle, Pa., will buy 50 percent of the French firm's plant and business in Washington, England. The agreement also includes a design, sales and marketing facility in Abingdon, England.
Terms will not be released until the deal closes, according to Frank Preston, Masland's president and chief operating officer.
The partnership, to be called Sommer Masland (U.K.) Ltd., is Masland's first European project.
Masland, whose sole business is automotive, supplies the Big Three automakers as well as Japanese transplants in North America, where it operates 12 plants, including two in Mexico. The United Kindom plant makes soft-surface interior trim and acoustic components for Nissan, Peugeot and Saab, but the firms plan to expand that customer base, Preston said in a March 3 telephone interview.
William J. Branch, chairman and chief executive officer at Masland, called the move ``consistent with the strategies of our largest North American customers to establish a worldwide supply base.''
``Part of [Ford Motor Co.'s] requirement of us is to become a global supplier,'' Preston said. ``We have other business coming to us on world cars built in the U.S., but designed in Europe.''
The company uses a range of thermoplastics to make its products, including polyethylene, polypropylene, polyester, ethylene vinyl acetate and PVC.
Masland's Don Backenstow, vice president for research and development, described the acoustic products as ``a sandwich of different materials'' designed for aesthetics on the surface, and to minimize heat and noise on the underside. The top layer is carpet, generally nylon, but sometimes PP or polyester yarns, tufted into a spun polyester backing. Next, a heavy, dense layer of sheet, commonly EVA, is extruded onto the back, to create a preliminary noise barrier.
Then, the carpet is thermoformed according to the part's specifications, at which point various kinds of insulation pads can be added. That insulation comprises a fibrous material that serves as a heat and sound barrier, or, for some higher-line cars, a cast foam urethane.
Masland's soft-surface trim and acoustic business, mostly floor and dash insulation components, has North American sales of more than $500 million, Pres-ton said. Sommer Allibert's United Kingdom plant reported 1994 sales of $20 million.
Masland also eventually plans to export its process for recycling trim waste from its products. Called EcoPlus, the technology takes dissimilar thermo-plastics and remelts them into a material that can be reused in backings and injection molded parts, Backenstow said.
``The trim waste in our industry can be sizable - 10-30 percent, depending on the size of the part,'' he said.
Sommer Allibert SA of Nan-terre, France, operates 31 plants in Europe that make automotive molded plastic parts, door panels, molded carpets and acoustic products.