BRIGHTON, MICH. — Eagle-Picher Fluid Systems' new operation in Brighton will address the growing demand for multilayer tubing from U.S. carmakers. The division of Eagle-Picher Industries Inc. invested about $1 million in the 27,200-square-foot facility to manufacture nylon monolayer and multilayer tubing for vehicle fuel systems, according to Scott Maly, general manager of the operation.
Although monolayer tubing is still the product of choice, tighter federal emissions standards have turned automakers toward multilayer tubing, which greatly reduces permeation and helps meet their fuel vapor recovery goals, Maly said.
The U.S. plastics industry will need 30 multilayer extrusion lines by the 1999 model year to satisfy the demand from General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp., he said.
The industry currently operates eight multilayer lines in the United States, including Eagle-Picher's five-layer coextrusion line recently installed at the Brighton plant.
The multilayer extrusions manufactured by Eagle-Picher consist primarily of nylon 12 with a thin layer of either polyvinylidene fluoride or ethylene tetra fluoroethylene.
``It's a tight race as to what material we'll use,'' Maly said.
ETFE has the lowest permeation, but PVDF is less expensive and has improved performance in cold conditions, he said.
The Brighton plant is still in the test phase for multilayer tubing, but has pending contracts with undisclosed customers, he said. Eagle-Picher Fluid Systems supplies multilayer tubing to the European market through its operations in England.
Eagle-Picher Fluid Systems originally manufactured its products in Denton, Texas, in a plant operated by Eagle-Picher's Orthane Division. However, when Eagle-Picher decided to sell Orthane last year, it hired Maly to relocate and expand Fluid Systems.
Finding a new home for the division wasn't easy, Maly said. He finally decided to lease the Brighton facility, which puts the division close to its main customers—GM's Delphi Automotive Systems and Walbro Corp., which supply the Big Three.
The facility opened in March and now houses 44 employees working three eight-hour shifts, five days a week. Workers manufacture monolayer tubing — straight and convoluted — using the same extruder as for the multilayer products.
``We have a tremendous amount of capacity on that extruder,'' Maly said.
Since the move, the U.S. operation gained Volkswagen AG as a customer and will supply monolayer tubing for its new-generation Beetle, to be built in Mexico.
Overall sales for the division should increase to $40 million in 2000 from $30 million, with most of the growth coming from the United States, Maly said.
Maly expects to boost the work force to 200 by the year 2000 and said the building has 12,000 square feet of additional space — now occupied by another firm — available for expansions.
However, about two-thirds of the workers will put together subassemblies, not operating the highly automated extrusion system, he said.
The division also plans to earn QS 9000 certification for the plant by October. Fluid Systems in the United States also is working with other Eagle-Picher units and may purchase rubber grommets from the rubber molding division, Maly said.