Two suppliers of automotive acoustical parts have marshalled their resources to create one of the world's largest makers of plastic sound-absorbing products for vehicle exteriors.
The companies — Cascade Engineering Inc., an injection molder in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Essex Specialty Products Inc., an Auburn Hills, Mich.-based producer of acoustical materials — formed a joint venture May 14 in the acoustical-barrier business.
That company, known as Sound Alliance, will make noise-deadening products used as a buffer between the engine and vehicle interior. The purpose is to combat noise, vibration and harshness, an industry term called NVH, by muffling sounds from structural components. The alliance is expected to begin in June.
This fall, Sound Alliance will open a 35,000-square-foot office in Auburn Hills, a few doors from Essex's headquarters. The company will employ 35 people in Auburn Hills and 15 at a small site on Cascade's grounds in Grand Rapids.
The cost of setting up the operation was not disclosed. The new venture is expected to record first-year sales volume of about $50 million, according to Cascade President Richard Cook.
The move marries two of the largest producers of plastics exterior acoustical products for vehicles.
Essex, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co. in Midland, Mich., recorded worldwide sales of more than $400 million in 1996. The company, which also makes adhesives and sealants, operates 15 plants in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa and has joint ventures with five other companies.
Cascade, which also makes plastics automotive trim, office products and waste containers, recorded $95 million in sales during its 1996 fiscal year. About a third of that total was for its acoustical products.
``Certainly, we'll be one of the dominant players in this market,'' said John Fritts, the just-named Sound Alliance president who currently serves as Essex general manager for body acoustic products.
``In the area of structural acoustics systems, nobody else that I know of has put together a similar package.''
Sound Alliance will supply products produced at each company's existing manufacturing plants.
From Cascade's end, products under the Sound Alliance umbrella will include the company's line of injection molded engine covers, manifold covers and interior dash mats, which provide a cushion between the instrument panel and engine.
The dash mats are molded from thermoplastic olefins, which provide better coverage than traditional mats made from thermoformed PVC, said Kenneth Ritzema, Cascade marketing director, who will assume the same role with Sound Alliance.
The engine and manifold covers are made from mineral-filled nylon 6 or 6/6 resin with molded-in color.
The new company also will supply Cascade's Ecosorb polypropylene sound absorbers. The absorbers, which are extruded in a melt-blown process, can be used on powertrain systems or interior trim to muffle noise. In addition, Cascade will provide fender seals, hush panels and other small acoustical parts.
Cascade will makes its products for the alliance at two Grand Rapids plants. One of those plants is a new, 30,000-square-foot building that Cascade recently purchased in Grand Rapids. The plant will make dash mats. To do the work, Cascade has purchased an unspecified number of injection presses with clamping forces ranging from 2,000-3,000 tons.
The new building, which is expected to open in the fall, will also house tooling and parts engineering operations for the alliance.
Essex will contribute a variety of noise-reduction polymeric materials to the alliance. They include Betabrace, a reinforcing composite using an epoxy-type fiberglass; Betamate, a structural adhesive material; Betafoam, a polyurethane-based structural foam; and Betadamp, a sprayable PVC- and epoxy-based acoustical damping system.
The Betadamp product is new on the market.
The products are manufactured in the company's Hillsdale, Mich., plant, said Essex spokeswoman Deb Toledo. They can be used in various parts of a vehicle, including under the hood, in door panels or on the car body, Toledo said.
Sound Alliance hopes to capitalize on its size and technological advantages, Ritzema said.
``Right now, it's a very fragmented market with lots of small suppliers,'' Ritzema said. ``We're in a good position, with the resources and the technology available to us.
``We thought we needed a certain critical mass with our product offerings to rapidly grow the business.''
Fritts added that Essex brings its polymer science and worldwide market access to the venture, while Cascade brings its parts engineering and injection molding capabilities.
The Auburn Hills office will manage all administrative and marketing functions and conduct product development and testing, Fritts said.
The companies hope to develop new products and add technology, Fritts said.
In addition, the company expects to align with other suppliers to create an acoustical system integrated with other parts, he added.
Cascade's customers primarily are the Big Three automakers, while Essex has contracts with carmakers worldwide.
Cascade ranked 49th on Plastics News' recent listing of North American injection molders. The company reported four plants with 44 injection presses.
The presses have clamping forces of high as 9,000 tons. That particular 9,000-ton press, a Battenfeld model, is the largest molding machine in North America, Ritzema said. The machine is used to make plastic waste containers.