DETROIT — Britax North America, an English-owned maker of exterior automotive mirrors, plans to launch a new molding plant and has opened a technology center to reflect its inroads with Big Three carmakers.
The company is investing about $1 million apiece in the product engineering technology center and injection molding plant, which is scheduled to open the first of the year.
The technology center consolidates three separate research and development sites into one facility in Clinton Township, Mich. The center, which employs 65, opened in July.
Britax has become the top supplier of side-view mirrors to North American automakers, according to Mark Stidham, vice president of engineering and product development for Britax North America.
The company first came to the United States in 1989 and set up an injection molding facility and administrative offices in Marysville, Mich.
The Tier 1 supplier is owned by Britax International plc, a manufacturer of aircraft parts, automotive mirrors and child safety seats based in Porchester, England. In May, the parent company changed its name from BSG International plc.
To meet expanding production, Britax has purchased a 30,000-square-foot building adjacent to its Marysville plant.
The new facility will include four injection presses and additional molding and assembly equipment. In total, the company will operate 35 presses, ranging in clamping forces from 250-750 tons, in North America.
The expanded capacity was needed for seven new vehicle programs starting in 1998 with Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp., Stidham said. The company primarily provides the Big Three with a variety of exterior mirrors made with plastic casings. Some of the mirrors feature specialized lighting fixtures and sensors that allow the windows to be programmed to shift position depending on the passenger.
The new 40,000-square-foot tech center in Clinton Township includes computer-aided-design/ manufacturing equipment, a prototype tooling and design site, a metrology center and a build area. The center is capable of using laser-scanning techniques in product design.
In the near future, the center also will include two injection presses, one with a clamping force of 450 tons and the other at 250 tons, for pilot production. The facility will allow Britax to showcase its product and process engineering work to customers, Stidham said.
``We want our customers to be able to see what we're developing and where the company is headed,'' Stidham said. ``New products are extremely important in keeping us ahead of the competition, and this gives us an advantage.''
At its main Marysville plant, the company molds mirror casings and performs a variety of assembly operations. Britax uses several plastics, including acrylic styrene acrylonitrile, polypropylene and ABS, to make the housings, and it incorporates glass-filled nylon for some components.
In 1990, the supplier produced the first all-plastic mirror housing, made with ASA, for the automotive industry, according to Stidham. Since then, plastic pieces have replaced metal housings for many mirror applications because of the material's lighter weight and molding flexibility, Stidham said.
Britax changed the name of its North American automotive-mirrors division this year from Britax Rainsfords Inc. to Britax North America. The parent company recorded 1996 sales of more than $1.5 billion. Sales for North American operations were not available.