DETROIT — Framatome Connectors Interlock Inc. is building a 165,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and North American headquarters in Westland, Mich., that will boost the company's ability to make injection molded electrical connectors for the automotive industry.
The expansion, which almost will triple the size of Framatome's headquarters, comes less than a year after Framatome Connectors International of Paris purchased Westland-based Interlock Corp. Terms were not disclosed for the sale, which took place in September 1996.
Since then, the company has embarked on a strategy to ramp up production of its plastic electrical connectors and upgrade manufacturing facilities, said Colleen Kennedy, Framatome marketing director. The new plant, scheduled to open its first phase by the end of 1997, will be the showpiece for the firm's expanded presence in North America.
The company's manufacturing, warehousing and customer service areas, currently in three facilities, will be consolidated at the plant. The company also will set up new manufacturing cells that feed molded connector housings directly to adjacent assembly operations.
``We ran out of room at our current plant and had nowhere to grow,'' Kennedy said. ``The new plant not only gives us more room to expand but allows us to accommodate world-class concepts such as cell manufacturing.''
The connectors, sold under the brand name Apex, have glass-filled nylon housings. They attach to electrical terminals for use with automotive wire harnesses. The company serves Big Three automakers and Tier 1 suppliers.
Vehicle lines using the connectors include Chrysler Corp.'s new line of minivans and its Jeep Cherokee sports utility vehicle.
By the end of 1997, the company will shift its injection presses and assembly operations from Framatome's existing, 62,795-square-foot facility to the new plant.
Next year, additional injection presses and assembly lines that are not part of the cell manufacturing process will be installed at the plant. Those machines typically are used for Framatome's shoot-and-ship parts that do not require assembly at the Framatome plant. A test laboratory for the electrical systems also will be set up next year, Kennedy said.
In 1999, sales, customer support and engineering functions will be moved to the new building.
The Westland plant now has 41 presses with clamping forces of 50-220 tons. An undetermined number of new presses eventually could be part of the expansion, Kennedy said. The company's investment in the new facility was not disclosed.
The company also plans to start production at a high-speed metal-stamping plant in Brecksville, Ohio, in November. The 46,000-square-foot plant will make precision, metal-stamped terminals for electrical connection systems used in the automotive and appliance markets.
After the acquisition last year, Framatome Connectors changed the name of its North American subsidiary to Framatome Connectors Interlock. The French company, which claims to be the world's third-largest producer of connectors and interconnection systems, has more than 7,300 employees at 36 plants. The company recorded 1996 sales of $920 million.
Its North American operations expect sales this year of more than $100 million, Kennedy said.