TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. — In a multimillion-dollar move to get closer to its automotive customers, 3M Co. is opening a new industry center that will connect with carmakers in a virtual world.
The St. Paul, Minn., firm will begin construction in September of its $12 million Automotive Industry Center in Livonia, Mich. The 60,000-square-foot center, expected to open next July, will use virtual-reality techniques to help automakers visualize 3M products in simulated vehicles.
The center is the latest strategy in the company's growth as a key automotive supplier, said William Coyne, 3M vice president for research and development.
``We see the center as more of an evolution for the company,'' Coyne said Aug. 7 after a speech at the University of Michigan Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City.
The center will employ 110 and provide more than just a stopping point for automakers. It will feature a virtual-reality theater-in-the-round, with screens projecting holographic images off the walls and ceiling of components used in new car designs. On-site laboratories also will use computer-aided graphics to find solutions for trouble spots or work on a part's fit and function.
Besides basic design, the center will allow 3M to work on assembly problems, aftermarket products and even marketing graphics. One use of the center could be to help carmakers come up with animated images, said Thomas Beddow, executive director of the center.
Currently, the division operates from a smaller, older facility in Southfield, Mich., Beddow said. 3M's automotive division generates about one-tenth of the company's $15 billion in sales.
Coyne also said that the firm is working on new technology in such areas as lightweight adhesive materials for plastic components, abrasive materials for automatic transmissions, lithium polymer batteries for electric vehicles and coatings to cut down on solar and heat loads for plastic windows.