Injection molder Leon Plastics Inc. has formed alliances with two plastics processors in a bid to broaden its product line to automakers.
The Grand Rapids, Mich., company has teamed with auto parts supplier Injectronics Inc. of Clinton, Mass., to produce and sell interior modules that integrate trim components with air duct systems.
The partnership could lead to a new manufacturing facility if business warrants it, said Theodore Wozniak, Leon Plastics president.
Leon also has formed an alliance with Richmond, Ind.-based Fickenscher America LLC to supply air conditioning vents and subsystems made with a patented, multiple-shot molding process licensed to Fickenscher America.
Both partnerships — the first ones for the interior trim molder — will help the company compete in an industry demanding more from its suppliers, Wozniak said.
``Regardless of a company's size, [automakers] want product innovations and more capabilities from their supply base,'' Wozniak said. ``These alliances give us that and allow us to bring new products to market quickly. These are good suppliers that will allow us to expand our business.''
Leon and Injectronics, a minority-owned company, were brought together by Ford Motor Co. more than four months ago, Wozniak said. The carmaker wanted the Ford parts suppliers to integrate their separate parts to cut labor costs.
In addition, Ford and other Big Three carmakers are attempting to increase parts supplied by minority-owned companies to more than 5 percent of their North American business. The alliance was a natural match that also would increase Ford's minority sourcing, Wozniak said.
Injectronics makes precision-molded, functional parts, such as duct work. The nonaesthetic parts can be placed behind Leon's products, which include trim work for instrument panels, floor consoles and door panels.
For the alliance, Injectronics will ship its parts to Leon's plants in either Grand Rapids or Grand Island, Neb. Once there, the parts will be assembled with Leon's interior components and sent to Ford assembly facilities.
Ford has awarded the alliance a contract on a new model to be introduced in the year 2001. However, other business starting sooner than that is expected, Wozniak said.
``We might consider a manufacturing joint venture as the work with Ford evolves,'' Wozniak said. ``We've had discussions about that, and we want to be ready for the possibility.''
The Fickenscher America alliance gives Leon the opportunity to supply a product new to the North American market. Fickenscher America, a start-up company in business since late 1995, is the sole licensee outside Europe to sell an air vent system using a proprietary in-mold process.
The sequential, multishot process includes in-mold part assembly, eliminating the need for secondary operations, said Fickenscher America President Donald Birdsall. The parts, made of materials such as polypropylene and ABS, are used frequently by German carmakers, he said.
``This [alliance] allows us access to customers we might not be able to connect with on our own,'' Birdsall said. ``We're new to the industry, so we don't have the contacts that Leon has.''
The technology is used in Europe by Fickenscher GmbH of Selb, Germany. The German company does not own the American venture.
Leon plans to assemble the specially molded air vents into its trim products, Wozniak said. The company has projects starting next year to use the in-mold-assembled vents, he added.
Leon Plastics was ranked 77th on Plastics News' list of injection molders, with $62.1 million in 1996 North American sales. The company, a subsidiary of Iselin, N.J.-based U.S. Industries Inc., uses 61 injection presses with clamping forces of 500-2,500 tons at its two facilities, Wozniak said.
Injectronics recorded $30.6 million in North American injection molding sales during 1996, according to the ranking. The firm operates 39 presses at facilities in Clinton and Burlington, N.C., according to the survey. Injectronics officials were unavailable for comment last week.