DETROIT — Mann+Hummel GmbH has set the stage to open its first North American air-intake manifold plant by purchasing injection molder Geiger technic Inc. of Kalamazoo, Mich.
Mann+Hummel, one of Europe's largest suppliers of plastic-based air-induction systems, plans immediately to double the plant's size, said James Riordan, president of Mann+Hummel Automotive division.
That will lay the groundwork for Mann+Hummel to begin producing vibration-welded manifolds, made of glass-reinforced nylon 6, at the Kalamazoo plant by 1999. The company also will ramp up production of Geiger's fluid-reservoir products, Riordan said.
Terms of the sale, completed Dec. 6, were not disclosed.
Currently, no Big Three carmaker uses the injection molded manifolds for a production vehicle. However, the engine product is expected to blossom in popularity — much as it has in Europe for several years — soon after the turn of the century. At least four Tier 1 molders are angling to capture that business by opening new U.S.-based plants.
Mann+Hummel already has won a contract from an unspecified Big Three carmaker to make welded manifolds for a model year 2000 vehicle, Riordan said.
Geiger offered the right opportunity for Mann+Hummel, based in Ludwigsburg, Germany, to launch its march on this continent, Riordan said.
The Michigan company, which posted 1996 sales of about $10 million, is in the midst of rapid growth that could double its sales volume in three years, he said.
The underhood-parts supplier injection molds pressurized surge tanks, also known as coolant recovery reservoirs, brake fluid reservoirs and quick-disconnect valves. Geiger uses a proprietary, engineered-grade polypropylene to make its parts.
The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Geiger technic GmbH, an auto parts supplier in Garmisch-Partenkirschen, Germany, south of Munich.
``It's really serendipitous that both companies are based in Germany so we can share resources there,'' Riordan said. ``We were looking for a solid company that could offer a platform to transfer technology. It was important for us to buy a healthy injection molder that was positioned for the future.''
Another advantage was the space available. Geiger's 52,000-square-foot plant sits on 18 acres, allowing the opportunity to triple plant and office space, he said.
Mann+Hummel plans to move the bulk of its North American headquarters to the Kalamazoo plant, which now employs about 100. The company will continue to staff a small sales and engineering office in Southfield, Mich., that opened in February. The company will add another 30 people in Kalamazoo by 1999.
In the works are plans to expand the plant size to more than 100,000 square feet, and install a new manufacturing cell by year-end. The cell will include three presses with clamping forces of 250-500 tons, two vibration welding stations and an assembly line to add inserts and other parts. A second cell is planned for late 1999.
Eventually, the firm would like to add other product lines to the Kalamazoo plant. Mann+Hummel makes air-induction parts, such as air cleaners and resonators, and air, oil and fuel filtration systems.
The Geiger plant currently uses 13 presses with clamping forces of 60-550 tons and does hot plate welding, said Geiger Vice President Sigrid Valk-Feeney. He will become general manager of Mann+Hummel Automotive's air-intake systems unit. The plant will be known as the Geiger division of Mann+Hummel Automotive.
Geiger decided to sell the plant last year, Valk-Feeney said.
``We realized that the automotive industry was changing,'' she said. ``In order to maintain Tier 1 status, we needed to acquire or be acquired. We started looking for suitable partners to bring growth and [that had] the product synergy to fit our needs.''
At least one other Tier 1 supplier, molder LDM Technologies Inc. of Auburn Hills, Mich., was close to buying the Geiger plant earlier this year, industry sources said. Riordan acknowledged that his company's deal took longer, due to complications.
By buying the plant, Mann+ Hummel enters a race among manifold makers—all of them with European roots—to make the first welded pieces in North America.
Siemens Automotive LP of Auburn Hills, Mich., plans to built its first welded manifolds for a Big Three carmaker by spring 1999 for a 2000 model-year launch, said David Geran, director of business development for Siemens' Windsor, Ontario, air-induction plant.
``It's part of the European invasion,'' Geran said. ``All of us want to come across the ocean, and America is a big target. I'd say that the year 2000 time frame is a big turning point in North America for [welded manifolds].''
Solvay Automotive Inc. of Troy, Mich., plans to launch its first welded manifolds in North America for the 2001 model year, said Doug Smith, vice president of sales and marketing. CMI International Inc. of Southfield, Mich., has said it also will make manifolds, through a venture with Mecaplast International of Monaco. Those firms plan to build a North American plant within two years. Sources also have said that Frankfort, Ky.-based Montaplast of North America Inc. has a contract to make welded manifolds.
Siemens will make welded manifolds at a recently opened plant in Fort Shawnee, Ohio, while Solvay will use its new Adrian, Mich., facility for the product.
Mann+Hummel recorded 1996 sales of $855 million.