Dana Corp.'s Plumley Division plans to unveil a renovated plant in June that the company says will make it the world's largest producer of plastic automotive cam covers in the year 2000.
That goal might not pass inspection with the current market leader, Cambridge Industries Inc. of Madison Heights, Mich. Plumley of Paris, Tenn., had been buying composite covers for its engine sealing systems from Cambridge and other suppliers.
Still, Plumley is poised to capture that market by opening its 60,000-square-foot plant in Paris and forming an alliance with material and parts supplier Premix Inc. of North Kingsville, Ohio, said Dwayne Matthews, director of sales and technology for Plumley's sealing and plastic product business unit.
``We're engine people, and that's what we know best,'' Matthews said. ``The other suppliers [of cam covers] tend to be bigger in areas such as body panels and interior parts. We think engine people should make engine parts. We wanted better control of our own destiny, and we were doing most of the manufacturing work anyway.''
Matthews would not disclose the cost of the investment or the number of employees at the division's new Paris-based plant, called the Composite Sealing Center. However, other company officials said Plumley invested about $20 million to renovate the facility, which will employ about 100.
The highly automated plant will include an undisclosed number of injection and compression presses to make the composite cam covers. The covers will be assembled into an engine sealing system that could include front covers, an oil pan, gaskets, seals and fasteners. Matthews said the former rubber fuel-hose plant could be the first facility worldwide to assemble complete engine sealing systems.
The plant eventually could make front covers and oil pans, which the company now makes at other facilities. Those parts, and the cam covers, can be made from sheet molding compound, bulk molding compound or other composite materials.
Plumley bases its ambitions of becoming the leading cam cover maker on projected sales figures. The firm already has contracts for more than 20 part numbers, or vehicle models, beginning in 2000, Matthews said. Customers signing on to use Plumley's full engine sealing systems include Chrysler, Ford and its Ford Europe and Jaguar divisions.
The company plans to ship cam covers containing more than 8 million pounds of the molded thermoset annually beginning in 2000, Matthews said.
``The plant is sold out with business,'' he said. ``We're trying to be the leader in engine sealing systems, and we're a long way there already. We decided to take it all the way by making cam covers.''
Yet, Plumley's ambitions contrast with those of auto parts supplier Cambridge. That company developed the first thermoset valve cover in 1990 for Ford's 3-liter engines and has been an industry leader in engine covers since then, said Thomas Paisley, president of Cambridge's engineered plastics and exterior products division.
Cambridge set up a separate division to focus on under-the-hood and powertrain products due to the material's importance, Paisley said.
``Put it like this,'' he said: ``We developed the first composite [engine] cover in the industry. We're not about to give that up to anyone.''
About 35 percent of SMC automotive parts are used for powertrain and structural components and that segment has grown almost fourfold since 1993, according to the Troy, Mich.-based SMC Automotive Alliance. A majority of those parts are made by Cambridge and Budd Co.'s Plastics Division in Troy, Mich., both of which have supplied parts for Plumley.
Plastic cam covers are replacing metal due to their cost and weight savings and ability to be molded to any shape to fit underhood configurations, Paisley said. Matthews estimated that about 35-40 percent of cam covers made domestically use plastics.
The Plumley division believes it has one edge in its battle with other parts suppliers. The company formed a strategic alliance last week with Premix, a thermoset compounder and custom molder, to help provide the technology to make composite engine parts.
Premix also will compression mold parts as needed, and the companies will work together on new engine sealing system designs, Matthews said.
``Our interest in this alliance is to broaden the use of composites in the under-the-hood and structural market,'' said Bud Sjogren, manager of sales and business development for Premix.
Premix is providing Plumley with a glass-reinforced, vinyl/ polyester blend composite to make the cam covers, Sjogren said. Plumley also will use materials from other suppliers.
Plumley had sales of about $75 million last year for its sealing and plastic parts operations.
Joe Miller, a Detroit-based reporter with Rubber & Plastics News, a sister publication to Plastics News, contributed to this story.