Known mainly for metal fastening products, automotive supplier Elco Textron Inc. wants to put more plastics in its future.
The company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Providence, R.I.-based Textron Inc., is investing about $3.8 million to expand its Elco Thermoplastics Inc. plant in Mishawaka, Ind., and buy eight new injection presses by the end of 1998.
But that is only the start of where the company wants to head with plastic molded products, said Elco Textron business development manager Thomas Keller. The company is launching a five-year plan to buy as many as 10 independent molders.
``We have to go outside Mishawaka to better position ourselves logistically for our customers,'' said Keller, who was president and general manager of Elco Thermoplastics before joining Elco Textron in March. ``We want to focus more on plastics.''
The company has created a plastics technology group, headed by Keller, to seek out North American acquisitions. It would like to open divisions in areas including Toronto; the Mexican border and possibly in Mexico; a southeastern state that could involve the Carolinas, Tennessee or Georgia; the northwest, such as Minnesota or Wisconsin; and New York or Pennsylvania.
The company also plans to introduce plastic parts to customers in Europe, Asia and South America by opening manufacturing sites at Textron Fastening Systems locations on those continents.
Elco Textron is part of Providence-based Textron Fastening Systems, a sweeping, $1.6 billion Textron subsidiary that has 68 locations in 17 countries. Until now, Elco — and sister divisions such as Camcar/Textron and Avdel/Cherry — had specialized in automotive fastening products for both exterior and interior trim.
Now, the company may look at engineered plastic parts, or smaller auto components that typically serve purposes unseen by the driver.
That would differentiate Elco from yet another division, Textron Automotive Co. of Troy, Mich. That group, with about $1.4 billion in sales, makes larger plastic parts such as instrument panels and bumper fascias.
To date, Elco Textron has shuffled its plastics work mainly to Mishawaka, which records about $40 million in annual sales and has 400 employees. That plant injection molds about 250 small plastic parts that include windshield washer bottles, fan shrouds, climate control components and plastic gears for starter motors.
Elco Textron has invested about $800,000 to expand the plant's size by 27,500 square feet. When the work is completed in early July, the Indiana facility will have about 180,000 square feet.
Space will be cleared for the eight new automated presses, which have clamping forces of 90-300 tons and cost about $3 million. The presses, some of them vertical, give the site the capability to do more insert molding, Keller said. The company is also adding chiller towers, transformers and material support systems.
The expansion will give the Mishawaka plant 100 presses, with clamping forces of 32-750 tons, by the end of 1998. Elco also has six presses at a precision stamping division in Logansport, Ind.
Elco would like sales at the Mishawaka facility to grow to $60 million within the next five years, at a rate of about 10 percent per year, Keller said. More automated equipment will be added to spur production.
But growth outside Mishawaka has been the hotter topic at Elco Textron. The company's main customers, including Visteon Automotive Systems, Denso International America Inc. and Robert Bosch GmbH, steadily are spanning the globe, Keller said.
``We have to have manufacturing operations in key areas so we can be with our customers,'' he said.
Companies that Elco Textron is eyeing must be QS 9000 certified and have the capability to design and build tools, Keller said.
The firm also may expand plastics production into nonautomotive realms such as medical and consumer electronics, he said.
Textron Inc. bought Elco Textron in 1995. With Keller's new responsibilities for Elco Textron, Paul Daiber was named new general manager of Elco Thermoplastics.