TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. — Aeroquip Inoac Co., a hybrid American-Japanese joint venture, is spending $20 million to expand blow molding production at two U.S. automotive-parts plants.
The company, based in Mount Clemens, Mich., is gearing up its American operations to move among the leading ranks of companies making plastic rear spoilers for automakers. Eventually, it also wants to be among the first firms in North America to make blow molded plastic bumper beams on a frequent basis, said Aeroquip Inoac President Brian Krysiak. Only a limited number of one-piece beams are in production now.
In that spirit, Aeroquip Inoac is investing in three new Graham blow molding machines, expanding the size of two plants and upgrading paint lines. The project will add about 300 people to the company's payroll within the next year and boost sales about 15 percent in 1999, Krysiak said.
``Since we started [the joint venture] in 1988, we've been one of the most successful collaborations between a Japanese and American auto supplier,'' Krysiak said Aug. 4 during the University of Michigan Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City. ``But we've had to add capacity now to keep up with the growth.''
The supplier's grandiose plans started with a decision last summer by Maumee, Ohio-based Aeroquip-Vickers Corp. to sell minority portions of two plastic-parts plants to the joint venture.
Inoac Corp., a huge Asian maker of instrument panels based in Nagoya, Japan, bought a 49 percent share of Aeroquip's Livingston, Tenn., and Atlanta plants. Aeroquip retained 51 percent of the venture.
Together, the firms already owned a blow molding plant in Fremont, Ohio. That plant has instilled Japanese production skills that foster continuous improvement, frequent employee- management meetings and occasional worker visits to Japan.
Aeroquip Inoac would like its Livingston plant to become a clone of Fremont in product lines and worker attitudes, Krysiak said.
By October 1999, the Livingston site will more than double in size, from its confining 45,000-square-foot space to about 105,000 square feet. The $10 million investment will include a dual-head blow molding machine and construction of a Class A paint line.
The 75-employee plant will add about 200 new workers within a year, Krysiak said.
The mid-South has become a magnet for automakers. The plant is near a Nissan Motors Corp. plant in Smyrna, Tenn., which awarded the facility spoiler business that led to the expansion, Krysiak said. The plant also will make spoilers for a Saturn Corp. plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., and a Toyota Motor Manufacturing Inc. facility in Georgetown, Ky.
This fall, the firm will spend another $10 million to add 30,000 square feet to its Fremont plant. The facility, which now has 240,000 square feet, will be upgraded with two new blow molding machines — one dual-head and one single-head — and emissions-abatement equipment for its existing paint line, Krysiak said. About 100 workers will be added to the current staff of 500, Krysiak said.
All told, the facilities will house nine blow molding machines, five of them twin-head, when the work is completed this fall, Krysiak said.
The machines will make the hollowed-out spoilers from GE Plastics' Noryl polyphenylene oxide and different ABS blends, Krysiak said. The Atlanta plant makes extruded PVC body-side moldings.
The expansion will help boost Aeroquip Inoac sales from an expected $90 million this year to between $110 million and $115 million in 1999, Krysiak said. The company's goal is to reach $200 million in sales in five years, he added.
One way to do that could be with blow molded bumper beams, a product barely off the shelf. The company is testing materials to find one that performs well and proving out parts at Fremont, Krysiak said.
``When you think that a [blow molded] bumper has air pockets instead of mass, it should do well in a crash,'' he said. ``We're taking a look at the possibilities there.''
Several suppliers, including Carlisle Engineered Products Inc. of Chardon, Ohio, make small numbers of blow molded beams for General Motors Corp. models and others.