Budd Co. Plastics Division, a major producer of automotive sheet molding compound parts, is starting work in reinforced reaction injection molding, a competitive field.
Budd of Troy, Mich., is expanding its 26-year-old plant in North Baltimore, Ohio, and adding equipment to make RRIM-based parts for its automotive customers. It has added 100,000 square feet to the facility and is installing five RIM machines.
The auto supplier previously has not made parts from RRIM, a molding process that typically uses thermoset polyurethane mixed with a chopped fiberglass or talc filler.
In automotive applications, the process frequently is used for large body panels on higher-end vehicles. It competes with composite parts made from SMC and thermoplastic olefins.
The Budd plant has secured about $75 million in new contracts for the next three years. The work is from unspecified, U.S.-based automakers for parts using both RRIM and SMC materials, said Michael Dorney, manager of North American sales and marketing for Budd.
The contracts involve exterior body parts including quarter panels, side panels, fenders, hoods and deck lids for heavy and light trucks and some passenger cars, Dorney said.
While a major body-panel player in niche vehicles and some heavy trucks, RRIM took a major hit earlier this decade when many automakers converted to TPO materials for car bumper fascias. Lower cost and part recyclability were cited as reasons for the switch.
But Budd's interest could mean signs of growth for RRIM. The PU material is flexible, offering good impact and dent resistance, Dorney said.
``We think it's an up-and-coming process. Now, when one of our customers wants to manufacture thermoset body panels, we can offer them choices in a flexible RRIM or more-rigid SMC. The market share for RRIM should increase,'' he said.
Virtually the only exterior-parts competitor in RRIM is Aurora, Ontario-based Magna International Inc., Dorney said. The company has several divisions, including Polyrim in Thornhill, Ontario, that make RRIM parts.
SMC competitor Cambridge Industries Inc. of Madison Heights, Mich., has a few pieces of RRIM equipment but no current production, said Donald Kossak, Cambridge director of sales for specialty vehicles.
The Budd plant recently moved a post-cure oven to a new, 20,000-square-foot space to make room for the five RIM clamps, each of which is about 20 feet high.
Two of the clamps were installed recently, and three more will be running by next fall, the start of the automakers' 2000 model year. Budd also is upgrading two of the plant's 22 SMC compression presses to allow them to open higher, Dorney said. The two presses have clamping forces of 500 tons.
Another 80,000 square feet of the expansion will include general manufacturing, finishing work and warehouse space. More paint-line robotics will be added. The 250,000-square-foot plant employs about 300. Investment in the project was not disclosed.
A recent breakthrough by PU producer Dow Automotive of Southfield, Mich., triggered Budd's move into RRIM, Dorney said. Dow formulated a new RRIM material that better withstands the 400§ F temperatures of an online paint oven used in car assembly.
Previously, some RRIM parts began distorting or would expand when going through the high-heat oven, which applies a bubbling solvent to a vehicle's exterior for conductive painting, said Randy Scott, Dow marketing manager for automotive exteriors.
``Composites couldn't handle the ride in the oven,'' Scott said. ``They'd warp like a potato chip or burn like toast. Automakers didn't want to make the capital expenditure to paint cars off-line and avoid the high heat.''