The Automotive Composites Alliance has launched a research group to drive the growth of automotive parts made from sheet molding compound.
The SMC Research Consortium includes three of the major SMC auto-parts producers — Cambridge Industries Inc. of Madison Heights, Mich., Budd Co. Plastics Division of Troy, Mich., and Bailey Corp., a division of Venture Industries Corp. of Fraser, Mich.
Engineers from Ford Motor Co. will team with the group on research projects, said alliance chairman Donald Kossak. The group wants to add members from General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler Corp., he said.
Of the three automakers, Ford uses more SMC parts on its vehicles than the others, according to figures from the Southfield, Mich., alliance.
The group will attempt to boost the growth of SMC parts, which are used in steel-like applications such as body panels, deck lids and hoods.
According to figures released by the group, SMC usage on 1999 model-year vehicles declined to about 215.4 million pounds, compared to 237.1 million pounds for the 1998 models. But the group expects the drop to be a temporary hiccup. Many new applications are expected in the next model year, Kossak said.
Sources said the biggest change in SMC use will come when Fords starts using the material for pickup boxes. That work could begin with the 2000 model year, sources said.
The alliance expects overall automotive composite usage to rise from 296.5 million pounds in 1999 to about 375 million pounds in model year 2003.
The research consortium will help spur that growth, Kossak said. It is the first industrywide consortium to consider composites technology and other issues.
``It's a big step forward,'' said Kossak, sales director for specialty vehicles with Cambridge. ``The industry has been fragmented for so long, and we've never consolidated research areas. This way, we can attack industry issues from all directions at once.''
The group started meeting in October. It is split into five team areas: materials and material formulations, coatings, surface definition, repair procedures and packaging standards.
The first three groups will address new technologies, while the latter two will prepare uniform industry guidelines to repair SMC parts and create shipping racks best suited for those components.
The surface group also will measure the quality of surface finishes and evaluate standards that can be used by all carmakers, Kossak said.
The key is gaining commitment from automakers in the project, said Michael Dorney, North American sales and marketing manager with Budd Co. Plastics Division. Ford already is championing the cause, he said.
``That will give us a stronger voice with OEMs,'' Dorney said. ``By talking with them [in the consortium], we can address whatever issues they have across a broad range of topics.''
The group has set a goal to get some issues resolved within six months to a year, Kossak said.