DETROIT — Siemens Automotive Corp. is spending more than $10 million at a Canadian plant to make one of the world's largest plastic air-intake manifolds and plans to spend millions more to expand an Ohio manifold facility.
The auto supplier, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., is stepping up its investment in lost-core and vibration-welded manifolds, said David Geran, director of business development for Siemens powertrain air-induction division.
Geran discussed the expansion — cementing the company's standing as North America's largest producer of plastic manifolds — at an interview during SAE '99, held March 1-4 in Detroit.
Most new automotive programs in North America have made the switch from aluminum to plastic manifolds, Geran said. Today, about 35 percent of North American manifolds are made from plastic, but the number is rising.
Currently, two plastic processes vie for automakers' attention. Lost-core manifolds are made by melting out a tin-bismuth core inside an injection molded, nylon 6/6 manifold. Vibration-welded manifolds fuse together two halves of an injection molded, nylon shell.
``In my opinion, you'll see a renaissance in the lost-core process,'' Geran said. ``We have the ability to integrate electronics and other parts into a lost-core manifold. Not just any shoot-and-ship molder can play that game.''
The more complex lost-core method commonly is used for unusual shapes and integrating parts. Both of those concepts came into play when Siemens landed a major new contract in 1997 with General Motors Corp.
In September, GM began installing the large-sized manifolds in its redesigned Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickup trucks. The trucks are powered by either 4.8-, 5.3- or 6-liter engines that are larger than those used on previous truck versions.
The trucks are GM's most popular vehicles. GM expects to sell more than 800,000 in 1999.
The manifold for the larger, Generation III engine weighs 11 pounds, compared to the 4-5 pounds for a typical lost-core manifold. The tin-bismuth core, shuffled to the production line by robots, weighs more than 160 pounds.
Siemens' 130,000-square-foot Windsor plant is adding three new lost-core manufacturing cells for the new business, Geran said. Each cell consists of two injection presses with clamping forces of 1,000 tons.
The firm installed four of the six horizontal presses recently, and plans to install the other two later this year, Geran said.
Siemens also brought in resin supplier DuPont Automotive of Troy, Mich., to assist with engineering. DuPont set up offices at the Windsor plant, where the company did computer-aided air-flow testing and helped design a smooth interior finish to prevent turbulent air distribution.
``Basically, the more air that can be sent to the engine, the better the engine will perform,'' said H.C. Lee, a DuPont account and development program manager who works from the Siemens plant.
The manifold also includes an integrated resonator molded from nylon, Geran said. Eventually, Siemens would like to add other elements, including an air cleaner and throttle body housing, he said.
With the new pickup-truck work, the Windsor plant will produce more than 2 million manifolds this year, Geran said. In addition to the new equipment, the plant has six more injection presses with clamping forces of 650-1,000 tons.
The company's plans at its Fort Shawnee, Ohio, manifold plant are more tentative. The plant opened in September 1997, primarily to assemble the integrated air-fuel modules.
Since then, Siemens gained four new programs to make welded manifolds in North America and Europe over the next several years, said Steve Shea, plant manager at Fort Shawnee.
Although Siemens' board of directors has yet to approve an expansion, the company would like to expand the plant size from 42,000 square feet to as much as 56,000 square feet.
The project would include eight new injection presses, each with 1,000 tons of clamping force. Employment would increase from about 81 to between 120 and 140 by the year 2001, Shea said.
Siemens has not determined the cost or timetable for the project, Shea said. Its board of directors will consider the plan in late March, he added.
Siemens Automotive is a subsidiary of Siemens AG of Munich, Germany.
The automotive group recorded about $3.02 million in 1998 sales.