DETROIT — Automotive supplier G&L Industries Inc. is moving from hardwood to plastic.
The company is in the midst of a major plant expansion at its Chesterfield, Mich., headquarters that will bring it new compression molding technology and a unique process for North America.
The expansion, representing an investment of more than $6 million in new equipment, will help the supplier launch a novel molding technology primarily used in Europe, until now. Thermal plastic composite, or TPC, can be compression molded for a variety of interior automotive applications, including door panels and rear cargo areas.
The process was licensed to G&L from inventor Mario Manfredi of Milan, Italy. Several carmakers in Europe, including Fiat SpA, use the compression molding technique on their vehicles, said Cy Elliott, G&L senior project development engineer.
G&L worked with one of its main customers, Lear Corp. of Southfield, Mich., to develop TPC molding for the North American market.
The process involves extruding a sheet of polypropylene mixed with hammer-milled hardboard. The plastic-wood hybrid then is compression molded to an interior cover skin, made from such materials as PVC, ABS or textiles. The skin is bonded to the substrate using an adhesive in an oven with temperatures as high as 280§ F.
The cost-effective process will give G&L greater visibility in the highly competitive auto market, Elliott said. The company is among the first to use TPC on this continent.
``We have a process that few other suppliers use,'' Elliott said June 9 during the Automotive & Transportation Interiors Expo in Detroit. ``It should help our growth significantly.''
Until now, the company has been known as a Tier 2 molder of hardwood products at its 90,000-square-foot Chesterfield plant. The company processes about 28 million square feet of hardwood each month, Elliott said.
Now, G&L plans to use some of that hardwood waste, trimmed from its products and otherwise shipped to landfills, for its interior panels. The TPC substrate will contain as much as 20 percent shredded, recycled wood.
That will help lower costs of the door panels, according to Elliott. The panel substrates will contain only 50 percent plastic. And, Elliott said, by using lower-tonnage compression presses, capital equipment costs also will be cut.
The changeover has begun at G&L. The company installed its first compression press in January 1998 and another last summer. The machines have clamping forces of 200 and 250 tons.
Two new presses will be added this year, Elliott said. Those presses, both with clamping forces of 600 tons, will be used for larger jobs. Each press and its secondary equipment, including ovens and stacking racks, cost more than $1 million.
The company also has installed a dual-nozzle, single-head sheet extruder at the Chesterfield facility. That extruder, used to make the PP-wood sheets, cost more than $2 million, Elliott said.
The company has several contracts with General Motors Corp. to supply the TPC parts. They include the door panel for a 2000 model-year Chevrolet Lumina, and the load floor for several GMT800 pickup trucks and a line of upcoming GM minivans. Lear will assemble those interior panels for most of those contracts, Elliott said.
The company also has started making door panels for the Peterbilt Motors Division of Paccar Inc. Peterbilt manufactures heavy trucks.
G&L is working on future products, including a door panel with interwoven spun glass or wires for greater strength. The PP-wood product, called Cylam, was named for Cy Elliott, one of its main developers.
The company is owned by Troy, Mich.-based Talon Automotive Group Inc., which also owns steel-stamping companies and other suppliers. G&L recorded about $40 million in sales last year, Elliott said.