German equipment supplier J. Dieffenbacher GmbH & Co. has opened its first North American plant to make low-pressure compression molding presses.
The company, based in Eppingen, Germany, completed its new facility in Windsor, Ontario, in March and just shipped its first pieces, said Manfred Bruemmer, general sales manager for subsidiary Dieffenbacher North America Inc.
The 50,000-square-foot plant expects to reach sales of $20 million to $25 million this year, Bruemmer said. Investment in the new building was not disclosed, although Bruemmer said it was a multimillion-dollar project.
Dieffenbacher plans to become one of the major suppliers of hydraulic compression presses in North America, Bruemmer said. The company will specialize in vertical presses for back-compression molding, a low-pressure process that naturally bonds a cover material — such as fabric or carpet — onto a thermoplastic carrier.
``We've recognized this as a very economical way to manufacture parts,'' Bruemmer said. ``It's extremely popular in Europe and is starting to be introduced in North America.''
The process, also called in-mold lamination, has been adopted by other North American equipment suppliers, including Engel North America of Guelph, Ontario, and Krauss-Maffei Corp. of Florence, Ky.
Its central focus has been the automotive industry, where back molding is used for such interior parts as door panels. A handful of suppliers, including Magna International Inc. of Aurora, Ontario, and Consolidated Metco Inc. Plastics Division of Bryson City, N.C., have started using the method.
The method saves considerable labor and overhead costs by eliminating secondary functions and adhesives, said Robert Esling, sales manager with Delta Tooling Co. of Auburn Hills, Mich. The toolmaker has an agreement to cut tools for in-mold-lamination technology and has built awareness of its practicality.
But the initial capital investment has held back some auto-parts suppliers, he said. Typical presses can cost upward of $1 million, he said.
``You are seeing Tier 1 suppliers more actively targeting and trying to obtain programs to use the technology,'' Esling said. ``They like the cost and time savings. You make the part in the tool, trim it and you're done.''
Dieffenbacher entered the back-compression business in July 1997, when the company bought proprietary technology and engineering support from injection press builder Sachsische Kunststofftechnik GmbH of Freital, Germany.
The company, known as SKT, had developed machinery for the technology and had a design office in Vienna, Austria.
Dieffenbacher supplies equipment to mold back-compression parts for well-known European carmakers such as Daimler-Benz AG, Volkswagen AG and BMW AG.
Now, the equipment supplier would like to experience the same success in North America. The company had made rubber compression and injection presses and machines for natural-fiber materials at a small, 12,000-square-foot Windsor plant, which opened in 1984. Those operations have been moved to the new facility, which includes a small area for rubber and natural-wood presses.
But the bulk of the new plant will focus on plastic compression molding systems. The company will make modular manufacturing cells that include a press, control systems and robotic loading and gripping equipment.
The hydraulic presses, with clamping forces of 200-3,000 tons, will be custom-made for each customer, Bruemmer said. Prices for a complete system vary from about $200,000 to $3 million.
The presses can be adapted to process fiber-reinforced thermoplastics or thermosets. The new plant employs 65 people, an addition of about 25 workers from the old facility.
In the past, Dieffenbacher was a bit hamstrung in its North American operations, Bruemmer said. Presses had to be shipped from Europe, tallying heavy freight charges and export duties. A fluctuating exchange rate in Europe also caused some concern for customers, Bruemmer added.
``North America is the biggest market in the world,'' Bruemmer said. ``We'd like to participate by gaining our share in this technology.''