Joint venture Intertec Systems LLC will wrap its growth around a new tooling technique that produces a more-luxurious instrument panel for less money.
The technique, first introduced in Japan, makes a product that Intertec calls high-performance instrument panels, or HPI. The process eliminates scrap and cuts material costs on a soft-touch instrument panel, desired by many carmakers and consumers.
Intertec plans to introduce the first HPI instrument panels on an unspecified North American vehicle due out by 2003, said Ronald Carzoli, Intertec vice president of sales and program management.
``We want to grow the business quite a bit from where it is today,'' Carzoli said.
Tokyo-based Inoac Corp., a 50 percent partner in Intertec, developed the process in 1996. Inoac is one of the world's largest makers of instrument panels, with 56 plants worldwide.
The HPI method uses skins made of slush-cast PVC or thermoplastic polyurethane and injection molded substrates. The two parts then are placed in a closed mold, and polyurethane foam is injected between them.
Unique design features of the foaming tool allow Intertec to stop the flow of foam at selected points.
That way some areas of the panel can receive ample portions of padding.
Other areas are left with just the substrate showing, which can be grained for painting or injected with color.
Foamless features like grilles and air-conditioning bezels also can be integrated into the finished part, eliminating assembly steps.
In other methods using cast skins, the foam is sealed outside the mold, requiring excess skin to act as the sealer.
The HPI system creates only about 5 percent waste, Carzoli said, adding that the method also eliminates the need for trimming parts after they come out of the mold.
``Depending on part integration, we can develop a panel that would be as economical as a vacuum formed panel — or be less expensive,'' he said.
Vacuum formed skins generally do not have the crisp lines and tight tolerances common to cast skins.
Vehicles with HPI instrument panels include Mitsubishi's Montero Sport and Challenger and Toyota's Camry, Corolla and Land Cruiser.
Intertec molds about 760,000 instrument panels annually for Johnson Controls Inc., one of the world's largest vehicle-interior suppliers, and several Japanese carmakers working in North America. JCI, which has its automotive headquarters in Plymouth, Mich., holds the other 50 percent interest in Intertec.
``We think it's a promising technology, and Intertec is a good partner of ours,'' said JCI spokesman David Roznowski. ``We have a lot of hope for it.''
Southfield, Mich.-based Intertec's sales have climbed to about $100 million annually since its founding in 1996. The company plans to roll out the HPI technique on existing presses in its two plants in Bardstown, Ky., and St. Marys, Ontario.
In addition, the company plans to use the HPI process in a new JCI facility in Mexico that is expected to open by 2002, Carzoli said. Intertec will lease part of that facility, he said.
JCI has not determined the size or location of that facility, Roznowski said.