ASC Inc. wants to nibble its way to a bigger piece of the specialty automotive market, and is investing in manufacturing low-pressure sheet molding compound to reach that goal. The Southgate, Mich.-based company has created a Composite Systems unit to handle the business, bringing all of its composites manufacturing under one umbrella, with Scott K. Koepke as its president. The unit will specialize in production runs of less than 20,000 units.
"The whole focus of this business plan is to remain small, very agile and very flexible," Koepke said in a Jan. 13 by telephone.
Koepke spent 20 years with Toledo, Ohio-based Owens Corning, including a stint as president of its Engineered Pipe Systems, before becoming a plastics industry consultant in 1997. He joined ASC in October.
ASC will add new equipment to its existing sites by the end of this quarter and will consider further construction within the next three to five years, Koepke said. On the composite processing front, ASC now does resin transfer molding at a plant in Bowling Green, Ky., while a Livonia, Mich., plant handles Class A paint projects.
Koepke would not disclose how much the company is investing in the SMC project.
ASC already turns out composite pieces such as hardtops, hoods and other items for specialty vehicles, including General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Trail Blazer version of its Blazer sport utility vehicle, DaimlerChrysler Corp.'s Dodge Viper and Toyota Motor Corp.'s Camry Solara. It also produces sunroofs and media consoles for various customers.
The company's jump into low-pressure molding from solely RTM means it can turn out more specialty pieces for automotive customers looking to offer more variety in vehicles under existing name brands, Koepke said.
"We're looking at expanding into what we feel is going to continue to be a growing business," Koepke said.
If a vehicle's popularity outgrows ASC's maximum output of 20,000 units, it will pass production on to another supplier, he said, and stick with its plan of maintaining minimum-volume specialties.
"We're really going to keep our focus on the lower-volume end of it," Koepke said.
"We're looking at tying in with a strategic supplier base [so] we can provide top quality in low volumes," said Barry Matthews, manager of ASC's Livonia plant.
ASC's new emphasis on low-pressure molding sets it up as a potential competitor for larger suppliers, but its emphasis on providing pieces for speciality cars establishes a stand more firmly geared toward niche marketing, said Michael F. Dorney, vice president of sales for Budd Co.'s Plastics Division.
"They would be a potential competitor of ours if we were looking at a contract for the very-low volume spectrum," Dorney noted.
Koepke said ASC's move also should encourage the auto industry to increase its use of composite parts.
"We can be a liaison and testing ground for new technology," Koepke said.
ASC also announced Jan. 10 that it and Edscha Cabrio-Verdecksysteme GmbH won a $260 million contract to develop and produce the roof system for the BMW Z3 Roadster.
Development will take place in Germany, with production at a new facility set for construction near BMW's Spartanburg, S.C., plant.