TROY, MICH. — Automotive metal stamping specialist SKD Automotive Group is taking its first plunge into plastics. The Troy-based company will supply a glass-filled nylon clutch pedal for an upcoming model year in an unspecified North American pickup truck, giving SKD its first extensive experience with plastics — one that President Dennis L. Berry said the business will need in the future.
To remain competitive, Berry said, SKD and other metal specialists must learn how to adapt to a variety of materials.
"We need to get the experience on the plastics side," Berry said in a May 30 interview in Troy. "It's one thing to go in an say [to a customer] that we're familiar with it, but it's something else to be able to say that we already have contracts for plastics."
SKD produces steel bumper beams, pillars, wheel housings and pedal assemblies for a variety of automakers, registering about $189 million in sales to the auto industry last year.
It assembles plastic pads on accelerator pedals, but otherwise has had little experience with plastics, Berry said.
It actually won a contract to produce the clutch pedal for a pickup truck as a steel part, but SKD designer Jim Carr — who previously worked on plastic clutch pedals for General Motors Corp. — suggested making a switch, Berry said.
Injection molded nylon will allow the company to turn out one integrated piece that will slide onto the complete pedal assembly. A steel part has up to five separate pieces.
"It's a natural migration to plastics for this pedal," Berry said.
SKD is not alone in expanding its reach, said Joel Kopinsky, principal with auto consultant ITB Group of Novi, Mich. The push from automakers to consolidate the supplier base will force those firms to find new ways to do business.
"More and more companies are needing to be able to work in a variety of materials," he said.
That could add costs for suppliers attempting to integrate new systems into their existing operations, Kopinsky noted. As a result, businesses could opt to link up with a solid sub-supplier who can meet their needs for less money per piece than gearing up a whole new production line on their own.
"Sometimes, choosing a good Tier 1 supplier is a key," he said.
SKD will contract with an injection molder to supply the clutch pedal, Berry said. It also plans to eventually expand its plastics programs with a plastic accelerator pedal using sensors rather than a cable to control a vehicle's speed.