Metal bumper maker Shape Corp. is moving into plastic, forming a new injection molding subsidiary that will allow it to marry resin-based energy absorbers with a metal beam.
NetShape LLC formed in November and has contracts in hand with full production of bumpers slated to launch by mid-2002 in Holland, Mich., and a sales office in Farmington Hills, Mich.
It also has corporate leadership with extensive background in plastics production, including President Darin Evans and Vice President of Business Development Mark White, who helped develop GE Plastics' Xenoy energy-absorber program during stints with the company.
"Shape definitely recognized that plastics has a fit in an energy-management system," Evans said during an April 25 telephone interview. "They wanted to be involved in more than just metallics, if that's what their customer was looking for."
The privately held Shape of Grand Haven, Mich., already is a leading bumper maker, producing about 30 percent of the front and rear vehicle bumpers used worldwide. But with automakers pushing for a variety of lightweight alternatives, it also needed expertise in plastics, Evans noted.
"Our staff has very good expertise in materials, all the way down to the molecular level," he said. "We understand what it takes to create a component from the core."
The company has not disclosed the cost of creating the plastics subsidiary, but the first presses will arrive on site this summer, White said. Within three to four years, NetShape should have as many as 10 presses in operation.
"All the manufacturing planning is in high gear," he said.
A year ago, both Evans and White were working on the first production launch of GE's Xenoy, an unreinforced impact-modified polycarbonate and polybutylene terephthalate blend. The resin made its debut on DaimlerChrysler AG's 2001 minivan line, where it replaced a steel bumper system at a 41 percent weight savings.
Shape's interest in moving into the plastics arena also allowed the specialists to put their resin expertise into play in full production.
"There was an interest both ways," Evans said. "Shape was interested in getting involved in plastics, and we, at the same time, thought we had a very specific expertise in developing these types of applications."
NetShape will look beyond GE's offerings, just as it also will consider energy-absorber opportunities within the entire vehicle — not just bumpers, White said.
But the link between NetShape and Shape is an important one that will allow the companies to offer automakers a combined package of energy absorber and structural metal that is designed and tested as a complete package.
"With the energy absorber coupled with the beam technology, created as a system, that's really where both the performance and cost benefits can be realized," White said. "The two marry together very well."