The next European invasion is coming under the hood.
Thermoplastic lines developed in France are replacing rubber and metal systems for Dana Corp.
Thermoset valve covers with integrated seals and baffles are under development in Germany and headed for production in South and North America.
Mann+Hummel GmbH is expanding its factory in Mexico to make room for production of an all-plastic-encased oil module, already manufactured in Germany, while looking to establish production in Michigan and Indiana for specialties already used widely in Europe.
``Once the North American market gets used to it, they're going to find ease of assembly. They're going to find it's cheaper and more cost-effective,'' predicted Mike Laisure, president of Dana's engine and fluid management group during an Aug. 6 interview at the auto industry's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City.
With global supply bases and global engine development, companies are finding it easier to transfer production systems into new markets.
``Engineering innovations are being exported here,'' said Claude Mathieu, president and chief executive officer of Mann+Hummel Automotive Inc., the Portage, Mich.-based unit of Mann+Hummel of Ludwigsburg, Germany.
Dana picked up expertise in plastic fluid-handling lines with its 1996 acquisition of Nobel Plastiques SA. It has spent the past few years restructuring its holdings to access abilities across multiple lines - going from 19 divisions within the engine and fluid group down to seven now.
With that more streamlined setting, Dana can transfer capabilities.
The company's North American plastics manufacturing units - in Plumley, Tenn., and San Luis Potos¡, Mexico - are finding new life through those products.
European units also are pushing for further expansion of plastic modules, drawing upon the same concepts that have seen thermoset valve covers grow to take in seals and other systems. The proposals now under development move to the underside of the engine, looking to take in an oil pan, seals and pumps - potentially combining seven or eight components in a single part.
``We see a lot of opportunities for the same reason you've seen plastic growth everywhere else over the years,'' Laisure said.
Mann+Hummel's oil modules likewise combine multiple components in one part, this time replacing an aluminum housing with nylon. That provides Volkswagen AG, which is using the system in Audi engines, with a weight savings of 10 ounces.
Tooling for the injection molded system also can yield more than 1 million parts, compared with 100,000-150,000 for the similar aluminum unit. It also boosts plastics use in the oil module by 91 percent compared with the material's use in 2000, and it won Mann+Hummel an award from the Society of Plastics Engineers.
Now VW wants the same program available for its North American production in Mexico, prompting Mann+Hummel's $15 million expansion in Mexico, doubling the size of its production there.
The firm's existing Mexican site, in Tlalnepantla, is landlocked, prompting it to build an all-new plant. The company is deciding which of two towns will house the new plant, with plans to break ground by October on a 135,000-square-foot site.
At its U.S. facilities in Portage and South Bend, Ind., the firm is considering what new investments it should make to support production of air cleaners at the plants. Mann+Hummel also is continuing to push for sales of other blow molding programs in the United States of products already sold in Europe.2