Quadrant AG's glass-mat thermoplastics composites unit is a giant in Europe, claiming 85 percent of the market.
It has more than 50 percent market share globally.
But it's a small player in North America, with only a 12 percent share. During the next five years, though, the Swiss company aims to expand its sales to automotive customers and beyond automotive in the region, targeting a 35-40 percent share.
``We're building and growing here in North America,'' Marcia Kurcz, business development manager-North America for Quadrant Plastic Composites group, said during a Sept. 8 news conference in Troy. ``We have expanded here and we're looking to grow more.''
The auto industry is a major component for QPC's sales base, and the fact is, North American automakers simply do not use glass-mat composites in the same way as their European counterparts.
The average European-made car has about 41/2 pounds of GMT - the North American-made one, less than half that.
Compression molded glass-mat composites go into a backrest on the Audi TT sports car and a luggage compartment for the Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg sport utility vehicles. They are used in bumper systems, instrument panel supports and underbody shields.
``We need to translate those successes from Europe over here,'' Kurcz said.
Quadrant AG, based in Zurich, has a presence in North America through its high-performance plastics division, with production facilities in Reading, Penn., and Guelph, Ontario. The firm counts $90 million of its total $308 million in annual sales as coming from North America.
Its GMT is imported from Europe for now, although it has considered locations for a new plant, said Volker Fritz, chief executive officer of Quadrant Plastics Composites AG.
``The industry heads here have not really believed in this material in the past,'' he said. ``We need to compare the applications for them here, where we do not need to do that so much in Europe.''
GMT, with the potential of using glass support up to 50 millimeters in length, offers a wider structural potential than glass-filled injection molded parts, the company argues, while compression molding has lower processing costs.
Looking to jump-start sales in the region, the company will contact various processors of sheet molding compound to get them involved in the product. It also is looking to sell customers on its new SymaLite composite - a glass and polypropylene mat system that offers the potential for using thermoplastics on horizontal auto-body panels.
Thermoplastics typically are limited to vertical panels on cars now because they cannot meet the structural demands of a wide horizontal surface. SymaLite can work in those spots previously set aside for thermoset compounds when automakers looked for an alternative to metal, said Harri Dittmar, QPC manager of composites market development.
At the same time, SymaLite can be bonded to either a thermoplastic film or a thin aluminum sheet for the exterior surface automakers prefer.
The system already is in use as an underbody protective layer for BMW AG, he said. Quadrant is working to come up with a complete roof module that marries the composite to an aluminum skin, Dittmar said. The module would come complete with overhead air bags, grab handles and electronics to the automaker, ready for assembly on the car.
Full commercialization of the concept probably will be another three to five years for the aluminum-skin version, he said, with a thermoplastic film-decorated proposal another year or two behind that.