Machinery maker SIG Kautex Inc. and its partners were hoping for a turnout of about 10 or 12 companies as it hosted a demonstration of its three-dimensional suction blow molding capabilities at Livonia's Roush Industries Inc.
Surging interest in the technology, though, prompted a turnout double that for the Oct. 9 event.
``We're on the verge of bringing 3-D blow molding to a different level than it has been here before,'' said Wolfgang Meyer, president of the North Branch, N.J.-based business unit of SIG Plastics International GmbH, during an Oct. 8 news conference.
Since the company launched its 3-D molding line 10 years ago, the vast majority of machines have sold in Europe, where processors turn out under-the-hood and other functional parts for automakers.
Travel cutbacks by money-conscious businesses during the past few years have limited opportunities for North American-based firms to see the machines in action, so SIG teamed with Roush to establish a production line in the heart of the U.S. auto industry.
The Roush facility specializes in mold building and prototypes, with machines on hand to test out new components. The SIG Kautex SB-8 up and running in Livonia is the same 8-ton model the company displayed during NPE 2003 in Chicago.
SIG is turning out multilayer air- intake valves used on a turbo version of Mazda Motor Corp.'s Protege to demonstrate the machine's ability to turn out one part that can replace similar ducts using multiple components.
Turbo-enhanced engines are more common in Europe, leading to greater opportunities for the blow molded components there. The increased emphasis on diesels and their air-intake units also has prompted increased use.
With diesels expected to grow in production in North America, more suppliers are looking for ways to produce parts for those engines, giving SIG Kautex and its equipment a foot in the door in the region.
``The companies we're hearing from aren't the traditional blow molders,'' Meyer said. ``They might be injection molders or metal people who are looking to replace their parts with 3-D blow molding.''
The 3-D process allows processors to produce parts with limited flash - only at the top and bottom of each piece. That reduction in scrap makes a difference for companies looking to place parts in high-heat areas near the engine, which require higher-cost engineering resins, said Joachim Krupp, SIG Kautex vice president of sales.
The machines also are used to produce multilayer fuel filler lines, capable of handling seven different materials.
The equipment maker is not alone in pursuing sales opportunities in North America. DuPont Co. is a partner, seeing the process as a new way to get its Hytrel polyester elastomer resin onto cars.
Likewise, Daikin America Inc. has a budding relationship with SIG Kautex, pursuing sales openings for its fluoropolymers.
``Part integration is where we're going to be able to save money, not just in a one-to-one replacement for metal,'' said Randal White, senior technical specialist for DuPont Automotive's engineering polymers group.
Through the blow molding process, suppliers can make one component with molded-in brackets and both hard and soft sections, replacing air-intake units now made with hard metal or plastic mechanically clamped to rubber bellows, he said.
One system already in production took a 2.2-pound component with seven separate parts and instead turned out a single part at half the weight.
Teaming with DuPont and Roush - a well-known company among Detroit-area carmakers and suppliers - also gives SIG Kautex greater access to decision-makers within the industry.
``We have to drive the technology,'' White said. ``We have to show them where they can use it and how they can save money.''
The full-time demonstration line at Roush will help molders, resin suppliers and machinery companies make their point.
``Up until today, there weren't a lot of places where the [automakers] could see it,'' Krupp said. ``We had no chance to get people over to where they could see it, but now we have the capabilities here.''