Blackhawk Automotive Plastics Inc. has a new plant in Mississauga, Ontario, running 40 injection presses.
Clifford Croley, president and chief executive officer, said automotive plastics companies need to spend money to stay up-to-date. Blackhawk has invested $65 million into new equipment companywide since 1999, including the new plant.
``You've got to maintain your competitiveness. You've got to stay on the cutting edge,'' he said. ``Quality demands, the efficiency and economic demands, that's all mandated. And so if you're not making these investments, you're putting yourself at risk. We feel pretty strongly about that.''
Croley was part of a management team that bought the company from former employer Worthington Industries of Columbus, Ohio, in 1999.
``Buying this company, we went in with a very definitive plan to replace equipment, upgrade, add robotics. And we've done that,'' Croley said.
Croley said the Mississauga plant began limited production in November. ``It's in a ramp-up mode right now. There's business being layered in, just on a monthly basis at this point in time,'' he said in a June 11 interview at Blackhawk's headquarters factory in Salem.
The Canadian plant employs 50 now and runs 40 injection presses - all Mitsubishi machines - with clamping forces of 125-2,500 tons. Each press has a robot. The plant is molding interior automotive parts and doing assembly and decorating work. Crews now are installing equipment for painting interior auto parts.
Blackhawk is not done yet: The site is scheduled to add 28 more Mitsubishi presses by May, said Brian Bunn, general manager of the Canadian operation. That will bring the total in Canada to 68 machines. During the next two years, the company plans to invest another $5 million in the plant.
Croley said the factory eventually will employ 250-300 people.
The 288,400-square-foot factory in Mississauga marks two firsts for Blackhawk - its first site outside of Ohio and its first greenfield plant, built from the ground up.
Croley said the plant serves General Motors Corp., DaimlerChrysler Corp. and Tier 1 supplier Johnson Controls Inc. Blackhawk wants to mold for other automakers there as well, he said. The new building gives the company enough space to produce exterior parts down the road.
A veteran management team helped move the factory from concept to production in less than 18 months. Mississauga is Bunn's seventh greenfield in his 20 years in the auto industry. Manufacturing manager Rebecca Branca has 27 years in manufacturing, including 12 years at Tier 1 suppliers.
David Bell, engineering manager, has worked in plastics for 27 years. Quality manager Paul Moniz has 18 years in automotive and seven years of plastics experience. They hit the ground running.
According to Plastics News' most recent ranking, Blackhawk is the 25th-largest injection molder in North America, with $240 million in sales from the four plants. The company employs 2,000 and runs 185 injection presses.
Blackhawk, a finalist in Plastics News' 2003 Processor of the Year Award, said it ships 25 million to 30 million parts per year. Some specialty areas include in-mold appliques, louvered air outlets and instrument panels. The company has produced more than 400 million air outlets since 1969.
Much of Blackhawk's big capital spending program has come during a difficult three-year period for plastics machinery suppliers to North America.
But the automotive market has been one bright spot. U.S. shipments of large-tonnage injection presses - those with 1,000 tons of clamping force or more - increased in 2003, largely because of investment by automotive molders. Small and midsize machines suffered double-digit declines.