German automotive supplier Kunststoff-Technik Scherer & Trier GmbH has opened a 31,000-square-foot U.S. plant in Saline - marking the first North American installation of Engel's Combi-M multishot presses that feature a turning center-stack mold and the second injection unit mounted on the moving platen.
Construction was finished in March. Scherer & Trier USA Inc. began limited production in June on the two 1,650-ton Combi-M presses, said Franz Ritzel, production manager.
``Now we are launching the program and the ramp-up goes on,'' he said, interviewed at an open house Aug. 5 in Saline.
Based in Michelau, Germany, Kunststoff-Technik Scherer & Trier makes exterior car parts such as roof ditch moldings and spoilers, fender parts and rocker panels. Interior parts include air-bag covers, seat-guide covers and scuff plates. The company compounds its own PVC in Germany, and officials consider color matching and in-mold decorating to be strong points.
``We try and eliminate paint whenever possible,'' said Jeffrey Bancroft, sales director for the U.S. operation.
Initially, the Saline plant will focus on exterior parts, but Ritzel said Scherer & Trier wants to crack the interior parts business in the United States.
Already, company officials are getting ready to double the size of the building with a 31,000-square-foot addition. ``We plan to start to expand on the first of October,'' Ritzel said.
Scherer & Trier will add extrusion in a future phase three - bringing to the United States the German company's strength in incorporating extruded inserts into an injection molded part, in fully automated production.
At the open house, Scherer & Trier USA's 15 employees mingled with customers and suppliers, eating sausage sandwiches and sipping German beer. Beside each press, a six-axis articulating Kuka robot stood ready. Ritzel said the plant should employ about 40 people by the end of the year. During the next five years, the company hopes to employ 400-500 in Saline.
But for now, the focus is on running the Combi-M presses and winning new business. ``We are working for Daimler-Chrysler, for Ford and now we have quoted a lot for General Motors,'' Ritzel said. The current building has enough room for one more big injection molding machine and three small presses.
Those next machines, like the first two, are likely to be from Engel Holding GmbH, based in Schwertberg, Austria.
``We have a very strong relationship. I think we have more than 100 Engel machines in Germany,'' said Ritzel, an 18-year veteran of Scherer & Trier.
Multicomponent molding, which makes parts with two or more materials and colors, is common in Europe. While the technology is growing in North America, it's still fairly rare.
Walter Jungwirth, who heads Engel's North American operations, said Scherer & Trier is a ``very technology-driven'' customer that pushes Engel to develop new equipment.
``This is a very refreshing approach, because we hear in the U.S. all the time: cheap parts, simple parts. For me, it's very exciting to see the technology on the part, which of course leads to material technology, tooling technology and machine technology,'' said Jungwirth, president and chief executive officer of Engel Machinery Inc. in Guelph, Ontario.
One example is a mirror triangle for a Mercedes A-class car, the Elegance, with a molded-in vehicle emblem. The company claims that is the first two-component part to use in-mold labeling. (Scherer & Trier declined to identify the parts it now is molding in Saline, or the specific customer. The two Engel presses ran on dry-cycle at the open house.)
In North America, Engel has sold many two-shot machines under the Combimelt brand, which uses a traditional rotary mold that spins like a clock face.
But Combi-M technology, also known as clean-shot, works differently.
On the Combi-M, the center-stack mold is mounted on a revolving table so it turns horizontally between the two mold halves on the platens - making the center stack a rotating, middle platen. It rides on a sliding carriage inside the clamping unit.
The injection unit setup also is different.
Because the second injection unit is connected to the moving platen - and moves back and forth along with the platen - the Combi-M technology can only be achieved on Engel's two-platen machine, the Duo.
One major advantage, Engel said, is the Combi-M allows the entire mold face to be used. That means the process requires a much smaller injection press than the traditional rotary platen method, which can use only half the mold face.
For example, Jungwirth said Scherer & Trier would require a press with about 2,500 tons of clamping force to mold the parts it now makes on the 1,650-ton Combi-M machines.
Ritzel added that the rotating table moves quickly, so it does not slow down the cycle time. ``We brought this technology over here because the process is more exact, the tools are cheaper and the cycle time is faster,'' he said.
Combi-M presses also offer flexibility. The rotating device can be turned off so the press can act as a standard machine, molding parts on either or both injection units. The press also can run stack molds.
Right now, the Kuka articulating-arm robots are set up simply to remove parts from the mold, then place them on a conveyor belt. But that will change as production ramps up. At the company's German operations, robots are tied into complete downstream assembly.
``The Kuka robot can do a lot,'' Ritzel said.