Johnson Controls Inc. is investing in new products and technology to back up executives' claims that the company remains committed to making automotive interior parts.
``It's no secret that this is a challenging market,'' Keith Wandell, president of JCI's Automotive Group, said at a Jan. 8 press conference during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
``It's so challenging, in fact, that some suppliers are even exiting this business. I'd like to take this opportunity to underscore Johnson Controls' commitment to the interior business.''
The company's Plymouth, Mich.-based automotive unit is investing in manufacturing equipment to launch production of its reaction injection molded urethane skin program - dubbed RIMSkin - in St. Mary's, Ontario, this summer.
The material's appearance on Lincoln MKX sport wagon instrument panel marks its first use in the North American auto market and comes just after it launched on a Brazilian-made Opel Astra last year.
Johnson Controls tweaked the chemistry for its urethane foam seating to create its proprietary VibraTech Foam for car seats that are thinner but offer better passenger comfort over long rides and improved acoustic performance.
Its proprietary CrafTec multimaterial injection molding process continues picking up new business, while other products are moving steadily through the development pipeline, including an injection molded component called the Perimeter Overhead System that will be ready for production within four years.
The RIMSkin program, set to begin production this summer in Ontario, gives JCI an opportunity to produce its own urethane skin. Johnson Controls now buys a cast urethane skin from an outside supplier for an instrument panel in production in Europe.
Owning the processing and technology gives the company more control over the final product, noted Jeff Stout, chief engineer of cockpit systems.
JCI even has gone so far as to work out its own proprietary chemistry for its urethane mix, in case there are ever any supply problems with the resin.
``We'll invest in new equipment where it makes sense to invest,'' he said.
So Johnson Controls has been buying new presses with multiple barrels to beef up its capability to deliver molded door panels and instrument panels using a mixture of materials for a high-end look at moderate prices under the CrafTec name.
Production of the first CrafTec parts launched in 2005 after four years of development, with work on another five vehicles beginning this year.
``These are the processes where we're putting our assets,'' Stout said.
The company's proprietary VibraTech urethane foam is going into Lexus RX330 sport utility vehicles, with more cars set to use it and manufacturing expanding this year into Tilsonburg, Ontario, and Pulaski, Tenn.
Meanwhile, development is moving forward on programs like the overhead unit. JCI first showed it as part of a complete interior concept in 2005. Since then, the supplier has invested more work into engineering and tooling a complete prototype showing how injection molded parts around the perimeter of the roof's interior could provide storage bins and also house electronics, overhead airbags and other functional equipment.
Executives meet regularly to keep up with innovations in the development pipeline, Wandell said.
``We're still committed to our solutions and vision, and to do that, you have to be able to provide something new,'' he said.