Green Tokai Co. Ltd. began fusing its injection molding capabilities with paint film technology nearly 10 years ago on one small, simple part.
Now about 95 percent of its injection molding is devoted to highly complex auto trim pieces that can combine all the functional benefits of injection molding with a decorative film that swoops around curves and loops 180 degrees over edges for a complete coverage the company maintains is not possible with conventional paint.
The Brookville-based firm opened a 175,000-square-foot warehouse in August just to help it keep up with growing demand for its products.
And now Green Tokai is seeking partners to license its technology in a move President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Uritani expects to help jump-start paint film usage throughout the auto industry.
``Now many companies are trying to enter this market,'' Uritani said during a Feb. 7 interview in Brookville. ``They smell the potentiality.''
The firm is open to considering licenses for a range of molders, including potential competitors that could supply customers such as Honda and Toyota.
By licensing the technology, it hopes it can widen paint film use throughout the industry - and help ensure that the work is done right. A poor product launch by a competitor using a knockoff technology would only harm the film's reputation, Uritani said.
``We're interested in working with a licensee to see things are done right,'' he said.
Green Tokai began in 1988 as a joint venture of Tokai Kogyo Co. Ltd. of Obu City, Japan, and Ernie Green Industries Inc. of Dayton, Ohio. Tokai Kogyo took over full ownership in 1991.
Green Tokai's Brookville plant has injection molding presses with clamping forces of 100-3,500 tons, vacuum forming for its paint film processing production, and both rubber and thermoplastic extrusion. A separate extrusion facility opened in Maysville, Ky., in 1995. The site now produces extruded roof moldings using paint film, in addition to its traditional plastic and rubber molded parts.
Green Tokai employs 750 in Brookville and another 350 in Maysville.
The company is fortunate, Uritani said, because it has long and strong ties with automakers, including Honda and Toyota, that provide it with steady sales. Those long-term contacts allowed Green Tokai the flexibility to set aside cash and time to invest in new technology created by Hiroaki Yamamoto, general manager of the injection division and technical center, and the ability to work closely with customers in putting that technology into production.
The plastic film and substrate combination makes sense for a lot of parts, Yamamoto said. The thermoplastics in both the film and the trim beneath it can withstand stone chips and damage from dings and dents common in parking lots from doors and shopping carts, because the materials flex with the impact, unlike metal and standard paint.
The molder saves the environmental and economic costs of building a paint shop by hooking up with film suppliers that can provide a full palette of hues to match cars and trucks. Green Tokai can provide solid coverage, even on sharp corners that would resist normal paints, he said.
>From its first small part, the company has moved on to win business making spoilers, rocker moldings and moldings for the trim around rear side windows. Its parts sweep up and around wheels and provide a protective barrier at the lower edge of the car body.
Yamamoto's process takes paint film supplied by Soliant LLC and Avery Dennison Corp., vacuum forms and robotically trims it, then insert molds it onto a thermoplastic substrate during gas-assist injection molding. Other injection molding and paint film programs on the market have used a thermoforming process to prepare the film.
Automation and plant layout combine with the technology to produce parts that meet increasing demands for design and quality, and to produce them efficiently. The process allows the company to turn out multiple colors of each part in one press - which allows for better quality control by easily separating a red right-side rocker, for example, from a blue part for the left side of the vehicle.
Yamamoto stressed that the company slowly built on its capabilities, beginning with a fairly simple decorative mold. The process is now in its fifth generation of improvements, and he is busy preparing for future production to push the process further.
``It takes many years, and you have to build one by one,'' he said. ``Some engineers would like to start their production at the master's degree level. We started in elementary school. Now, I think we are in high school. We have a lot further to go.''