Bulk Molding Compounds Inc. and Owens Corning have joined forces to create FastTrak Applications Development LLC, a joint venture aimed at accelerating the growth of thermoset compounds and composites.
FastTrak is based in an Addison, Ill., injection molding plant that BMCI acquired when it bought Rodgers Engineering Corp. in mid-2005. The 135-employee site houses 26 injection presses from 200-500 tons, three 300-ton compression molding machines, one 400-ton compression machine and one 160-ton transfer molding machine.
``Originally we were going to sell the [Addison] site to a custom molder,'' BMCI sales and marketing Vice President Len Nunnery said by telephone. ``But then we decided to work with Owens Corning to make shapes and parts for our customers to test. That had been a soft spot in our marketing effort, but now we can look for a lot more new metal replacement.''
Toledo, Ohio-based OC has been BMCI's primary supplier of chopped-strand fiberglass throughout BMCI's 25-year history. BMCI, based in West Chicago, Ill., uses the OC materials in thermoset compounds.
``When we talk to customers, the first thing they want us to do is to help them grow,'' Jeff Boersma said. Boersma is vice president and managing director of OC's North American unit.
``We consider BMCI to be the leader in thermoset compounds, and we're the leader in glass fiber, so [FastTrak] was a natural thing to do.''
FastTrak is focused on replacing die-cast metal parts in large appliances like washing machines and dryers. The appliance effort will look at internal and external parts, BMCI's Nunnery said.
Automotive work will begin at the FastTrak site as soon as material approvals are received. Nunnery said he expects that to happen in early 2007.
``Getting [original equipment manufacturers] to buy into the work that FastTrak is doing is key,'' he noted. ``We can do a great deal of development work for them, and we're also taking on some of the risk.''
``There's an overwhelming response to speed and to the ability to create a prototype in a couple of weeks,'' OC's Boersma added. ``There's no shortage of R&D development programs out there competing for this work. The projects that sit on the shelf are the ones that get tossed to the side.''
One of the first automotive projects FastTrak will work on is a throttle body based on thermoset composites. Similar parts already are in production in Europe and have been prototyped in North America.
The variety of machinery available at the site will allow FastTrak ``to address several different markets with varying sizes of products,'' Nunnery said.
The automotive sector accounts for more than half of BMCI's annual sales, but Nunnery said he isn't worried about predicted slowdowns in the market in 2007.
``Existing and mature applications like the headlamp and valve cover markets may dwindle,'' he said. ``But we can more than offset that with new applications like tire holding devices. We'll still be able to continue expanding our market share.''
Nunnery added that BMCI has seen several recent customers return to thermoset materials after testing thermoplastics. In some cases, thermoplastics fell short in areas of heat resistances and load bearing, he said.
BMCI posted sales of about $150 million in 2005 and expects 2006 to be near $165 million. The firm employs more than 300 at five facilities worldwide.