Collins & Aikman Corp.'s bankruptcy is continuing to send ripples through the auto industry, now taking a turn that could bring other molders new business opportunities.
While some firms are picking up existing contracts to make parts previously produced by the Southfield, Mich.-based molder, even more have the chance to buy hundreds of patents and other pieces of intellectual property C&A spent years developing.
Consor Intellectual Asset Management, a La Jolla, Calif.-based company, has gathered the engineering data, studies and even videotaped tests for trade secrets within C&A, which cover everything from resin blends to processing techniques to a method for grinding thermoplastic polyurethane for better use in recycling.
``There are a lot of patents here,'' said Gabe Fried, a consultant working with Consor to prepare the intellectual property for sale.
``There are almost 100 patents just on invisible air bag seams alone.''
Consor has been operating within the C&A offices in Southfield to review and consolidate patents and supporting documents, Fried said in a Sept. 10 telephone interview.
And buyers probably won't have to deal with the lengthy court process that typically is part of buying assets from a company in bankruptcy.
C&A entered Chapter 11 protection in May 2005, filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Detroit. It is now winding down operations and soon all business will transfer to a post-consummation trust overseen by Capstone Advisory Group LLC for the prime creditors.
Consor has been in touch with C&A's main competitors, but the intellectual property sale is open to all buyers. The company wants ``an orderly sale'' that will get the best return for creditors, Fried said.
The range of available patents comes from nearly all of C&A's business groups. There are proprietary blends for polyurethane developed by C&A's compounding unit and a two-shot molding process for in-mold lamination of wood trim with a clear film that can replace a two-step method for interior trim.
About six of the intellectual property assets available already are slated for use on future cars and trucks, he said.
Intellectual property is not the only C&A asset changing hands.
Automakers that had depended on C&A for parts have shuffled production to other molders.
Luckmarr Plastics Inc., a Sterling Heights, Mich.-based injection molder, is adding 8,500 square feet of warehousing space and its first thermoforming equipment to meet production for two contracts it picked up from closing C&A plants in Sterling Heights and Port Huron, Mich.
The work includes an in-mold applique for a radio bezel, prompting the additional work in thermoforming, said Vice President Marco Pierobon.
``This is a new process for us, but we have people with us who have experience with thermoforming,'' he said.
At this point, the work is to provide service parts that will be stored for use as needed, rather than for just-in-time production, but Pierobon said his business hopes the work will lead to additional contracts for the firm, which employs 40.
Pierobon credited Luckmarr's tooling capabilities with helping it win the new business.
Since the molds already were in production and adjusted for peak flow in other presses, automakers wanted a firm that knew how to adapt existing molds quickly.
Luckmarr has 22 injection molding machines, with clamping forces of 75-1,000 tons.