Auto supplier Delphi Corp. is teaming with compounder A. Schulman Inc. in a cooperative deal that will allow Delphi's competitors to buy and use what Delphi created.
Delphi spent more than four years developing a thermoplastic polyolefin blend for slush molded skins on instrument panels and door panels. Rather than keeping that blend as a proprietary secret, though, Delphi has decided that by teaming with Fairlawn, Ohio-based Schulman to license the blend for wider use, the company can get more exposure.
``This allows us to get our materials technology out on the market faster and with more distribution than we could do alone,'' said Lon Offenbacher, business line executive for Troy, Mich.-based Delphi's interiors and closures group. He spoke during an Oct. 9 interview at the Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive TPO Conference in Sterling Heights.
It is a collaborative approach to problem solving that is important for the industry, Delphi executives said. It meets automakers' requests to make materials available throughout the supplier base and also helps to widen Delphi's customer base.
``The worst case scenario is that one of our competitors uses it to get business that otherwise would have gone to us,'' Offenbacher said.
But the company believes the opposite business case is more likely - that automakers with their own closely held suppliers will have those molders use Delphi's resin blend. And that will introduce Delphi's capabilities to more companies, Offenbacher said.
Slush molding has been a standard processing system for PVC-based auto interior skins for decades, but as the auto industry moved away from PVC, molders moved toward TPO. Delphi has produced TPO skin with vacuum forming, but wanted a TPO blend that could be used in slush molding - directly replacing PVC.
Slush molded skins are better able to confirm to tight angles and deep curves, giving automakers and designers more interior options.
When Delphi could not find what it wanted from its resin suppliers and compounders, it launched a study in 2003 to create its own blend, which it has shown to automakers and expects to put in production within the next year, said Ken Gassman, engineering manager for advanced development.
But the auto industry wants solutions it can use across entire vehicle platforms, not just from one particular supplier.
So Delphi decided to license its creation for manufacturing and distribution throughout the industry to Schulman - which should spur faster introduction and wider use, Offenbacher said.
Schulman can market and sell the resin without the same complications of competition as Delphi could on its own, and also has a global network for producing and supplying the blend.
The wider industry exposure for Delphi's resin also should help to provide another stable platform for Delphi's interiors group as it prepares to spin away from Delphi. The company - which has been operating in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for two years - has a deal on the table to sell the interiors group to private equity buyer Renco Group Inc. of New York.
``At the end of the day, it's a good, symbiotic relationship,'' he said.