For a quick history of plastics molding in central Europe, go to Liberec.
In just one plant, you'll find a company that was created to produce all types of plastic products for people living in the Communist bloc after World War II, including auto parts.
That company, formerly called Plastimat, was tapped to supply large parts as the then-Czechoslovakian-government- owned Skoda Auto brought out its new model, the Favorit, in 1987.
Once communist rule ended in 1989, the Czech government began selling off its holdings, launching a series of acquisitions. Plastimat went to German-owned EuroPet, which changed its name to Peguform GmbH, which was later purchased by Venture Industries Holdings LLC - and now the former Plastimat is a centerpiece of U.S.-based Cadence Innovation LLC of Troy, Mich.
Through it all, the Liberec-based company has continued to make parts and grow, keeping pace with a manufacturing boom that has boosted production throughout the region.
``We are, of course, in a lucky situation here in Eastern Europe,'' said Pavel Neuman, chief executive officer of Cadence Innovation's Eastern European operations. ``When we started as a privatized company, the [auto] production in Eastern Europe was 180,000 cars. In 2003, the production just in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary was more than 2.5 million.''
Neuman came to Liberec as a 32-year-old executive in 1989 and was tasked with leading then-Plastimat into privatization. He has seen the company's sales grow more than 10 times - from $20 million in 1992 to more than $300 million in 2007. Now the company is working to keep pace with the demands of a still-growing auto industry, while developing its technological capabilities and studying other regions for future growth.
Since German automaker Volkswagen AG of Wolfsburg bought Skoda in 1990, the company now known as Cadence has continued to be a major supplier to Skoda and to other Volkswagen brands manufactured in central Europe. It also has successfully sold itself to other automakers operating in the region, including France's PSA Peugeot Citroen SA and Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. and Suzuki Motor Corp.
In the Czech Republic, Cadence grew from plants in Liberec and Liban into another facility in Nymburk in 2003, then expanded that site within a year to keep up with demand.
In 2007, it expanded again to create an operation in Esztergom, Hungary, to produce parts for Suzuki Motor Corp. Cadence owns 74 percent of the Plastimate Hungary venture; Sumitomo Corp. owns the rest. The addition of that plant opened production space in Nymburk - with nearly all of it already dedicated to new contracts.
But success at Cadence has not been about volume alone.
With four plants - plus a 130-employee mold-making shop in Liberec - the company has developed new parts and created new business for itself.
Skoda's Roomster crossover vehicle has a rear lift gate with inner and outer thermoplastic panels developed by Cadence. The gate was designed as a complete module, along with its metal frame, to allow for expansion and shrinkage of the plastic.
Production at Nymburk is running at full force for two other Cadence-developed parts to meet customer requirements for entry-level cars. Two 4,000-ton Krauss-Maffei presses mold bumper fascias, which robotically are lifted to a paint station above the presses. The direct-flow paint system, which Cadence created, skips the primer coat, simplifying production and cutting costs.
Further down the shop floor, the firm combines plastics knowledge with its toolmakers' abilities to mold one-piece instrument panels. A polypropylene blend permits the use of a living hinge to create a multilevel part, which then is welded to complete the panel. The one-piece part requires one mold rather than two, which also curbs production costs, said Ladislav Cheben, the site's production manager for exteriors.
While those parts are designated for the low-cost Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo cars, the plant also turns out high-end, two-shot instrument panels for Volkswagen's premium Audi-brand vehicles. That kind of product reach is important in attracting engineers and winning contracts that will let Cadence grow as business expands in Eastern Europe.
``We have to be not only a production company,'' Neuman said. ``It is to our advantage that we have activities here like development and pre-development. We try to involve people in these areas because they can get involved in new ideas.
``We're proud that some of our innovations are on the market.''