KraussMaffei Corp. already has the technology to help a resurging U.S auto industry, and on a nondescript strip of industrial buildings on a site collocated with toolmaker Proper Group International Inc., KM also has steadily built a place to show it off.
“It's been a tremendous benefit to both partners,” said Paul Caprio, president of Florence, Ky.-based North American operations for Germany's KraussMaffei AG, in an interview at a May 23 technology seminar in Warren. “We've seen the effect already.”
When Munich-based KraussMaffei established a joint venture with Proper two years ago, KM moved its polyurethane tooling operations from Novi, Mich., to Proper's site in Warren. While KM has created production systems aimed at automakers' needs for a long time, it was important, Caprio said, to bring those offerings directly to carmakers.
Engineers who normally would be most interested in the technology lacked time to travel as the industry ramped up production after the recession. Proper offered a great location — within 40 miles of nearly all North American carmakers' engineering centers — and contacts in the industry.
Since the U.S.-based industry bounced back from bankruptcy and recession, it has been more open to testing out new production techniques, he said.
“There's been a recognition [in the auto industry] that the overall cost of the part is the real need, and not the cost of components,” Caprio said.
At the May 23 technical session in Warren — also sponsored by Bayer MaterialScience LLC of Pittsburgh — KraussMaffei showed off systems that take advantage of its capabilities in injection molding, reaction injection molding and extrusion equipment. That includes interior parts with urethane skin, foam and reaction molded substrate all produced from the same system; and coating technology for polycarbonate parts that could allow suppliers to eliminate the need for separate clean room manufacturing.
By working with Proper, KraussMaffei can demonstrate new processes or work alongside molders and automakers during pre-launch development. That combination makes it possible for potential customers to test new production fully, without tying up needed production space in their own plants.
“We're really, to me, in the backyard of the engineers,” Caprio said. “There's more to it than just showing up with a brochure.”
And engineers already working with Proper on projects can easily stop by to learn about new technology while checking on a mold already in production.
KraussMaffei is not alone in collocating a technology center with Proper. The toolmaker is also home to a development center. Trexel Inc. of Wilmington, Mass., has a press at Proper's Warren plant to demonstrate the MuCell process. Ford Motor Co. said development work with Trexel at Proper's plant was essential in its decision to begin using the process in multiple parts.
The hands-on research location will continue to be key as the auto industry expands its interest in production, Caprio said.
“We're dealing with all the [automakers] directly now,” he said. “They really want to understand and validate technology in plastics.”