In 2010, Craig Assembly Inc. found itself in an enviable position. The maker of injection molded quick connectors had set itself on a path to produce specialized products, and made it through the automotive downturn in good shape.
In addition, Craig Assembly had been designated as a directed supplier by automakers — meaning that carmakers told their largest suppliers to buy parts from the St. Clair, Mich., company.
Its key customers were anxious to see Craig Assembly supply parts globally, which was the part of that directed-supplier distinction that proved to be difficult.
“They wanted us to be worldwide, but we didn't have enough sales to justify investing in overseas production,” said Tom Geiser, plant manager for the company's St. Clair operations.
So the company began looking at potential firms for a joint venture, which could help it access production without the overhead costs of expanding.
Rather than a joint venture, though, Norma Group AG — Craig Assembly's biggest competition in Europe — proposed acquiring Craig and making it the hub of its needed U.S. expansion.
Norma, based in Maintal, Germany, had metal operations in Auburn Hills, Mich., and Saltsburg, Pa., and two sites in Mexico. But Norma eyed Craig Assembly, with 40 variations on quick connectors used in the cooling hose market, as a key to expansion.
The deal closed in early 2011, and now the St. Clair operation is expanding under the identity of Norma St. Clair as the sole U.S. home of plastics for Norma Group.
“There's more business coming on, and we have another piece of equipment coming in by the end of this year and more products coming in that are currently outsourced,” said Geiser, plant manager of Norma St. Clair.
Geiser oversees two plants in St. Clair, the original Craig Assembly plant and the former Pine River Plastics facility next door, which the company purchased in 2012 to house Norma's growth.
All of the equipment from the 55,000-square-foot Pine River facility had been sold in auction prior to Norma's acquisition of the building, but it now houses 17 injection molding presses for Norma. The company is planning nearly $2 million in improvements for both sites this year and another $2.8 million in 2014, including investments in molding, assembly, laboratory testing and toolmaking equipment.
Norma St. Clair has 117 employees, and will add to that base as business continues to build.
The original Craig Assembly portfolio of products is now part of the lineup available throughout Norma's other facilities glo¬bally. Norma has manufacturing in Europe, India and China in addition to North America.
Norma also is shifting new production to St. Clair for clamps and other components that Craig Assembly had not produced previously, which adds to the growth plan there, Geiser said.