Cooper Standard has been investing in innovation for some time now, and the Livonia center is just the latest piece as it gets ready to develop parts that will help shape the automotive industry's future.
The center leads Cooper Standard's global material research endeavors, from basic chemistry through end products, and supports all of the firm's product lines, which are divided into four segments—sealing, fuel and brake delivery, fluid transfer, and anti-vibration systems.
The Livonia center will employ up to 94 people at full capacity.
It offers a fully integrated material development laboratory, provides prototype production, offers production equivalent lines for pilot activities, and features an innovation showroom and vehicle display area, among other capabilities.
"We created this place to go faster with our innovation," said Chris Couch, vice president, innovation and product groups. "We've been investing in innovation for many years. The first dedicated group was set up in 2013, but the bits and pieces to do that work were scattered around the company. We consolidated in some lab equipment, pilot production lines, tool shop, etc., and got them here under one roof. Now instead of having to beg for time at the plants to do trials, we can go full speed ahead here without breaking into production. And being all under one roof leads to better ideas, speed and accuracy in the trials we're doing."
As autonomous vehicles and ride sharing become more of a reality, Couch said the firm expects miles driven to increase exponentially in certain markets. That will lead to increased requirements for performance and durability. Cars today drive maybe two hours per day, but if that increases to 20 then the seals and parts inside the car need to become more durable.
Vehicle electrification also is becoming a reality, and while Cooper Standard supplies plenty of parts to the powertrain, Couch said the firm is not afraid of the change—in fact it's embracing it. While the fuel line disappears in electric vehicles, he said those vehicles still will require brake lines, a sealing package and actually consist of three to five times more coolant hoses that offset the loss of fuel lines.
And as electric vehicles become more prevalent, cabin noise will become more of a focus. Couch said that OEMs have provided data that show after the engine and powertrain, the largest contributor to cabin noise is the vehicle's glass run system.
"We're clearly seeing the need for lightweighting and improved cooling technology," Stephenson said. "When you take the white noise from the engine away, you suddenly notice other noise in the vehicle coming from the exterior and external environment. There's a need for an improved sealing systems technology, which many people don't think about. But all of a sudden there's no more noise coming from the powertrain so it's really driving us to invest significantly in our hose and sealing business."
And regardless of what comes of the U.S. regulatory environment under the current administration, the trend of more fuel-efficient vehicles isn't going anywhere.
Extrusion lines at Cooper Standard's Livonia, Mich., facility allow new product testing without interrupting production.
"There are the macrotrends, which I don't think have changed much in the past couple of years," Couch said. "The regulatory aspect that pushes us toward lightweighting is not new. Even if the regulatory environment in the U.S. dials down a bit with the new administration, the U.S. is only 14 percent of the global market. This is still going to be important everywhere else."