Composite Fibers Offer Frontend Weight ReductionMon, 09/01/2014 - 12:47
Valente Espinoza, the President of A&P Solutions, believes that innovation and technology are the most important attributes for a company in the automotive industry.
“These are the two areas where one company can stand out from the pack and attract more customers,” he says. Espinoza states his position very clearly when explaining his vision for A&P Solutions, a leader in providing foamed structural and interior plastic components for vehicles, as well as for aviation and wind turbines. Its quest for innovation led to a series of mergers and acquisitions. Two existing firms, AKsys and PADSA, merged in 2010, expanding the company’s offerings in plastics technology and in SMC (sheet molding compounds). A&P Solutions then purchased TTM in Puebla, now known as AMP Exteriors, which has helped the company offer solutions for lightweight materials and decorative plastics. This process has enabled A&P Solutions to now offer components for the interior, exterior, and underbody of vehicles that provide advantages ranging from making them lighter, to reducing noise and manufacturing heat isolation. All these characteristics are attractive for OEMs, which has allowed A&P to net a big customer in Volkswagen. John Deere is another major customer for whom the company produces roofs, fenders, and injection components.
The biggest technological innovation that the company has made is in the frontend. SMC technology can replace the use of metal with strong resin made from paintable fiberglass or fiber carbon, and the company has hired a Class A surface component expert to take these developments further. This has allowed it to produce 5 million frontends for different vehicles that it describes as “lightweight, strong, cheaper, and with flexibility that metal cannot match.” At its facility in Hidalgo, the company produces SMC, GMT (glass mat thermoplastics), GLF (glass light fiber), and paints SMS Class A components. The company is hoping that SMC will provide a 30% weight reduction for current parts through the introduction of carbon fibers. “We have the knowhow, we have demonstrated this technology to the OEMs, and we expect it to be launched for the 2016 models,” states Espinoza. He adds that the company’s focus on innovation and technology is particularly apt when tackling a specific challenge, such as making lightweight products that are strong in certain specific areas. For the frontend, the areas where screws are bolted in must be significantly stronger, while the rest of the piece can be filled with lightweight foam to keep its weight down. He mentions that Audi is looking to adopt this kind of technology in its car parts and A&P Solutions is looking to offer its services.
For Espinoza, one of A&P Solutions’ most attractive elements for OEMs is its new business development unit. It develops technology while providing solutions for client requests and helping products mature. “When products are mature, they are integrated into the plant’s portfolio,” explains Espinoza. “The transition from the new business development unit to the plants is done efficiently as the managers of each team work together to provide their different visions on each product. This means key information about each product is reviewed several times before it goes to the market.” A&P Solutions sees this separation between day-to-day operations and the new business development team as allowing for far faster reaction times to customer needs. To keep up with the tailored solutions A&P Solutions offers to its customers, it is essential for the company to have suppliers that can help it to provide solutions, some of which are outside Mexico. “One of our best suppliers is a German company that provides tools for the making of frontends. We have combined their processing to our mold manufacturing process, which has given us a competitive edge,” explains Espinoza. He adds that A&P Solutions uses its strong links with OEMs to empower its suppliers by bringing them in for the whole manufacturing process, not just one part of it. An example of this is the production of the new frontend for Tesla which A&P Solutions has been awarded. “We are involved in the mold production process for that contract, and we are bringing a dedicated team together to work on this project, including a team of engineers that can manufacture the Tesla design, meet all its requirements, and eliminate the chance of quality problems after the launch. This keeps our suppliers happy as they are involved throughout the process. We already did this five years ago with the Volkswagen frontends, and they had no problems during launch,” states Espinoza.
Now that it secures contracts at this level, A&P Solutions is competing against a different class of rival: international Tier 1s looking for major projects in emerging countries. One way of standing out is by becoming a link between OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers that do not know Mexico or do not have installations in the country. “We can help them overcome challenges and become part of the general sourcing of products,” explains Espinoza. The arrival of new Honda, Mazda, Toyota, and Audi production facilities is bringing major new opportunities to the Mexican market. For Espinoza, the challenge Mexico has to face is in ensuring it has the right technology and manufacturing capacity.