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Blow molding bumper beams for Japanese transnationals.

The Automotive Systems Group of Johnson Controls Inc., Plymouth, Mich., earlier this year began full commercial production of blow molded bumper beams for Mazda MX-6, 626, and Ford Probe cars manufactured by AutoAlliance International Inc. in Flat Rock, Mich. Johnson Controls produces the bumper beams at its Lapeer, Mich., facility.

Johnson Controls initiated a joint research effort with AutoAlliance (a 50/50 joint venture between Mazda and Ford Motor Co.) in 1988 to develop the blow molded bumper beams. The engineering and part development capabilities offered by Johnson Controls illustrate the "world-class" manufacturing yardstick used by Japanese transnational car builders to select U.S. suppliers. The Japanese definition of a world-class processor includes strong in-house engineering and development resources, as well as a supplier that provides a full range of assembly and testing services.


Average daily production of the bumper beams at the Lapeer facility is 1000-1200 units. The bumper beam--a 15-lb, one-shot component made from mineral-filled, rubber-modified PP--is blow molded on four Uniloy machines built by Johnson Controls' Plastics Machinery Div. in Manchester, Mich.

The part serves as the sole energy-absorbing component of the vehicle's front-end bumper system. Functional elements, such as air cooling channels, fog-lamp mounts, bosses and retainer fixtures, are designed into the part. The complex mold was developed by Johnson Controls along with several U.S. mold makers.

Each accumulator-head machine molding the bumper beams (three Uniloy M-400 models, and one Grand Series model) functions as an automated cell, integrated with a Motoman five-axis robot. Each blow molder has a single 35-lb head and dual extruders. The Motoman robots insert metal inserts into the mold at the start of each cycle, remove the part after blowing, place it on a fixture, and perform trimming, drilling and routing operations. The robot then deposits the finished part onto a conveyor.


A spokesman for Johnson Controls says working with the Japanese transnationals is a methodical process, as they challenge suppliers to adopt philosophies of continuous process improvement and tight inventory in order to eliminate waste and reduce cost. Lean inventories and synchronized Just-in-Time part deliveries are considered key cost and quality control.

"You must put engineering talent in front of the Japanese," he says. "A processor must be able to deliver Just-in-Time manufacturing and parts delivery that is synchronous with the operations of the transnationals."

In addition to its work with AutoAlliance, Johnson Controls has formed several joint ventures with Japanese processors for production of automotive plastics components for all North American automotive builders.
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Author:Gabriele, Michael C.
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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