On October 24, 2013 at 10am Frimo opened its doors to 250 of its suppliers, customers and the press for its Second TechDay North America event located in Wixom, MI, USA. Frimo is a worldwide developer and manufacturer of tooling, machinery and equipment for the production of plastic components, mainly for automotive interiors. The TechDay consisted of a plant tour of the Machine Build Facility with inspection of its signature equipment along with some of its latest projects. This was followed by presentations and demonstrations in its Research Center located in a nearby building. Mike and Pam Brady went there for Plastics to share their impressions.
It was more than just a TechDay. It had a flavour of a family get together with a “let’s push aside the equipment and our work for the day and get acquainted”. The Machine Build Facility is a large spacious clean building filled with completed and almost-completed machines positioned to allow us to move about freely and see the machines from all angles. There were some demonstrations and explanations of various Frimo specialities including edgefolding, polyurethane (PU) processing, flexible trimming, punching, pressing/forming, thermoforming (a large inline vacuum thermoforming machine with flexible tools and flexible plastics capability), laminating, and joining/gluing.
There were also areas for the machine parts suppliers to display their wares: Festo (pneumatic and electric switches and drives); Sew Eurodrive; (motors); Rockwell (Allen-Bradley) and Siemens; (electrical controllers); and Weco (IR heaters and heater controllers). The suppliers were also well informed and all seemed to echo the Frimo spirit of cooperation.
The largest machine display was described as a PURe Technology Turntable Foam Cell. It was an 11m diameter turntable which boasted seven tool carrier stations. It was being built for delivery to Mexico and designed for the production of automotive arm rests. The Frimo engineer explained that they were waiting for the delivery of the other carrier stations but in the meantime they were assembling and troubleshooting the parts of the unit they had in place. He indicated that the turntable concept had been specified but that the rest of the design, including easy tool change and easy repair of the turntable rollers, were Frimo designs.
Besides showing us selected items, the company invited us into their machine build area to see their latest projects.
At Frimo’s Research Tech Center we were also able to move freely among the various machines and equipment. Areas were set up for technical seminars, equipment demonstrations and supplier booths. Suppliers represented were Huntsmann and BASF and Dow (PU), Weber (nickel moulds), Jowat and ICO (adhesives), Bennecke-Kaliko and O’Sullivan (moulding films), AT Technology (IR cameras), and BO-NaFaTec (bioreinforcements). At 1:30pm we began the “New Technology Development” seminars. In his welcome, Jeff Daily, President and CEO of Frimo, explained how the company had weathered the last five years of economic turmoil fairly well since their business was tied to equipment for future models rather than those for present production. The last speaker of the day would reinforce this observation by indicating that the number of new models of all vehicle manufacturers would increase because of the manufacturers’ need to distinguish their products from those of their competitors.
Daily indicated that Frimo was trying to hire new people but it was difficult finding candidates with the right expertise. To meet this challenge Frimo was starting an apprenticeship programme fashioned after the German model. He also indicated that Frimo will be following the auto companies to Mexico. Daily indicated there is $10 billion worth of new auto plants planned to be built in Mexico in the next few years and Frimo is looking for plant space to be ready to serve these customers. Hans-Gunter Bayer, CEO, Frimo Group, gave a short history of Frimo, stressing the importance of strong relationships between management, employees, suppliers, and customers..
Among the presentations came an award ceremony for Bill Otto, retired Technical Director and one of the group of original employees of Frimo North America. When we asked Lee Hodson, present Technical Director, about adding a seemingly internal affair to a TechDay, he replied that relationships were very important to Frimo’s way of doing business and so they felt it appropriate to share with the community Otto’s contributions to the growth and direction of the company.
Following were presentations on trends and developments on PU technologies; thermoforming and In Mold Grain (IMG) thermoforming (a joint presentation by Frimo and Weber); infrared welding (IR); IR camera image processing (by AT Technology); elimination of release agents with PURe liner; and multiple decors in a single tool with PURe skin.
One theme that was emphasised throughout the presentations was Frimo’s motto “One Stop All Services”. Besides their ability to design, manufacture and deliver a turnkey operation for producing a customer’s automotive interior, they have a large presence in the tool supply, service, and spare parts operations which can extend to non-Frimo built manufacturing facilities”.
The last presentation of the day was an industry outlook on North American markets by Mike Wall, IHS. Wall predicted that the total number of vehicles manufactured will slowly increase as the economy expands. The centre of manufacturing will continue to move south in the United States; global design will continue to expand; and vehicles exported from the US will increase by over 1 million vehicles in the next five years.
During the subsequent dinner we observed continuous demonstrations of the welding, forming, testing, processes, and equipment and asked all the questions we desired directly to the engineers and technicians operating the machines.