Ford’s new compact MPV’s architecture is unique and required a high-quality cockpit solution. Simon Duval Smith travelled to Romania for the launch of an exciting new moulding process at supplier IAC
The B-Max features 1.5 metres of unobstructed access to the cabin, its central body pillar uniquely integrated into the hinged front doors and sliding rear doors so that, put simply, there is no B-pillar. Such a configuration draws extra attention to interior fit and finish, posing a considerable quality challenge if a major OEM like Ford is to make this unique vehicle stand out in a very price-sensitive segment.
The instrument panel (IP) is the most viewed component in a car and its appearance has progressed a great deal in the last 10 years; scratchy hard plastics have given way to rubber-like skins. The appearance of deep-section soft surfaces has been achieved with slush-moulding and other techniques but International Automotive Components (IAC) Group has pioneered a faster and cleaner way of ‘wrapping’ a fine PVC or TPU layer over a foam and composite substrate, using less energy in a safer process – namely, FastKast.
The FastKast process is an industry first; a proprietary slush moulding technology which allows PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) materials in powder form to be moulded into skins for IPs, doors and other interior trim components through a unique process. Compared to traditional production processes, FastKast enables energy, cost and weight savings while significantly improving the quality of the skin. The process also allows for reduced CO2 emissions over traditional slush-moulding methods, as cycle time is much shorter and less energy is required per component.
Working conditions for operators are improved too, as heat exposure is reduced and product handling is made easier by the proprietary tool.
“FastKast provides the unique ability to create an even and consistent skin, at just 1mm thickness and in cycles of only a few minutes. The innovative manufacturing process allows us to support our customers in their lightweight design strategies with economically viable solutions,” says Rien Segers, senior vice-president Engineering and Development at IAC Group in Europe. FastKast has been developed and engineered internally by IAC. The new Romania plant is the first to introduce the process and it will soon be launched at other locations in Europe and Asia to support new customer programmes with the aim of adopting it globally.
In October 2012, IAC invited AMS to the opening of its Bals facility, the company’s 27th in Europe and its first in Romania. The plant currently employs 250 people producing automotive interiors. In July 2012, the plant began production to support Ford’s assembly facility in Craiova, 25km away. The facility produces IPs, centre consoles, rear doors, front door panels and headliners for the B-Max. To operate its manufacturing technologies, the Bals plant has attracted a very talented and skilled workforce as plant manager, Darryl Roadnight attests: “We are very pleased with the skills and the attitude of IAC Bals employees.” This is echoed by Maurits Willaert, vice-president of manufacturing strategy, Europe: “I have been very impressed with the quality of the associates [line operators and engineers] that we have recruited here. While we are a small distance from Craiova, we actually have our own labour pool. For example, the engineers who showed visitors the processes here today, all speak English. This skill has allowed our development team to carry out training of engineers and operators very quickly.”
“The Bals plant underlines IAC’s commitment to deliver complex vehicle interiors solutions to our global customers that are in line with their strategies for geographic expansion and global platform manufacturing.
This investment represents a key milestone for the Group’s strategy of profitable growth in the European region,” says James Kamsickas, IAC group president and CEO. “We are proud to support Ford’s launch of the new B-MAX,” says Jonas Nilsson, senior vice-president of IAC operations in Europe. “This new facility also strategically positions IAC to support other automotive customers in the region.”
In support of Ford, the IAC plant was designed and prepared for production in approximately 12 months, and has quickly become an industry benchmark, delivering excellent manufacturing quality, flexibility and service. By design, the 15,000-square-metre facility also has incremental floor space capacity to support future manufacturing activities.
In addition to its state-of-the-art manufacturing capabilities and skilled workforce, as part of its commitment to the region, IAC is working with the nearby Technical School of Slatina to provide training courses for future employees at the Bals facility.