A Global Automotive Supplier

MaP Operates a large modern
injection moulding,

assembly, and finishing plant north of Lisbon

producing a variety of automotive interior

components to tight specifications.

It has become very clear that those injection moulders who want to be
Tier One automotive parts makers in the next century have to pass some
very stringent tests: they have to be absolutely first class in terms of
technology and consistent quality; they have to be global suppliers in
the truest sense of the word; and they have to offer enough R&D depth
to be an active partner in the development of new parts.

Following the recommendation of Ford Motor, we found one such company
in the center of Portugal ? MaP?Materias Plasticas SA of Leiria
? that already passes these tests and is poised for additional growth
as a global supplier.

Moulding parts for automotive companies has become, particularly in
recent years, one of the more demanding areas in plastics. Car makers have
continuously toughened quality requirements and moulders had to deliver
or stop being suppliers. Car makers also exerted major efforts in winnowing
the list of suppliers to relatively few ? suppliers that can produce
quality product on a sustained basis and, if possible, do so on a global
and uniform basis. "To survive," said our host and director of
marketing for Technical Products Nuno Queiroz Romero, "you need to
have a global position."

One result of this evolution is moulders that remain tend to be plants
where you find a concentration of often very advanced technology combined
with an almost extreme attention to quality control.


MaP was first formed in 1946 and engaged in the injection moulding
of housewares and bathroom components. Many of these products were plated.
Until 1975, the company was also engaged in numerous other processes including
film and PVC profile extrusion. The expertise of plating parts as well
as the precision moulding requirements of bathroom parts ? such as
faucets ? allowed MaP to go after other business opportunities with
similar precision requirements.

This was the company's primary business until 1975. At that time, it
started to concentrate only on injection moulding of a wide range of housewares,
bathroom fixtures, automotive, and electronics parts. This was quite a
change: in one year the company eliminated 90 percent of its product line
to concentrate just on one plastics production process.

In 1985, the company formed a Technical Products division that concentrated
on automotive components, such as radio bezels, as well as technical products
for customers such as IBM in France for whom MaP moulded structural foam
parts. Other markets were housewares, furniture, various E/E parts, and
industrial products.

The moulding floor is arranged
in workcells,

each turning out components for a separate

product. The company operates all types and

sizes of moulding machines.

In 1991, the company started to design from the ground up a new injection
moulding and finishing plant specifically designed for technical moulding.
Inaugurated in 1993, this plant was designed with the specific quality
control requirements of the automotive industry in mind, says Romero, who
was involved in that complex process.

In 1996, the company split the bathroom business from the Technical
Products business, realizing that these had become two entirely different
companies. Finally, in 1996, the company made a strategic move towards
becoming truly global by entering into a partnership with Key Plastics
USA of Novi, Michigan, USA. That resulted in the name change to MaP/Key.

Rapid Growth

What marks MaP/Key more than any other factor is that the company's
technical products business ? most of which goes into cars ? has
grown very rapidly with growth rates typically found only in such high
growth markets as software and Internet technologies.

From 1994 to 1995 ? with sales above US$ 6 million ? sales
more than doubled to US$ 18 million. By the end of 1997, the company projects
sales to again increase sharply to more than US$ 23 million.

Concentrating on a Few Customers

Key to the company's philosophy is that it can only remain a world?
class supplier if it concentrates on relatively few customers. This, says
Romero, allows it to build long? term relations and provide the incremental
improvements in quality so desired by automotive customers. Today MaP/Key
already supplies customers globally, shipping product to Brazil, Spain,
and France. Over 60 percent of its output ? which first goes to a Ford
assembly plant in Portugal ? is ultimately exported from Portugal.
While technically a custom moulder, MaP/Key more resembles one of the high?
quality Japanese moulding plants that dedicates its entire production to
one or two customers and, in a sense, becomes part of that customer's operation.
MaP/Key's goal is to grow with Ford of Europe, its primary customer. Today
MaP/Key has five major customers. It aims to grow the business with each

This seemingly narrow yet very positive approach to a moulding business
is also reflected in the limited number of products moulded, partially
assembled, and painted in that plant. MaP/Key's Technical Products division
currently produces radio bezels, instrument clusters, housings for electrical
equipment, housings for telecommunication equipment, and cable ducts for
wiring harness. Other parts are outside panels and screens for computers;
front baffles and panels for loudspeakers; housings for electrical appliances
? such as coffee machines, grills, or hair dryers; and components for
office furniture.

A large and fully automated
warehouse keeps

track of resin supply ? limited in

accordance to just-in-time requirements

? completed parts, and extra moulds.

Virtually all of these are parts for which appearance is critical; many,
such as the automotive parts, must be matched to other components. The
company's 50 years of experience in moulding appearance parts, such as
bathroom components, provides a rich knowledge base.

Automotive customers have made it perfectly clear in recent years that
one price of being a supplier is that suppliers will foot part of the bill
of designing and developing new parts. This requires MaP/Key to devote
considerable resources on basic part design and engineering. Some 18 plastics
and design engineers are devoted to this task.

The Plant

MaP/Key had the advantage of building a new plant from scratch just
a few years ago. The plant was designed from the ground up to allow for
flexible manufacturing and quick product changes. This is of particular
importance when serving customers increasingly demanding just? in?
time delivery, says Romero. "We ship to Ford every day." For
finished product, the company's clients maintain an inventory of just 1.5

MaP/Key operates 35 injection moulding machines ranging in size from
40 tons to 900 tons clamping force. Machine suppliers include Netstal and
Engel for the smaller machines and Krauss? Maffei for the larger units.
In addition, the company operates two twin? shot injection moulding
machines. Virtually all injection machines above 500 tons clamping force
are equipped with part? removal robots. Quick mould changers have been
standard for several years.

The injection machines are arranged in production cells, all dedicated
at a given point in time to making one or two specific products and all
related components. The company also has one cleanroom for clear optical
parts such as lenses for instrument clusters.

Materials, stored in a computerized warehouse, are brought to a central
feeding and drying station and are vacuum? conveyed to the injection
machines. MaP/Key uses engineering resins supplied mostly by GE Europe,
BASF, and DSM.

Moulded parts are placed on
trays and then moved

on those trays through subsequent painting, quality

control, and decorating stations before they are

assembled into the final product.

Quality Control Is Critical

For quality control, the company has a fully equipped laboratory. Parts
can be subjected to dimensional quality control on two CMM computer controlled
machines, or on a profile projector, and can be tested with various electronic

The lab and the production control offices next door are right next
to the plant floor, visually connected through large open windows. Supervising
process engineers can access key statistics and other data at any time
and can monitor quality in "real time."

After painting, the bezels are
dried and then

subjected again to quality control. Quality

control is conducted both visually and with

various measuring instruments

MaP/Key has full statistical quality control on several key process
parameters in real time. Additionally, all injection machines are tied
into central MRPI and MRPII processes, allowing for remote computer and
process control.

This devotion to quality control is of great importance for the company's
product line. All parts have to be moulded to very tight tolerances, often
to less than ±.05 mm. Maintaining recommended moulding temperatures,
keeping the materials supply free of any debris, and reducing other such
factors as static are paramount for MaP/Key: probably 90 percent of the
output is appearance parts.

While the company uses every known tool in terms of electronics for
quality control, each part also undergoes several visual inspections. This
reporter counted six different visual inspection steps for the various
components that make up a radio bezel. All over the plant, you find large
boards on which are mounted "perfect" parts as well as parts
with a wide range of problems to assist workers in quickly spotting mistakes.

MaP/Key has impressive quality control ratings from its clients in
addition to operating at ISO 9002.

Many of the final components
are assembled

by robots. Inspection is done visually and some

final assembly steps are also done by hand.

Secondary Operations and Finishing

After being moulded, the parts are conveyed to a secondary finishing
area. There, MaP/Key does lacquering, laser etching, robotic assemblies,
and hot stamping. While much of these operations may appear routine, it
is important to note that MaP/Key applies its expertise and developed many
of these fully automated finishing systems on its own.

For painting operations, MaP/Key offers three separate systems: an
automatic electrostatic paint line by high rotation bells and two booths
for painting with conventional guns.

A fully automated paint line
built into MaP's

specifications paints parts to the required

automotive finish.

Small parts ? in specially designed racks that accommodate several
hundred items ? move automatically through the paint station. Large
parts are hung on a conveyor belt and are moved through a painting line
that offers conventional automatic and semiautomatic spray painting.

The company has specialized technology for laser etching, used to mark
radio bezel parts with all types of graphic designs. For hot stamping,
MaP/Key has machines up to 100 tons and can hot stamp parts as large as
400 mm in width or length. Other finishing operations include silk screening,
pad printing, ultrasonic welding, and heat staking.

Radio bezels and other subassemblies are assembled in a fully automatic
conveyor system equipped with numerous robots. The system is flexible and
can be quickly changed to accommodate various part designs. Much of MaP/Key's
proprietary and patented technology is used for this complex assembly process.

Research and Development

A substantial portion of MaP/Key's annual budget is devoted to research
and development, aimed at developing improved production technologies.
The company has a team of 18 engineers that also work on quality control
and process monitoring. The company is closely involved in part design,
using computer? aided part design, and works with various mouldmaking
companies throughout the region.

At the core of the current R&D program is the development of new
laser etching technologies of painted and nonpainted components, technologies
for two? coat painting, heat staking, technology for structural foam
parts for office and computer components, and enhanced manufacturing monitoring

MaP/Key clearly benefits from Portugal's improving education system.
According to Romero, the plant's 380 workers constitute an easily trained
and very stable workforce. MaP/Key devotes substantial resources on training
and further education for its workers. Another benefit ? hard to match
anywhere else in the world ? is that the plant operates some 20 km
from what must be considered the world's largest concentration of mouldmaking
companies. More than 200 mouldmakers operate in the nearby Marinha Grande

MaP/Key's goal is to become even more global. This, says Romero, can
ultimately only be done through partnerships and multiple manufacturing
locations close to the final assembly plants. MaP/Key hopes to accomplish
this through the partnership with Key Plastics. Key Plastics, in a similar
business and with a similar philosophy as MaP/Key, recently purchased a
minority share of MaP/Key. In April 1996, Key also acquired Clearplas Ltd.,
an automotive moulder in Coventry, England. That company, again in a similar
business, now operates as Key UK.

In the United States, Key operates 10 moulding plants in Plymouth and
Grand Rapids, Michigan; Felton and York, Pennsylvania; Hartford City, South
Bend, and Hamilton, Indiana; and Montpelier, Ohio. The company also has
a plant in Chihuahua, Mexico.

The "Green" Approach

Environmental protection is serious business for MaP/Key. Considerable
resources are devoted to preventing pollution by fluid or gaseous by-products
of the painting or moulding operations. Equipment is selected not only
for production efficiency, but also for energy efficiency. All facilities
are designed to maximize natural light. To minimize water usage, rain water
is used in fixed circuits for applications such as cooling or cleaning.

Comments (0)

Please log in or to post comments.
  • Oldest First
  • Newest First
Loading Comments...