In business for more than 25 years, Meridian Lightweight Technologies Inc. raised magnesium die casting design and manufacturing to an art. In the process, the company painted a self-portrait with broad brushstrokes of aggressive and progressive business strategy. Less gifted competitors can only hope to match the Canadian-based enterprise’s accomplishments, observes Dan Harvey.
Meridian Lightweight Technologies Inc. is the “Michelangelo” of magnesium. The Canadian-headquartered company has placed this naturally occurring and highly abundant element upon its production palette.
Magnesium is the lightest of structural materials. Natural attributes make it attractive to certain manufacturers. But not just anyone can harness the advantages. Application requires a certain level of inherent finesse. And Meridian Lightweight Technologies, which is based in based in Strathroy, Ontario, is truly gifted. In the realm of magnesium – or, more specifically, magnesium die casting – the company has emerged as a “master.”
The easel placement is easy to understand: Magnesium is 75 percent lighter than steel and 33 percent lighter than aluminum. Obviously, magnesium offers distinct advantages, and these are readily applicable to the automotive industry, for instance. New vehicle models require installation of lightweight components. But don’t underestimate magnesium’s viability because of its seemingly insubstantial weight. This Periodic Chart all-star is quite resilient. It offers strength with a capital “S”.
That’s one reason why Meridian Lightweight Technologies embraced this macro-mineral. The company, and its proffered magnesium products and services, engenders components and feature integration that combines with high dimensional stability – particularly important in the automotive arena, where collective benefits improve fit and finish.
This underlying element of success is like an artist’s oil dab or watercolor block, in the sense that successful magnesium application requires experience, a high degree of expertise, and an instinctive grasp of its characteristics. The first two can be readily, if not easily, taught; the third extends beyond the grasp of the less gifted.
The masterful Meridian Lightweight Technologies is one of the blessed. The company provides innovative magnesium die casting design solutions and manufacturing excellence that result in weight-saving applications for its extensive client list. And be sure, that list includes major automotive industry players (e.g., BMW, Borg Warner, Brose, Collins & Aikman, Copperweld, DaimlerChrysler, Delphi, Draxlmaier, Fiat, Ford, General Motors, Intier, Jaguar, Johnson Controls, Land Rover, Lear, Magna Drivetrain, Opel, Paulstra, Shanghai General Motors, Shanghai Volkswagen, Visteon and WK Industries).
These companies recognize a good thing when they see one: No one does it better than Meridian, which has emerged as a world leader in the design, engineering and manufacture of high-quality magnesium die cast components. Its approach results in innovative and effective solutions, deployment of leading edge die cast design, and advanced engineering capabilities. When you stir high-level manufacturing capabilities into ground-level customer needs, you come up with a recipe – a company – that provides magnesium die casting products that consistently meet and/or exceed specific performance targets.
But the versatile company is not just about magnesium: Meridian Lightweight Technologies also is a leading supplier of lightweight aluminum products. But whatever the medium (magnesium or aluminum) the company is an integral supplier for the automotive industry.
“We provide a variety of lightweight components,” says Jeff Moyer, vice president of business development and engineering. “Typically, we apply skill and products toward lightweight structural chassis and power train components.”
Offerings range from seat frames to instrument panels, and to front-end modules and door closures, magnesium oil pans, transfer cases, transmission housings, console and brake support brackets, steering wheels and specialty parts.
But leave it to the industry experts to recognize and celebrate mastery. In early 2010, Meridian Lightweight Technologies received Automotive News’ PACE award, a prestigious recognition that spotlights automotive suppliers that demonstrate superior innovation, technological advancement and strong business performance. If this were an Olympic competition, Meridian would receive a “10” in all of those categories.
Specifically, the PACE Award acknowledged Meridian’s work on the development of an innovative single-piece cast magnesium inner rear lift gate panel for the Lincoln MKT.
The single-piece, weight-saving design, an integral part of the door assembly, replaces an assembled steel stamping and serves as an attachment point for various components integrated into the closure system. This closure panel magnesium casting, produced at Meridian’s Eaton Rapids, Mich. facility, helps Ford improve vehicle fuel economy by providing more than 20 pounds of weight reduction as compared to the equivalent steel structure, while meeting all safety standards and contributing to enhanced vehicle performance.
According to the company, the breakthrough design provides a lightweight closure technology with significant advantages: complex geometry impossible without stampings, and integration of components resulting in fewer secondary operations.
The PACE recognition – as much an award as a reward, considering Meridian’s considerable efforts through the years – validates the company mission: to be the leading full-service supplier of innovative magnesium die cast components and assemblies in the global marketplace. Specifically, it validated Meridian’s aspiration to be the go-to company for Tier 1 automotive manufacturers and OEMs, especially when it comes to die-casting components and intra-vehicular assemblies.
Throughout its history, the company backed up its expressed commitments (to be a world-leading full-service supplier of cutting-edge magnesium die casting components in the global transportation market) by establishing locations throughout the world (in the United States, Canada, Mexico, China and the United Kingdom) staffed by at least 5,000 employees.
“We have production facilities in Strathroy, Ontario, and in Eaton Rapids, Mich., Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, in Shanghai and in Nottinghamshire in England,” reports Moyer. “In addition, we have a sales office in Plymouth, Mich., and engineering and sales offices in Germany and Japan.”
This global expansion allowed the Meridian to develop a reputation for design and magnesium die casting excellence as it expanded its all-important automotive client base.
But market leadership requires more than just a basic understanding of magnesium die-casting. Indeed, Meridian’s Product Engineering Group offers customers the industry’s best in-house design capability, vast experience in design development of thin-walled structural die cast components, and development of newer and more innovative applications of magnesium.
Moreover, when it comes right down to the nit-and-grit of magnesium die casting at the shop-floor level, the company equipped itself with modern tools designed to better harness its own ambitions. For instance, Meridian uses CAE as a design tool to ensure optimal product development and application related to performance and weight. Further, CAD packages include SDRC IDEAS, CATIA and UNI-GRAPHICS with FEA analysis handled by linear and non-linear solvers. In addition, the company possesses in-house CFD capability.
Here’s how it all turns out: Similar magnesium die casting companies can provide adequate magnesium die castings, but Meridian applies much more advanced engineering and design capabilities, in the process assuring that products pass all tests and meet or exceed application specifications.
ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY ELEMENT
Alan Miller, Meridian’s vice president of administration, raises one more point that might be overshadowed by the company’s strong bottom-line performance: “Magnesium is eco-friendly, especially when you look at it from a recyclability standpoint,” he says. “We’re able to accomplish a great deal of in-house recycling of our own materials. We are one of the few die casters in the world that does that.”
For Meridian, the environment is just as important as any other business element. As such, the company is committed to complying with relevant environmental legislation and regulations, consistent company standards, and customer and community requirements. Further, it focuses on continuous improvement and pollution prevention, and the company designs products and develops processes in such a way that ensures minimum adverse effect on the world that it serves. The company also encourages awareness of environmentally safe practices throughout its entire enterprise. To meet its environmental goals, the company requires plants to set objective targets and subsequently monitor progress.
TOP OF THE WORLD
Meanwhile, Meridian is well positioned to support major customers in key markets, according to Moyer. “We are the largest supplier of magnesium die cast components, as we’ve established global locations not just in North America but throughout the world to serve clients seeking light-weighting through magnesium usage,” he comments.
Adds Miller: “With our many years of expertise and experience, we can design, develop and manufacture parts made with magnesium better than anyone in the world.”
That pretty much says it all.