When brothers Rene and Norbert Grenier decided, in 1977, to open a manufacturing company producing after-market automotive parts they could not have imagined how quickly their entrepreneurial spirit would flourish far beyond the Quebec town they chose as headquarters for Rene Composite Materials. Today, the St. Ephrem, Quebec-based company operates four manufacturing facilities (two in Canada and two in the U.S.) and is a leading developer of composite molding processes and a manufacturer of major components for the heavy trucking and automotive industries. Its flexibility and adaptability are keystones to the company’s success.
“What makes us unique in the industry is our ability to offer all the processes involved in fiberglass composite molding, while most of our competitors only offer one or the other of the processes,” says Ron McGaskey, sales and marketing director. Rene Composite specializes in sheet molding compounds (SMC), resin transfer molding (RTM), reaction injection molding (RIM), and hand lay-up molding. About 90 percent of its revenues come from heavy trucking and automotive markets, with the remaining 10 percent coming from the residential door market and other vehicle applications such as RVs and personal watercraft applications.
As any manufacturer knows, designing prototypes for new products can be somewhat risky in terms of time and expense. Rene Composite helps its customers by alleviating some of that development angst. “When customers are designing new products, they really don’t know how well that product will be received in the marketplace and they don’t know if it will take off in the market,” says McGaskey. “So rather than spending several million dollars for SMC tooling, they come to us where they might only have to invest several thousand dollars to hand lay-up tooling. We can then put the product into production in this mode and, if the product takes off as our customer hopes it will, we can then graduate that product to one of the other composite molding processes. So, we can save our customers a lot of money as well as give them a very fast turnaround.”
As an example of the fast response Rene can offer, a hand lay-up concept could materialize into a real part within 12 weeks – while that same part could take as long as 50 weeks to progress from concept to component if it were to be handled through SMC processing.
Many of Rene’s customers begin with the hand lay-up process and then move up to the other processes. “Some customers start with the hand lay-up process if they are looking for volumes in the neighborhood of 1,000 or 2,000 per year,” explains McGaskey. “Then, as their volume grows, they tend to want to move up to the SMC process if their volumes get over about 8,000 per year. SMC will give them a lower cost per component and offers more consistent quality and higher volume capacities.” The company expects the most growth in its SMC sector.
Customers have come to rely on Rene Composite for anything from low-volume applications to high-volume applications. Rene’s hand lay-up process is the choice for low-volume prototype applications requiring expensive tooling with short lead times. This process is used to manufacture components for automotive and heavy truck applications.
Rene serves all the major players in the Class 8 heavy truck market, including worldwide industry leaders such as Kenworth, Peterbuilt, Mack, and Freightliner. RIM and RTM composite molding are the choices for manufacturing components such as bumpers, fenders, and bearings. SMC processes are used to manufacture automotive and heavy truck components such as hoods and roofs for trucks, as well as architectural applications such as fiberglass door skins for residential applications.
“Our engineering support includes CMM (coordinate measuring machine) capabilities; CAD systems; EDI; and FEA (finite element analysis),” says McGaskey. “We also have in-house tooling capabilities.”
Rene Composite Materials is vertically integrated and employs a traditional matrix organizational model in managing its business. “We are a small company and corporate supplies the engineering design and support, leaving plant managers to have control over their domain as they handle process implementation,” says McGaskey.
Rene’s two manufacturing facilities in Canada, totaling 160,000 square feet, focus on hand lay-up and RTM processes. The 100,000 square-foot Pearisburg, Vir. facility, opened in 1992, operates as an assembly and logistics plant. “When shipping becomes an issue with the Canadian manufacturing plants, we often use this plant as a staging plant where we have components shipped in order to do the assembly here and thereby save on freight charges,” McGaskey says.
The 60,000 square-foot Statesville, N.C. plant opened in 1999 and focuses on the company’s SMC processes, as well as product assembly. Rene Composite employs 400 people throughout its four facilities.
With a keen and astute nose to the ever-changing winds of the economy, Rene has its sights focused clear and steady on new markets requiring its composite molding expertise. “Our goal is to increase our markets in other sectors. In addition to our heavy truck and automotive markets, we think a lot of our growth will occur in markets such as specialty vehicles like step-vans and fire and rescue vehicles, personal watercraft, door skins and after-market components,” says McGaskey. “We set an initial goal of 20 percent for this sector and we will be expanding beyond that as we continue operating in these new markets.”
The company experienced significant growth, especially in 2000, when sales revenues reached $85 million. In 1996, sales had been $32 million. In 2001 and 2002, as the market in general deflated, Rene still managed to reap $67 million in 2001 and expects 2002 revenues to top $58 million despite the lagging economy.
As for the future, Rene Composite Materials expects to “be a key player in the heavy truck market and come to the marketplace as a full-service provider as a developer of products for this market – as well as for markets for door skins, bath and plumbing, and after-market specialty vehicles such as high-end limited production automobiles,” concludes McGaskey, hinting at the company’s involvement in developing new processes applicable to the door market and the bath and plumbing markets.