Volume 16 | Issue 3 | Year 2013

In its industry, Continental Structural Plastics Inc. (CSP) is known as a leader in composite products design and manufacturing. Despite such recognition, CEO Frank Macher doesn’t feel that the company has been afforded deserved due. “It’s time that CSP becomes better known,” he says. “We have been the world’s best-kept secret for too long.”
Based in Troy, Mich. – and established in 1969 – the company has a broad product range. Output includes structural plastic components, bumper beam reinforcements, rocker covers, oil pans, front end modules, and underbody shields. It is the leader in Class A finish body panels, utilizing TCA (Tough Class A) materials and processes. Further, it’s a molder of glass-mat thermoplastic composites, as well as long-glass, fiber-reinforced thermoplastic and direct-LFT composites.

CSP is ever-changing. Considered a Tier 1 automotive supplier (with customers that include BMW, Chrysler, GM, Ford, and Toyota), this Midwest company has positioned itself well – in terms of geography and output – by supplying both automotive and non-automotive markets. Other markets it now serves include battery electric vehicles, heavy truck, agriculture, HVAC, and construction.

As it has changed with the times, CSP now focuses on lightweight materials. Indeed, it’s considered by clients (and within its industry) as the market-leading innovator of composite products. Recent innovations in lighter weight class composites and ultra-light carbon fiber materials have significantly improved competitive position. This focused activity has enabled the company to deliver technology that offers clients a definitive (and measurable) advantage. Specifically, as it collaborates with developmental partners, CSP will supply a quality part to exceed or meet cost and performance expectation, all at an optimal weight and price.

Changing Enterprise
CSP is willing to change its nature as quickly as someone changes his/her clothes. Consider:

  • CSP is involved in a planned $6.3 Million Expansion at its Huntington, Ind.-based production facility;
  • The company will renovate and re-equip its 203,000 square-foot facility to accommodate a new production line for the 2014 Corvette model body panels.

Expect to see changes operational by spring 2013.

“We have witnessed much in only three years,” says Macher, adding that the location provides several significant advantages:

  • A business friendly community;
  • A low-tax environment; and
  • A facility that enables ongoing manufacture of one of the nation’s most iconic vehicles (the Corvette).

Beyond internal investment to propel plant advancement, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation offered CSP as much as $300,000 in conditional tax credits and up to $50,000 in training grants based on the company’s job creation plans. Why? The current government likes – and needs – a job creator, and it was looking at as many as 50 new jobs in Huntington. CSP’s ambition is the kind of attribute that keeps a business, and a community, thriving.

Part of its ongoing evolution includes consolidation of activities – R&D, engineering, manufacturing, and sales and marketing – into a single facility, a new R&D and engineering center. Macher describes the reasoning behind this restructuring: “Previously, the elements were kept separate. But the company, with its new business opportunities and technologies, is developing at breakneck speed. That means that the co-location of all people is

So, not only does CSP have an impressive product line and client base, but its strategic planning is moving the company forward. “The plan is to co-locate, no matter the focus of business,” says Macher. “The improved interface with sales will enhance our advanced material development and our advanced manufacturing, which will enable us to better respond to the voice of the customer.”

Indeed, perceiving a client need and, in turn, developing the solution is just one reason why the company has endured and prospered.

“True, this has been a big move for us,” says Macher. “But it places everyone on the same page.”

And it places people – and capabilities – at the same table. CSP’s considerable capabilities include R&D, materials development, and design and engineering. “Our engineers will sit right next to our advanced manufacturing people, who will be seated right next to the laboratory and material development people,” describes Macher. “They will interface daily with our sales and marketing team.

Compelling Forces
But you can’t talk about the change without considering the driving forces. “It was the automotive industry,” indicates Macher. “What we provide – light weighting – has become an industry mantra. Demand is for greater fuel economy, and that’s what we provide.”

Ford and BMW, two major clients, are looking toward advantageous applications related to such a concept. Macher describes how the company helps: “We’re a composites manufacturer; we produce materials and components, and the supportive subsystems. So while we are a diversified composites manufacturer, we produce a significant amount of products for other applications, including heavy duty trucks, battery housings, residential doors, as well as a number of components for the agriculture industry, but our primary business remains automotive.

For the first in its history, the company sees enormous momentum for significant increases in the usage of lighter weight composites with carbon fiber, glass/carbon hybrids, and natural fillers. “We’re attracting interest from the automotive sector to come up with new materials, even if they come at a premium cost level,” comments Macher.

That has changed the way CSP does business: reducing the time to market and developing on a schedule. And changes have kept CSP in business for nearly 50 years.

Considerable Resources
It all began around 1969, when CSP positioned itself as a pioneer in compression molding.

Milestones include:

  • SMC molding since 1969;
  • GMT molder since 1982; and
  • RRIM molding since 2000;
  • Tough Class A (TCA) since 2001;
  • TCA Lite since 2012;
  • TCA Ultralife (2013);
  • SMC/Carbon Fiber (late 2013).

“Exceeding customer expectations is more than a stated goal; for CSP, it’s a way of life. “As such, it requires constant involvement of top management in every aspect of the business,” says Macher.

Currently, CSP has seven production facilities:

  • Conneaut, Ohio – 180,000 square feet that houses equipment such as 11 compression presses from 300 tons to 2,500 tons, six injection presses from 1,000 to 2,700 tons, two water jet machines, and a manual spray paint line;
  • North Baltimore, Ohio – 320,000 square feet that includes compression presses from 330 to 3,000 tons, injection/compression presses from 650 to 2,700 tons, reinforced reaction injection presses to 500 tons, and a water jet machine;
  • Carey, Ohio – 362,000 square feet that includes 25 compression presses from 330 to 3,000 tons, quick die change bond cell, two CNC machines, a water jet machine, and an advanced paint system;
  • Van Wert, Ohio – a 68,500 square-foot materials plant that focuses on raw material processing and control, and that boasts capacity for growth;
  • Huntington, Ind. – a 203,000 square-foot facility that includes 12 compression presses from 500 to 2,500 tons, quick die change bond cell, a CMM machine, a water jet machine, and a 2K paint system with seven Fanuc robots;
  • Sarepta, La. – a 103,000 square-foot plant that houses compression presses from 1,000 to 2,750 tons, pierce presses from 90 to 300 tons, long fiber direct processing, long fiber thermosplastic processing, and robotic routing; and
  • Tijuana, Mexico – a 125,000 square-foot site that includes compression presses from 500 to 4,000 tons, a robotic paint application system, and complex assembly systems.

“We will be opening an eighth plant in Pouancé, France, and it will be our first effort on a global basis to deliver products to international automotive companies,” says Macher. “One of the requirements for our big-name clients is that we have a presence throughout the world, especially in Europe and China. We are confident that, because of new developments, we will duplicate designs and technologies for customers on a global basis, avoiding the considerable retooling and recertification costs.”

As far as technologies, CSP offers thermoplastics (which provide excellent material cost-to-performance advantages); natural fiber composites (for “green” production); sheet molding compounds (which offer a lower pressure/shear approach compared to injection molding); and low pressure thermoplastic composites (which, for customers, provides a high-strength/low density formula and a reduced low-tooling investment). Emphasis is also placed on prepreg, infusion, and high-pressure RTM, as carbon fiber processing gains in popularity.

Technologies help CSP serve its clients in specific markets in specific ways:

  • Automotive (structural components, exterior body panels);
  • Heavy truck (exterior body panels – hood front end assemblies, front end assemblies, and composite front-end assemblies); and
  • Building Construction (high strength/weight ratio, in-mold coloring, stain resistance, combined with low tooling investment and lowered production costs).

Most of the same benefits apply to CSP’s agricultural and HVAC markets.

Looking Ahead
So the secret is about to be let out, and this is what Macher anticipates happening: “As we move forward, we’ll forge partnerships with companies throughout the world. For example, Owens Corning has a relationship with us, across many functions and at many levels, that creates unique value. We will soon become known in our industry as the leader in our niche – which is composite materials. That means that CSP’s growth will become significant. The fact that we have developed materials with a substantial competitive advantage could possibly mean that demand will outpace our ability to grow.”

All companies should have such problems.

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