Tailor Welded Blanks showed off new technology on Friday that could lead to lighter, more fuel-efficient automobiles as well as bigger business for the Frenchtown Township metal-processing factory.
The company, at 1600 Nadeau Rd. in Frenchtown Township, demonstrated its “tailor welded coil technology,” which will provide stronger and less costly lightweight parts, helping the industry to achieve more fuel-efficient vehicles.
It also represents a $9.2 million investment in the plant that eventually should help grow its work force, company officials said.
The new system enables the rapid welding together of multiple rolls of coiled steel lengthwise to allow manufacturers to make large numbers of smaller stamped-metal parts at one time. The technology is unique in North America.
“This is one of the company’s history milestones,” said Christian Dohr, TWB president and chief executive officer, during a glitzy unveiling of the new production line at the 300,000-square-foot plant.
TWB’s traditional business has been in cutting sheet steel into custom-tailored shapes, or “blanks” that then are used in presses to form parts, mainly for autos. But the new coil technology can be used to make long and wide strands of steel for stamping out many smaller parts from lighter weight steel.
The new process can be used in a number of coil-fed press and forming processes common in metal fabrication. More than 45 applications have been identified for tailor welded coils in the automotive industry alone, where the coils potentially can weigh about 77 pounds a vehicle, officials said.
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, a one-time TWB employee, was among the speakers at the event, noting that the state’s business climate is changing, allowing firms such as TWB to grow. “Organizations like TWB are creating new technology, and it’s happening right here in Michigan,” he said.
He said a rule of thumb in the industry is that a 10 percent reduction in the weight of a vehicle results in a 6.5 percent increase in fuel economy.
And John McElroy, an automotive commentator and journalist, said such technology bodes well for an auto industry on an amazing rebound, partly due to technological advances.
He said October auto sales were surprising strong, baffling analysts and commercial vehicle sales were through the roof. “How can we be on the verge of a double-dip recession when one million new cars are being sold every single month?” he asked.
He noted predictions that within the next four years the U.S. auto industry will have to hire between 150,000 and 175,000 people directly, and that will create numerous economic ripples.