Privately held ABC posted $445 million in sales in 2002, up from about $300 million five years earlier.
It began development of the running-board system in 1997, looking to build an all-plastic structural system to replace the traditional metal component, says Changize Sadr, r&d vice president. ABC's design eliminates all metal except for connecting brackets, Sadr says.
To make it work, though, Saflex Polymer Ltd., ABC's wholly owned compounding unit, had to develop a proprietary reinforced plastic with a specialized fiber that would provide the strength to back up the running board's overall design. Saflex also had to provide color matching and ensure that the material could withstand strong sun exposure, extreme heat and cold, and road salt and other chemicals.
The company's 200-employee machinery division went to work to create blow molding machines that could handle both the new material and the large part sizes. The largest boards will run more than 7 feet long.
"The machine has to have the melt strength for that kind of length," Sadr says. "Everything has been done in-house, and everybody knows what the needs are."
The 10 machines built that have gone into plants in Mexico and Ontario are huge, he says.
Some have required building changes for the 40-foot ceilings required to accommodate them. The company also wants to expand its compounding operations in Mexico to support new business. "When we started to look at running boards, we wanted to come up with innovative ideas, something new in the market," Sadr says. "We were looking at integration of components, ease of assembly. And obviously the bottom line is cost."
Expansion from the small Daim-lerChrysler running board in 2000 to the GM SUVs is a big win for ABC. ABC will deliver complete units from a stock of seven different designs - some painted or with chrome accents for upscale vehicles - all coming in with a 20 percent weight savings and what ABC will describe only as a "large cost saving."
Running boards for an additional 34,000 vehicles will be produced for optional sale through dealers.
Other orders are continuing to broaden ABC's reach, including sales for the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder.
ABC was able to bring the boards to market just as the market was ready for a change, says Kim Korth, president of IRN Inc., an automotive consulting firm in Grand Rapids, Mich. "There's a huge transition in running boards," she says. "When automakers are fighting to get rid of ounces in weight, these can cut pounds."
Carmakers also are looking to plastics to trim tooling and total production costs from trucks. ABC is among a small handful of suppliers ready to provide lower cost and weight choices while plastics have the automakers' attention, and it has the material and production background to support the launch.
"They're in a really good spot from the standpoint of being on the front line with these," Korth says. The running boards are not ABC's only new product.