DETROIT -- A key supplier of specialty metal parts plans to close three Michigan plants that supply General Motors and the Chrysler group.
GKN plc UK, of Worcestershire, England, will use other U.S. plants to supply powder metal engine and transmission parts to the automakers as it closes plants in Romulus, Owosso and Zeeland this year.
Company spokesman Larry Weiss said the GKN Sinter Metals plant in Romulus has suffered gradual declines in production volume over the past few years.
The three plants employ about 285 workers.
The Romulus plant has been under intense pricing pressure over the piston connecting rods its supplies GM. GKN also lost a Chrysler connecting rod contract to Mahle Inc., said Doug Grima, president of UAW Local 175, which represents workers at the plant.
GKN in early 2004 began a wide-ranging cost-cutting plan to transfer its driveline parts production to low-cost plants. This makes GKN, which operates 18 North American sinter metals plants, the latest in a long line of manufacturers to move U.S. production to eastern Europe and Asia to take advantage of lower wages.
GKN's sintered metals group has opened a plant in Brazil and bought out its joint-venture partner in In-dia. GKN operates 30 such plants globally.
GKN said two years ago that its goal was to operate one-half of its automotive driveline parts production in Asia-Pacific and other low-cost areas in three years. That compares with one-third in 2004.
The company's driveline parts include constant velocity joints, which transfer torque to front-wheel-drive vehicles.
Powder metallurgy combines metal powders and compacts them in a die where they are subjected to enough heat to bond the particles.
The process eliminates most or all machining.
That division posted global sales of just under $1 billion in 2005, Weiss says. It supplies power metal parts for the automotive, aerospace and consumer markets.
Other GKN sintered metals customers include American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. and the Allison Transmission division of GM.
GKN ranks No. 23 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers with estimated worldwide original-equipment automotive parts sales of $5.62 billion in 2004.
You may e-mail Robert Sherefkin at [email protected]