From one perspective, SRG Global’s plating and paint lines just may be the longest in the world, stretching from eight plants in North America to two in Western Europe to one in Central Europe and all the way to a facility in China.
Headquartered in Warren, Mich., the company is one of the world’s largest processors of coatings on plastics, providing a multitude of chrome and paint finishes for nearly every major automaker in the world. If you drive it, then its chrome parts have probably been through an SRG Global plant.
“What makes us unique is that a chromed grille coming off the plating line in Kentucky will have the exact same fit and finish as it does in Indiana or in Suzhou, China,” says Lance Colles, the plating shop manager in Morehead, Ky. “It’s a demand that the OEMs have put upon us, and it’s a great challenge because we know we can do it.”
Not that it is easy—far from it. The ebb and flow of modern car design means changes to interior and exterior trim and details occur routinely, especially in the hues of the chrome finishes, which need to be matched to satisfy a designer’s whim.
But that’s where the combination of a seasoned automotive designer, a plant manager and a veteran plating shop expert come into play nicely, making SRG Global a huge player in automotive design and finishes.
ANTICIPATING DESIGN TRENDS
Patrick Ayoub, the company’s creative director, is responsible for anticipating design trends and product needs of car makers related to decorative trim such as grilles, emblems and nameplates.
He’s become a master at taking those ideas—some pretty unique and others farfetched—and utilizing SRG Global’s advanced molding, coating and plating technologies to give customers what they want.
Plastic parts are plated on an assembly line at the plant.
“We have to get into the process as early as we can to make sure we can do what we say we can do,” says Ayoub, who has worked in design at Volkswagen, Chrysler and BMW, among other automotive industry firms.
Working with engineers at SRG Global’s research facility in Taylor, Mich., Ayoub refines the look and feel of the trim pieces before turning them over to plant managers like Joe Hoban in Morehead, who works with plating gurus such as Colles to turn a beautiful color drawing of chrome on a luxury vehicle or a pickup truck into real products rolling off the finishing line.
“With as many OEMs that we work with on such a large volume daily, we know that we have to get it right or problems will occur at the production lines of these assembly plants,” says Hoban, whose plant churns out more than 15,000 plated grilles and trim pieces daily, six days a week.
“But we have the systems in place to get it done right and do it repeatedly,” he says. “That is the key.”
PART OF A $5 BILLION COMPANY
SRG Global is a subsidiary of Guardian Industries Corp., a $5-billion conglomerate that has three major businesses: glass, automotive and building products. The company was founded in Detroit in 1932 as Guardian Glass Co., a small automotive windshield fabricator. In 1957, Guardian filed for bankruptcy, but it also named Bill Davidson as its president, and so began a five-decade surge that saw the company return to black, expand its business lines, and explore growth opportunities in the automotive and business sectors.
Davidson, who passed away in 2009, also invested in sports ownership, acquiring the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, which both won championships in 2004.
Davidson got Guardian into the automotive trim business in 1982 when it acquired the former Windsor Plastics in Evansville, Ind., which was making decorative thermoplastics for appliances, automobiles and plumbing fixtures.
In 1996, Guardian also bought a controlling stake in Automotive Molding Co., a Warren, Mich.-maker of plastic and metal exterior automotive components. The company also opened the 400,000-sq-ft Morehead plant in 1997 with processes that include injection molding, painting and plating for the Ford F-150 truck series and Econoline vans, as well as the Explorer and Lincoln brands.
But the biggest boost for Guardian came in 2008 when it acquired St. Louis-based Siegel-Robert Automotive, one of the largest makers of chrome-plated plastic parts for the automotive industry. A year later, SRG Global was born to capitalize on the Siegel-Robert expertise, and it immediately began pushing to standardize its plating operations and to look globally in the automotive industry.
Workers check on wheel flanges that were recently painted.
In 2009, SRG Global broke ground on a manufacturing facility in Boles?awiec, Poland. It opened in 2011 and began to ship parts to customers in Germany and surrounding countries in Europe.
“When we formed SRG Global, we knew it was time to get serious about expanding our operations around the world to better serve our customers and to create new partnerships,” says Jon DeGaynor, the company’s vice president of business development and strategy. “Automotive certainly is a growth industry, and the goal we had was to show what we do best in the U.S. to other parts of the world.”
“The OEMs want the same precision and quality at any plant we operate, and we do that for them,” he says. “That’s a valuable proposition that we provide for our customers, to be able to meet their demands on a global scale.”
And that’s where plating managers like Colles come in. A veteran of the Morehead plant before Guardian took over Siegel-Robert, Colles says he has been extremely pleased with the SRG Global formula that emphasizes consistency and quality.
“It has really been a very nice blend of expertise in what Guardian brought to the table and what Siegel-Robert had,” he says. He and a co-worker were granted a patent for a satin nickel electroplating technique that includes homogenization units.
“The OEMs have pushed us to a higher level of plating, and we’ve responded to that expectation,” Colles says. “You can walk in our line in Evansville and see the same operations and quality control as you see in anywhere else we have a plant. We work hard at getting it the right way for the customer.”
Plastic plated parts are stacked and waiting to be sent to assembly plants
Like any company involved in decorative plating, SRG Global has to keep its eyes not only on the latest trends, but also on government and regulatory matters involving its processes, specifically those involving hexavalent chromium.
John Thompson, senior director of research and development, has been leading the company into new plating products and processes that will meet and exceed regulatory guidelines but also give customers what they want: a shiny look that resists wear and tear.
“We take compliance very seriously,” Thompson says. “We’re staying on top of all the requirements, and we’re planning ahead for what may come down the road.”
Platers may think dealing with the U.S. EPA is tough, but imagine being Thompson and having to do it on several continents. He currently is working with Chinese and European officials on meeting their hex chrome guidelines, and is looking to integrate trivalent chrome into processes as much as possible.
“Environmentally, (moving to trivalent) is the right thing to do,” he says. “We know the sunset dates for hexavalent chrome in Europe are coming up, and, surprisingly, we think China may move quicker than the U.S., so we have to stay on top of all of what’s out there.”
Also making Thompson and SRG Global’s lives a little more difficult is contending with corrosion-causing de-icing products that are sprayed onto roadways and can wreak havoc on an automobile’s chrome trim pieces.
“We’re seeing a lot more low-temperature de-icing agents, especially in Europe, that contain various elements such as magnesium, calcium and sodium chloride that we have to work against,” Thompson says. “We’re always working on new solutions to get the performance that we want and our customers expect out of our coatings.”
ADVANCED DEVELOPMENT CENTER
That interest in developing new solutions is one of the reasons SRG Global opened its Advanced Development Center (ADC) in Taylor, Mich., in 2010, focusing on the high-value automotive, commercial trucking and household appliance industries. The 46,000-sq-ft center includes research laboratories, a chrome plating line and four injection molding presses that enable chemists and engineers to create parts for coating and testing. The ADC can also produce custom-made, limited-run parts for concept vehicles.
“The products we produce contribute directly to a vehicle’s DNA,” says Dave Prater, SRG Global vice president of product engineering and development, who directs the activities of the ADC.
“In discussions with automotive designers around the world, we have learned that there is a strong desire to partner with a company like ours that can create innovative finishes that allow increased flexibility in the design and development stage,” Prater says. “Our goal is to begin creating those finishes using customer input as a foundation well in advance of the concept vehicle stage.”
One of those finishes is SRG Global’s G-Coat for chrome-finished plastics, which comes in a virtually unlimited number of colors and is fingerprint-resistant, a big selling point for car buyers. With chrome finishes ranging from bright, satin, platinum, smoke and brushed, the G-Coats offer car designers a multitude of tools to dress up their new vehicles and make a splash at the Detroit Auto Show.
The G-Coats are also what led designer Ayoub to push for the creation of special software that enables designers to put the finishes right into a CAD program, as well as a phone and tablet app that gives designers and car industry experts a quick way to see the different chrome finishes.
“It’s all about being in the room where the designers are working,” he says. “They use our tools, they use our colors. Our goal is to be there when ideas first come up, and that’s what is driving our company.”