Asian auto parts manufacturer structures North Texas plant to produce a bumper crop of exclusive products.
Something unique is going on in the black-land prairie city of McKinney, Texas. Located 37 miles north of Dallas, this community of just over 150,000 people boasts the presence of a company that can fairly claim that it makes a “green” product that no other aftermarket company in the country makes. “As far as the United States is concerned,” says Jeff Chen, president of T.Y.G. Products (TYGP), a division of Taiwan-based Tong Yang Group, “we’re the only one in the automotive aftermarket industry doing it.”
Founded in 1952, Tong Yang is a global manufacturing company that maintains 22 plants in Taiwan, China, Italy and the United States. The publicly traded entity employs more than 9,600 people and produces upward of 20,000 products for the world’s major OEMs and the automotive aftermarket industry.
The company’s main production consists of plastic products such as instrument panels, bumper covers, aprons, grilles, door-trim pillars, air spoilers and radiator support parts; sheet metal products, including hoods, fenders, tailgates and cooling system parts that include aluminum radiators, condensers and fan assemblies.
Tong Yang launched its automotive parts manufacturing line more than 30 years ago, and now the business serves both OEMs and the aftermarket-industry around the world. It is currently the world’s largest supplier of aftermarket replacement parts, as well as a major supplier of original equipment parts to international automakers.
It’s true that bumper covers, which TYGP specializes in, differ for different makes and models of vehicles, but they’re all made out of the same material – plastic – and they’re all treated pretty much the same during the manufacturing process using solvents, primers and paint. Tong Yang submits its covers to both NSF Automotive Parts Certification Program and CAPA Certified Auto Parts to achieve dual certifications, but that’s still not the “it” that makes Tong Yang’s products unique.
Always innovative and ahead of the pack, Tong Yang is the first aftermarket parts manufacturer to use waterborne primer in their premises in Taiwan, Europe and the United States. “We’re unique because of the waterborne primer,” says Chuck Duty, TYGP’s local sales and warehouse manager. “It’s a completely green process that’s free of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) or solvents that harm the environment. Ours is an environmentally friendly process.
“So not only do the workers here in the factory not work with the harmful fumes and vapors coming off the chemicals, but also the shops on the repair side aren’t sanding the bumper covers and breathing toxic particles in the air.”
Here’s a brief overview of the process:
TYGP stores the raw material for its products in three, 40-foot-tall aluminum silos at the rear of its 135,000-square-foot plant. The process begins when the thermoplastic poly olefin (TPO) resin is piped into an injection-molding machine, where it’s mixed with a color-concentrated resin and then injected into a mold cavity. Once the plastic bumper is molded, it’s removed by a robot and lowered to a machine operator who trims, inspects and weighs it before it moves to a painting station.
“When you’re dealing with plastic-injected parts,” Duty explains, “if it’s too heavy, it will affect the fit. And if it’s too light, it will affect the fit. You want an optimal weight range, and the ideal weight varies from bumper to bumper. A bumper that’s not correct will add additional time and labor to the installation. And time equals money. It’s important that shops get the correct part so they can reduce their cycle time, maximize their profits and better serve their customers.”
When a bumper cover requires priming, it involves cleaning and a robotic flaming process. Next, the bumper will be sprayed robotically with an even coat of waterborne primer before it’s placed on a conveyor to be baked and cured. Lastly, the bumper will undergo several crucial tests to determine if the primer has bonded and cured with the plastic and will adhere effectively.
This process takes about 45 minutes per cover, and then they’re wrapped in plastic and sent to the facility’s 162,000-square-foot warehouse to await shipping.
Tong Yang’s robots vaguely resemble those that populate the Transformer movies, though none, of course, reanimate and come to life with the menacing presence of that fictional world. Actually, they’re just big jerky bots that perform their tasks with a precise, unerring sameness.
TYGP opened in 1999 with 20 employees, one bot and an output of just 5,000 pieces a month. This first bot cost somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000. Since then, the plant has expanded to produce those 65,000 bumper covers every month, and, now, TYGP uses 11 robots in all. Six of the bots handle the injection-mold processes, four considerably smaller bots are used for the primer and painting tasks and a specialized bot works in the ultrasonic welding and cutting area.
The bots work two shifts along with 90 total human employees in the plant and adjoining warehouse. And just for comparison, the price tag on one of these big bots now runs in the posh neighborhood of $100,000 apiece.
If you’re thinking that maintenance on those mechanical operatives must be a major expense, not so, says Duty. “Our maintenance department handles the regular schedule of routine work. If we’ve got a major breakdown, and we can’t fix it internally, we’ll contact a professionally skilled technician from the outside to come in. But that doesn’t happen very often. They’re pretty reliable, pretty durable.”
Why McKinney? Location, location, location.
Plastic bumper covers are typically one of the larger-size, but lower-cost, parts that Tong Yang manufactures. Because distributors pay their own shipping costs from overseas, Tong Yang execs decided they could shorten distributors’ lead times and save them money by locating the plant in North Texas. “Also, the City of McKinney’s business and development group embraced us from the very beginning,” Duty says. “And since then, we’ve realized we found a good home.”
Some European automakers use environmentally friendly manufacturing processes, but Chen speaks proudly of the fact that TYG Products is the first in the States to do so. Still, he prefers to stay focused on the body shop owners’ need to give their customers prompt and quality service.
“We understand that the collision repair shops’ cycle time is the key component in their profitability,” he says, “and we strive every day to find ways to improve the quality, packaging and handling of our products, and to gain the trust of the collision repairers so that they ask for our products.”