HOLLAND TOWNSHIP — As automakers continue to seek out lightweight components for their vehicles, one West Michigan manufacturer is betting that its relatively new stamping technology will help fill that demand.
Supplier GNS America Co. specializes in hot stamping for the automotive industry, a technology that can yield lighter and stronger products than typical stamping processes. While the technology has been available for a decade, it’s gained considerable popularity in recent years as manufacturers seek out lighter components as they try to build cars that adhere to stricter fuel economy standards.
“Lightweight structural components and crash components are the huge drivers in the industry right now,” said Josh Shaw, operations manager with GNS America. “The strength-to-weight ratio that you get out of hot-stamped components is comparable to aluminum, so it’s a big industry trend.”
GNS recently announced a $2.8 million expansion project to keep up with the growing demand for its hot-stamped and other automotive components. The new project will add 40,000 square feet to the company’s roughly 135,000-square-foot facility in Holland Charter Township.
Shaw notes the expansion will make room for additional hot-stamping capacity and laser equipment for manufacturing automotive structural components.
GNS also plans to grow its assembly operations as a result of the expansion, which is expected to create 30 additional jobs at the plant over the next two years.
Holland Charter Township supported the expansion project with a $430,000 state Community Development Block Grant that will be used to improve a variety of infrastructure needs, including a retention pond around the facility.
The South Korea-based company, which launched its local operations in 2009, currently employs approximately 200 workers and generates annual sales of approximately $65 million in North America, Shaw said.
According to Shaw, hot stamping will likely continue to help drive business for GNS America going forward.
The process is “expected to become the industry standard for structural body components,” according to report on the global stamping market by Germany-based Roland Berger GmbH.
Roland Berger expects the overall market for stamped components to grow to 127 billion euros (roughly $152 billion) by 2025, a 23-percent increase from 2015.
On its own, hot stamping is expected to grow 11 percent between 2015 and 2025, outpacing the growth of other stamping processes, according to the report.
Hot stamping uses a proprietary steel that is heated to a near molten state before it is stamped in a cooled die, Shaw said. The rapid cooling action effectively heat treats the component during the manufacturing process, yielding a stronger, but lighter part.
“This is what gives it the strength and allows you to use a lighter-gauge material,” Shaw said. “Normally, if you were to heat treat material that was that thin, you would get a lot of warping and you wouldn’t get the precision that you need.”
The company plans to install several additional hot-stamping lines throughout its North American footprint, which includes a production facility in Mexico, Shaw said. GNS also operates facilities in South Korea and China.
“One of the things that’s driving us is our international footprint continues to grow, so we’re being looked at more and more in the industry as a supplier that can support international platforms,” Shaw said. “We have partners in other parts of the world that we continue to grow with so we are looking in the future to be a top contender in the hot stamp on an international platform.”
GROWING A CULTURE
GNS America attributes much of its growth to developing a cohesive team in West Michigan.
The company has focused its efforts toward on-boarding new employees and ensuring they fit into the organization’s culture.
“We definitely as a company do not believe in just throwing warm bodies at it,” Shaw said of GNS America’s hiring decisions. “The people who come on board for us, we have to see if they fit into our culture. … People’s attitude and drive and willingness to work and learn, these are the key factors for us to continue to drive our culture. Technical aptitude is important, but this can be trained.”
To help hire the best people, GNS America offers its employees attractive health and retirement benefits, Shaw said.
“We want to take care of people’s families, not just the employee because if we take care of their families, they’re coming to work and they don’t have these other stresses,” he said. “We strive to be an industry leader in what we provide for health care. Same thing for retirement. We’re constantly looking at how can we provide a better retirement plan for our employees. We want people to come here and look at this as a place to retire. We’re investing in them, but in return, they’re investing in us to help us to grow.”
Ultimately, GNS America sees talent as one of its top pathways for growth.
“Our drive is to be the best employer in West Michigan,” Shaw said. “The reason that this is our vision is we know the people will make us successful. When we are the best employer in West Michigan, we will be able to attract the best talent that’s available.”