The Grand Rapids New Car Dealers Association has honored Cascade Engineering with its 2013 Celebration of Innovation: Automotive Supplier of the Year award, presented Jan. 30 at the Michigan International Auto Show at DeVos Place.
The car dealers selected Cascade Engineering for its development of lighter automotive parts to keep down overall vehicle weight, therefore increasing fuel efficiency. Another plus is that Cascade’s parts are made out of plastic, which is completely recyclable — a strong environmental advantage.
In particular, the car dealers association cited Cascade Engineering’s injection molded dash silencer. According to Cascade Vice President Bob Rosenbach, the company has been making “different generations of this for almost 20 years.” Rosenbach is in his 28th year with Cascade.
“We are the originators of the injection-molded dash mat,” he added. Dash mat is another name often used by engineers when referring to a dash silencer. It is currently going into the Ford Taurus and Chrysler 300, and Rosenbach said Honda will begin using it soon.
Cascade uses an injection-molding process that allows a precision-made dash silencer with varying thicknesses, which is more efficient and effective than what can be done by thermoforming.
The dash silencer is a plastic mat attached to the sheet metal that separates the engine compartment from the passenger compartment. Another layer of sound-absorbing material made of polyester or polypropylene is attached to the plastic mat, so the finished silencer, when in place, reduces engine noise and road noise by deflecting and absorbing it.
Cascade does the basic R&D on its dash silencer product line and provides automakers with specifics on a product’s acoustic capabilities, which the automakers confirm in their own tests.
Rosenbach mentioned that some dash silencers are designed to allow some noise into the car — those would be in sportier car models, whose owners want to be able to hear some of that horsepower for which they are paying.
“This dash silencer is 100 percent recyclable,” said Rosenbach, and a significant portion of the raw materials Cascade uses have been recycled and reprocessed. One example is the polypropylene, which comes from old car battery cases. Rosenbach noted that Cascade Engineering’s founder, Fred Keller, was using recycled material long before it became the “in” thing to do in manufacturing.
Automotive products generate about one-fourth of Cascade Engineering’s annual sales revenue, which totals about $250 million. About 550 people work at the plant in Cascade Township near the airport, with another 500 at locations outside of Grand Rapids. The company also has a manufacturing site in Budapest.
Rosenbach said he expects to see steady growth in the auto industry in North America over the next couple of years. Based on what he hears within the industry, the prediction is for 2013 light vehicle production to range from 15 million to 15.5 million units.
However, the auto industry suppliers “are going to be very cautious” about investing extra capital in new equipment and facilities, he said. Companies that have already tweaked their business to be as lean as possible “are going to be very careful about rapidly expanding their businesses, simply because capacities got so high” before the recession, and when new car sales dropped by almost half, “there were a lot of people who were really hurt by it or went out of business because they were 100 percent automotive.”