Shape Corp Molds NetShape Into Operations

June 5, 2002
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GRAND HAVEN — The latest local entry into the plastics business seeks to leverage its parent company’s expertise in high-strength metal forming to produce a car bumper that can better absorb the energy of an impact.

Shape Corp., a Grand Haven-based tier-one automotive supplier of metal components, formed NetShape LLC four months ago as a new subsidiary.

NetShape will design, engineer and produce energy absorbers for the automotive industry that are made with an advanced thermoplastic called Xenoy developed by GE.

“Working together, Shape Corp. and NetShape will lead the next generation of energy management systems in vehicles throughout the world,” Shape Chief Executive Officer Gary Verplank said, in announcing the firm's creation.

The energy in question is the shock of impact when a vehicle collides with another object to the front or rear.

And according to Tom De Voursney, president and COO, Shape formed the new division in part because of the demands of customers who wanted a product that would enable a vehicle’s air bag system to sense the impact of a crash more quickly and efficiently.

By engineering both the steel and energy-absorbing plastic components of a bumper together, NetShape hopes to accommodate the increasing demands of automakers for suppliers to increase their capabilities.

Both officers say NetShape’s combined engineering to produce energy absorbers will also help maximize use of raw materials and reduce cost and waste, a goal that’s always appealing to automakers.

Combining the engineering of the energy-absorbing plastic and steel beam components of a bumper was a natural progression, De Voursney said.

“You don’t do independent engineering. You take a systems approach,” he said.

NetShape will initially use existing Shape Corp. manufacturing space in Grand Haven and build its own facility within a year, De Voursney said.

The company anticipates supplying parts to customers for the 2003 model year.

NetShape, which also has a sales office in Farmington Hills, in suburban Detroit, will employ 40 to 50 people within two years, De Voursney said.

NetShape has already signed two major automakers as customers and De Voursney expects additional business in the future.

“It’s been very, very well accepted in the marketplace,” he said.

While initial products will focus on bumper systems, NetShape will expand to produce other systems such as door beams and instrument panels that combine steel and plastic.

Energy-absorbing bumpers have changed radically since their inception in the ‘60s. At first, the rigid steel bumper and its compressible mountings were the absorbers.

Later a lightweight high-absorption aerospace discovery, the fine-mesh steel honeycomb, made its circuitous way into the automotive industry via the bullet-stopping floor of the Huey helicopter.

By the time the honeycomb was adapted to the bumper, it had become a coarser plastic honeycomb that, nonetheless, absorb much of the impact shock that previously was transmitted directly to passengers.

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