TransMatic expands electric vehicle lines

February 18, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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Two years ago, the head of Trans-Matic Manufacturing Co. Inc. of Holland — an automotive parts supplier for decades — said his company was not giving up on the auto industry.

“The long-term trend for auto manufacturing globally is strong,” Patrick J. Thompson said then, adding, “I am very committed (to the auto industry). I have my skin in this; it’s not something I do as a hobby.”

He meant it. Last week Trans-Matic announced a new global joint venture to manufacture metal containers for battery cells used in the new breed of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, and it’s already gearing up to supply at least one of the auto battery companies setting up shop in its neighborhood.

Trans-Matic and H&T Battery Components of Marsberg, Germany, have joined forces to launch HTTM LLC, a joint venture that will be headquartered in Holland, with additional manufacturing locations in Mesa, Ariz.; Waterbury, Conn.; Marsberg, Germany; Dongguan, China; Suzhou, China; and Singapore, according to Bob Stander, general manager of HTTM.

Although HTTM is still in the initial stages of setting up its production facilities, Stander said additional hiring will eventually result. Trans-Matic already employs about 240 people in the Holland area. The company also has facilities in Arizona and China.

“We do have plans to hire additional people,” said Stander. “Certainly, we are working additional hours right now with the people we have. We see this as a tremendous opportunity for the area — including us and the OEMs: LG Chem and Johnson Controls-Saft.”

Word has already leaked out that HTTM will be supplying Johnson Controls-Saft, and Stander confirmed it. Johnson Controls-Saft is building a plant a short distance away in Holland where it will soon begin production of battery cells for electric vehicles to be made by Ford Motor Co.

“We are working with several other battery OEMs, both in Michigan and around the world. This is a global joint venture,” said Stander. “I kid you not, we have talked to all the OEMs, because the common denominator for these types of batteries is the container.”

He said that includes Fortu PowerCell, a German-Swiss company that plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a facility for research and development of lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries near the Bayer Crop Science facility north of Muskegon.

Trans-Matic is a privately held company organized in 1968, with extensive experience in design and production of precision engineered deep-drawn metal stampings and assemblies. The company specializes in commercial and residential lock hardware components, but about half of its production has been in automotive, including brake components and fuel and power train components. It also makes metal containers for high performance ultra capacitors, lithium ion batteries and electronic actuators.

Both Trans-Matic and H&T have produced metal containers for batteries, including the covers and the battery terminal assemblies that are part of the covers.

H&T is a division of the Heitkamp & Thumann Group in Germany and is the world’s largest producer of deep-drawn cylindrical containers for the consumer battery industry. Stander said those include the everyday batteries people use in their flashlights and other electronic devices.

Stander said the new electric vehicle industry requires durable, large-format containers that protect the battery cells from vibration and collision damage. 

“There is lots of charging and discharging” of those batteries, and “heat and pressure goes along with that,” he said. “So there are a lot of durability requirements that go along with any type of automotive (battery) product, but certainly our metal containers address all of those issues.”

Both of the new electric vehicle battery facilities being built in Holland by Johnson Control-Saft and LG Chem of Korea received investment assistance from federal grants through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The new Trans-Matic joint venture is also a beneficiary of an ARRA grant designed to support an electric vehicle industry.

H&T, through its U.S. facility, was one of the 30 successful applicants for the National Energy Technology Laboratory major grants to support electric drive vehicle battery and component manufacturing, which was set up by the U.S. Department of Energy and funded through the ARRA.

“With the U.S. government stepping in to help with investments, it’s a great opportunity for our area here, but also for the United States, in general,” said Stander.

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