Oil Bets Are Off, But Jyco Proves Up to the Challenge

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Manufacturers offset rising petroleum prices with material and process innovations.

We're in a good position

While consumers are being squeezed at the gas pump, automobile manufacturers and suppliers like Jyco Sealing Technologies are feeling the pressures of rising oil prices throughout the vehicle.

Outside of the chassis, drive train and sheet metal, virtually all of the thousands of other components are made at least partially of plastic. Of which petroleum is an essential ingredient. This raises a daunting challenge to OEMs and the hundreds of outside suppliers that produce their parts. While raw material costs skyrocket, these manufacturers need to maintain or improve the quality of their components while minimizing the cost. And in keeping with today's pervasive green theme, make the product and process better for the environment.

The problem may seem a bit paradoxical, but some U.S. suppliers are finding ways to rise to the occasion.

Jyco Sealing Technologies, headquartered near Ann Arbor Michigan, produces elastomeric weatherseals for car doors, hoods, trunks and moveable windows. It's a tricky business. What might look like a simple black foam bulb is actually a complex configuration of multiple types of polymers extruded into a single system. The seal must be soft enough to allow easy closure, yet firm enough to keep out water, noise and dust. It has to be aesthetically compatible in style, color and gloss level. And it must retain its shape, elasticity and looks through years of blazing sunlight, freezing temperatures and tens of thousands of closure cycles.

By the late 1980s, most of these automotive sealing systems were made with a rubber compound called EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer). Petroleum distillates are a major ingredient in EPDM, as well as virtually all other rubber and plastic compounds. In 2000, Jyco introduced two weather seals made with a new material called TPV, short for thermoplastic vulcanizate. The new material matched or outperformed the old standard in all industry measurables. TPV is also made with petroleum distillates, and in fact has a higher price per bulk pound than EPDM. But TPV processes much faster and cleaner, and to offset higher raw material costs Jyco focused on making the processing as efficient as possible. The strategy worked then, and is paying even bigger dividends today as substantial economies in processing give Jyco the enviable advantage of being less susceptible to the vagaries of petroleum prices.

"We're in a good position," concedes Shawn Jyawook, the company's chief operating officer. "The average EPDM extrusion line is 400 feet long and draws 250,000 watts of energy. Our TPV lines are 100 feet long and use one-third of the energy. EPDM lines average around 15% scrap on a good day, none of which is recyclable. Jyco's TPV lines average 4% scrap, all of which is recyclable. EPDM processing emits volatile organic compounds. TPV emits no VOCs, and produces less carbon dioxide."

At the same time, they're winning the quality battle. Recent acoustic testing proved their JyFlex® TPV compound to be quieter than EPDM. TPV won't chalk after years of exposure, which is a problem for EPDM. And Jyco has expanded their design capabilities to the point that they can now produce systems for every sealing application in the vehicle.

Good news like this spreads fast. In addition to their North American plant, Jyco now provides TPV parts to OEMs around the world through their plants in China, Belgium, and Mexico.

Petroleum prices may continue to rise. But it's a good bet that entrepreneurial spirit will continue to find new ways to meet the challenge.

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James Mong
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