The plastic used in cars is not just any old plastic: since the beginning of this year the Belgian Simonis Group has been manufacturing cup holders for the Mini. This specialised Belgian company managed to make the technically difficult part with the required qualitative look.
Plastic is increasingly being used in cars, but people want to see and feel less of it. Thanks to this paradox, plastics specialists such as the Liège-based Simonis Group are on the rise. “Plastic can range from €0.75 per kg to €400 per kg. This is how diverse the material is. We work in the price range of €1.75 to €105 per kg”, says Ghislain Gilliot, Managing Director of Simonis Group, who has an automotive background at Valeo, Michelin and Faurecia.
1,300 kits a day for Mini
“Out of the blue we received an e-mail from the supplier of Mini, the German ProSeat”, explains Gilliot. “They had a problem and were urgently looking for a specialised company that could produce high quality cup holders.” Simonis Group, which is known for its high quality plastic parts for eye surgery, space travel and aviation, suddenly received an automotive order that made up 50% of its turnover. In 17 weeks they managed to start up the project, including subcontracting, in order to manage the large volume of 1,300 kits a day. The project will run to 2023 or 2024, with options for new projects.
33 people for a high tech product
Each kit processed in the armrests of the Mini contains 11 parts of which some are moveable, and have a mat finish. “There is major technicity involved, although Mini drivers don’t realise this.” says Gilliot. Some 25 people work in Ans near Liège, while eight people work in the factory in China. “What’s unique is that as an SME we have our own branch in China, 100% owned by us. It’s not a joint venture and we don’t have partners. Since we have 100% control, we can guarantee compliance with intellectual property and quality of production to our clients. Our management and I take turns travelling to the factory.” Some 80% of production of this factory is intended for Asia and 20% of production is for Europe. Simonis also supplies small ventilators that control air circulation in the Airbus 350, among others.
Simonis Group grows to €10 million
Remarkably, only 20% of the turnover of the Simonis Group comes from Belgian clients. Currently, automotive comprises 40% of the Simonis Group’s turnover. After the start-up for Mini, it should become 30%, which is a lot more than the previous 10 to 15% orders by Audi for its Q3, Volvo, Mercedes, Ford, Renault, Citroën, and Land Rover. In 2015 Simonis Group had a turnover of €3.5 million, and in 2016 it will be €4.2 to €4.5 million. “Now that the market knows that we helped out Mini with this part, we are getting requests from other automotive businesses. We are also interested in expanding this business.” In three to four years we will exceed the critical threshold of €10 million in turnover. “We will then have the machinery, people and factories to deal with larger projects ourselves”, explains Gilliot, who is increasingly on the lookout for a location for a third factory.