Issue Nov Dec 15
Vehicles are getting lighter and quieter every year, and an array of products work behind the scenes to keep them that way. As new materials such as aluminum and thinner sheets of metal reduce weight in vehicles, additional reinforcement sometimes is needed. To reduce noise, sound-dampening materials are installed behind door panels and vehicle ceilings. But all sound is vibration, so reducing noise also requires dampening the vibration of components.
“Customers are demanding quieter cars,” Vice President of Sales Denny Pedri observes. “The need for quiet started with telematics and the introduction of Bluetooth in cars. Customers want to have conversations without hearing road, engine and wind noise. This is driving the push for quieter interiors, which also gives the impression of a better car. The overall intention is to make the car library-quiet.”
Nitto Automotive supplies acoustic, structural and insulating products to deaden sound and inhibit vibration that are used in many locations in vehicles, including in the ceiling and the four pillars in each corner of a vehicle’s cabin. Most of its products are targeted to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) but they also are supplied to Tier 1 and 2 suppliers. Approximately 80 percent of its products are automotive, and many are used to prevent air infiltration, which causes noise, and to cushion rattling or squeaking parts.
“Our primary focus is in the Americas,” Pedri says. “And our core focus is acoustics in general. Our slogan is ‘We make the car quieter’ to help people understand what we do. There are hundreds of small little pieces of foam in the car, and we like to provide a complete portfolio for these parts.”
Nitto Automotive supplies multiple ways to reduce noise and vibration in vehicles, including insulators, barriers, dampers and isolators. “All of our products cannot be seen – they’re underneath the layers of carpet, usually right on the body metal,” Pedri says.
Damping products reduce vibration. Some act like a shock absorber. These frequently have adhesive on them so they can be stuck on during the vehicle assembly process, or they are baked on and expand when the vehicle frame goes through an oven to cure its finish. They may be under the carpet or on the inside of a door.
Not Just for Luxury
Although luxury vehicles use more products to reduce noise, all classes of vehicles use them now, such as to stiffen metal or plastic panels thinned for economy or weight. Products to stiffen doors to give them a solid sound when they close are popular and required on most cars regardless of their sale price.
Stiffener patches are made of an epoxy resin with a fiberglass cloth laminated on top that is 2mm or 3mm thick. They are usually 4 inches by 6 or 8 inches and have a peel-off liner with adhesive underneath. They are placed on the inside of a vehicle door and are baked in the oven that cures painted coatings on the vehicle. That baking causes the patch to expand.
“If you have a standard piece of steel door 1mm thick, by placing a 2mm thick epoxy resin stiffener on, it it will take five times the deflection force,” Pedri maintains. OEMs can use a thinner metal, and the stiffening patch on the door makes it feel as if it is thicker.
Another expandable product goes under a vehicle’s ceiling fabric and creates a cushion when it expands under heat. Vehicle pillars have a different type of expandable foam that is structural and provides protection in the event of a side-impact roof crash. A variety of dampers and barriers under a vehicle’s carpet are either asphaltic or butyl-based and are baked onto the metal floor in the finishing operation or adhered to it.
A variety of tapes are used in vehicles, some of which employ structural adhesives. “It’s stronger than welds,” Pedri maintains. “On our destruction test, the steel will break apart before the epoxy gives. It’s very impressive.”
Nitto Automotive knows that selling OEMs sophisticated and expensive noise-control devices requires demonstration. One such device is called a doubler. It is made of a viscous elastic material that expands and bridges the gap between two plates of steel, one on a vehicle’s transmission tunnel and another welded over it to reduce noise.
“It creates a very strong and effective damper,” Pedri maintains. It is called a doubler because it simultaenously stiffens the steel plate and dampens the sound. “It’s not the cheapest solution.” Pedri concedes. “However, when you have a need, we can provide everything from the low-cost asphaltic products to the high-cost doublers. Our philsophy is to not just provide products, but to provide proven solutions.”
The performance of doublers is demonstrated in Nitto’s lab that shows how the company’s products reduce noise. Sophisticated laser barometers and other acoustic tools provide noise analyses that are displayed in colored graphs and animation. Customers can compare the noise reduction that the devices achieve to the sound that would be heard in the vehicle without them.
“We dominate the market for doublers because quite often doublers are only purchased when there’s an extreme problem,” Pedri asserts. “They’re expensive for an OEM. It takes a scientific approach, and that’s where we shine – it’s what we target.”
Nitto Automotive has a two-pronged approach to its business. “To be a big supplier of the OEMs, you have to have the commodity business well under control,” Pedri stresses. “You can’t just work on innovation. OEMs often are looking for that highly competitive price on older technology products. You want to add the innovative segment in order to bring in profits and impress your customer with your technology.”
To achieve that, Nitto Automotive has two research and development centers, one in Kansas City, Mo., and the other in Lakewood, N.J., where the design-driven company’s technicians will bring an entire job, such as a vehicle door or hood, to their lab and demonstrate the improvement the company’s products can make. Nitto Automotive also encourages its customers to use its labs at no charge.
Converting into Products
Much of the manufacturing process at Nitto Automotive is called converting, in which a bulk product such as foam, felt or fabric is converted through die-cutting and other processes into a finished product. Nitto manufactures its own adhesives and foam rubber for many of its products. “I think we’re the only company worldwide that I know of that actually makes a foam and adhesives and converts,” Pedri maintains.
The majority of Nitto’s products are made in the USA. A Nitto factory in Monterrey, Mexico, does converting and manufactures expandable sealers. “We send a lot of our high-labor products to low-cost regions,” Pedri says. “Monterrey has a lot of people that do hand-assembling and converting.” Some components are supplied from Taiwan, but the company relies mostly on products supplied in the United States to avoid slowdowns in international shipping.
With government regulations mandating more fuel-efficient vehicles, Pedri sees a bright future for Novi’s products. As the use of aluminum in vehicles becomes mainstream, the acoustic qualities, the stiffening and vibrations of the metal change because components often are thicker, but lighter. Nitto Automotive also is researching products for use with carbon fiber vehicle components.
Nitto Automotive has a complete selection of its products available at its headquarters and lab in Novi, Mich., which is near many OEM’s automotive plants. So when a sudden need develops from an OEM’s executive walking the assembly line and discovering a flimsy panel, or during a product launch, a Nitto salesperson can be on the assembly line with a solution within a half-hour.
“These opportunities are the ones that require speedy service,” Pedri declares. “The first person there can end up with the business, and we want to be the first one in. What we call countermeasures often present more opportunity because they are urgent situations. It’s a bit of an opportunity, but hopefully, we’re still competitive, too.”
Nitto Automotive has a large global footprint, which Pedri considers one of its competitive advantages. “The OEMs now have global specifications,” Pedri points out. “They would like to have the same product in a different country. We try to satisfy that by going into other regions.”
Another competitive advantage is Nitto’s customer service. “In a world of commodities, you can only make a difference with good people who are very responsive, answer phones at any time of the night and provide samples quickly,” Pedri emphasizes.