Atlas Copco Gambles on New Car Assembly Technology Investment

Sep 09, 2014 10:38 AM EDT | Matt Mercuro

Swedish engineer Atlas Copco has decided to invest in new techniques in assembling vehicles.

The company believes demand for powerful adhesives and new rivets will increase as automakers look to reduce the weight of vehicles in order to meet emissions targets.

After buying SCA in 2011, which specializes in making adhesive dispensing gear, Atlas Copco decided to purchase Henrob in August, a specialist in self-pierce riveting, which requires joining one or more sheets of material together without pre-drilled holes.

The company is looking for more acquisitions to add new technologies as well.

"Among those (technologies) that are attractive and large enough, there may be 2-3 more out there that we could consider adding to our portfolio," Mats Rahmstrom, head of Atlas Copco's Industrial Technique business area, said to Reuters.

Atlas Copco's interest in new assembly technologies was delayed by a trend among most automakers to use more aluminium to try reducing the weight of their vehicles. Aluminium can be hard to weld however, so some major automakers are looking to find alternative methods to help make their vehicles lighter.

"There is a strong correlation between aluminium use and self-pierce riveting, and some other technologies," Rahmstrom said. "And we obviously think that the trend points to increasing use of aluminium over time, which you also see in studies where there has been a significant increase in the past 4-5 years, in particular when it comes to doors and hoods."

Consultancy firm Ducker Worldwide and the European Aluminium Association conducted a study last year which showed the amount of aluminum used per car produced in Europe nearly tripled between 1990 and 2012.

 "This amount is predicted to rise to 160 kg by 2020, and even reach as much as 180 kg if small and medium cars follow the evolution recorded in the upper segments of the automobile industry," the study said, according to Reuters.

Though major use of aluminium has been in premium car models, Ford recently announced the 2015 model of its top-selling pickup truck F-150 would come with an aluminium body.

"The potential could be enormous. I wouldn't be surprised if the total market for self-pierce riveting doubled when Ford went in with their program," Rahmstrom said. "It's so significant, and obviously other players are looking at what Ford is doing, asking themselves how they are going to reduce weight."

SCA has seen its annual sales double to about 130 million euros ($168 million) since 2010, and with Henrob, it will make of about a fifth of sales in Atlas Copco's Industrial Technique unit.

Henrob competes with companies like Stanley Black & Decker and privately-owned German firm Bollhoff.

"We have followed this company (Henrob) since the mid-2000s, and first there was nothing, then nothing, and after that they have had a fantastic development," Rahmstrom said, referring to a recent surge in demand. "So the important thing will be how many will choose to go down this road."

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