LYON, France – Plastic Omnium, which makes 14 million painted bumpers annually for the world’s major auto makers, is developing a paint shop made from shipping containers.

The project, under way at the French supplier’s Sigmatech technical center near here, is aimed at cutting the average E50 million ($65.4 million) cost of a paint shop, says Jean-Michel Szczerba, deputy managing director.

In addition, a paint shop based on containers could be broken down and moved to a new location. “Auto makers never guarantee their volume,” he says, and a less-expensive, movable paint shop would reduce the risk if a bumper contract at a new location didn’t work out.

The prototype paint shop here is made of two containers stacked on two others, with a fifth on the side. Inside, a robot handles the painting of the plastic bumpers.

Containers come in a variety of standard sizes, and capacity often is expressed on the basis of a “20-ft. (6-m) equivalent,” a reference to a standard 20x8x8-ft. (6.1x2.4x2.4-m) container.

The Sigmatech research and development center includes two industrial injection presses weighing 750 tons (680 t) and 3,200 tons (2,903 t) and a Dieffenbacher press for developing structural composites.

The container paint shop is working with prototype plastic-bumper skins for the all-new Peugeot 208 hatchback, which is coming to market in spring 2012. That bumper will be the first in the industry made entirely from recycled bumpers.

Plastic Omnium has patented a process to that allows the polymer from recycled painted bumpers to revert to its original properties.

“The problem is getting the old bumper material to recycle,” Szczerba says.

Besides developing new products and processes, the Sigmatech center also tears down two cars a month to see how manufacturers and suppliers are using materials, and it now has a database of 300 cars.

Plastic Omnium has about 1,500 engineers among its 20,000 employees. Some 450 work at the technical center, which also develops trash containers that will account for about 16% of the company’s E4 billion ($5.2 million) in revenues this year.

Plastic Omnium says it holds 10% of the global bumper market and 19% of the fuel-tank market, making it the leader in both.

At a presentation of the Sigmatech center, CEO Laurent Burelle says the company plans to add 20 factories in the next four years.

Using IHS Global figures, he says auto production will expand 27% by 2015 to 95 million units, and that for the past decade, Plastic Omnium revenues have grown 5% faster than industry volumes.

Burelle predicts China’s vehicle market will grow 5%-10% in 2012 and that the U.S. should grow next year as well. However, markets will shrink in many European countries.