More MBS CoverageTRAVERSE CITY, MI – Tiny Amino North America Corp., with 32 employees in St. Thomas, Ont., Canada, will grow from nothing in February to about a $120 million operation in 2007, making hydroformed sheet metal parts for General Motors Corp.

In March, Amino formed its first fenders for the Pontiac Grand Prix GXP, and since then it has started making all but one body panel for the Pontiac Solstice.

Soon it will add five parts on another new GM sports car and two more on a GM truck.

"With hydroforming, low-volume parts can be made of steel instead of composites," says Trent Maki, general manager of the North American subsidiary of Amino Corp., which is based in Fujinomiya, Japan. "Metals have better quality and are cheaper."

Amino is a press maker that in the late 1980s began fabricating parts in order to sell more presses, Maki says. It won business at Toyota Motor Corp. on low-volume cars, and the Toyota business helped sell GM on the idea.

Amino’s Trent Maki.

Toyota uses Amino parts on the Sera in Japan, with production of about 1,300 units per month, and the Supra, at 1,000 per month. Another company that builds replicas of classic cars uses the process for vehicles made at 160 units per month.

Amino has 200 workers in Japan.

A hydroformed part that is trimmed with lasers can be competitive up to about 10,000 units annually. Replacing the lasers with a traditional press to trim the hydroformed part raises the potential volume to 20,000 units per year, and that system, called Fluid Multi-Forming system, is installed in Ontario.

Amino uses servo-controlled presses to do multiple strikes on a part, allowing it to eliminate operations. Where a typical high-volume stamped part takes five operations, Amino makes parts in three steps of forming, trimming and flanging.

Maki spent four years working with Amino in Japan, then returned to North America to try to expand into the market. After meeting with scores of people at GM, the auto maker agreed to try the system on the Grand Prix GXP fenders, and Amino took the risk of building and staffing a new plant.

Maki says there has been a lot of interest in the system of hydroforming sheet metal in Europe, where niche models are more common than in North America. But the Japanese tend to build their high-volume models in Europe, and other auto makers don't have the relationship with Toyota that GM has so the idea hasn’t caught on yet.

Maki says Amino is trying to sell the process to European companies, rather than establish its own plant.