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What’s a ‘frunk’?

Brocton plant is making part of the first all-electric car

March 13, 2013
By DAVE O’CONNOR - CORRESPONDENT ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

BROCTON - They're part of the "frunk" in Motor Trend magazine's 2013 Car of the Year, the Tesla S, and about 500 a week are fabricated at the Jamestown Plastics, Inc., operation in Brocton.

The Tesla S, the first all-electric car to win Car of the Year, is powered by an electric traction motor on the rear axle, so there's storage space under the hood - a front trunk or, in Tesla-speak, a frunk.

Jamestown Plastics uses proprietary processes to precisely form and trim the interior liner of the front hood. After careful inspection and hand packing, they are sent to Tesla's massive assembly facility in Fremont, Calif., a plant once used to build cars sold by GM and Toyota.

Article Photos

Photo by Dave O’Connor
Shown in the foreground is the liner fitted under the front hood of the Tesla S all electric car. In the background is a proprietary cutting and trimming station, which employs robotics to complete the various finishing tasks. Before shipment to the Tesla assembly plant in California, each liner is inspected here at Jamestown Plastics, Inc., in Brocton.

Jamestown Plastics' president Jay Baker disclosed Tesla wants 650 of the liners by early autumn. And that's just for the S model. A four-wheel drive SUV with a motor at each wheel is expected sometime in 2014. Tesla is headed by Elon Musk, who made a fortune when he sold PayPal.

Tesla is just one of many companies which contracts with the Highland Ave., firm. Other well-known clients include Toyota, Truck-Lite, Moog Valve and Trico.

Some 70 people come to work at the 90,000 square foot plant, including some recent hires.

"We've been hiring people now for the last four or five months," Baker said.

A handful of jobs remain open, he said. The company also has a plant employing about 25 people in Brownsville, Texas.

As the name indicates, the firm started in Jamestown in the late 1950's on Hopkins St. However, the 10,000 square foot facility had no room for expansion, so in 1986 the company left Jamestown after purchasing its present site in Brocton from Niagara Therapy.

"Turned out the price was right," Baker said.

Proximity to I-90 also was a factor, Baker said, since the firm ships most of its output out of the immediate area.

Jay's father, Jim, bought Jamestown Plastics in 1976 from its owner, PrescoTech in Erie, Pa. Jay has been sole owner since 1999.

Much of the company's output is consumer packaging, according to Baker. Thermo forming plastics of all kinds is the company's specialty and results in "efficient packaging solutions," Baker said,

As an example, Jamestown Plastics makes millions of the clear plastic packages for windshield wipers.

Baker believes the key question supplier companies like his must answer positively is, "Are you capable?" This capability must include the ability to turn out quality work consistently, on time and at the right price, he said. Baker says Germany is a model for capable manufacturing.

"They just don't know how to make anything but the best," he said.

This keeps Germany very competitive in spite of high costs, according to Baker.

Baker believes the good news is Chautauqua County has plenty of manufacturing capability. "Places like Jamestown have a century and a half of experience making high quality goods," he said, pointing to Cummins Engine and Truck-Lite as two examples of world-class producers.

Baker is proud Jamestown Plastics is busy in spite of the recent downturn.

"We've managed to survive despite losing multiple clients," he said.

Many of the operations at the Brocton plant were designed and built in house. Liberal use of computer numerical control allows the manufacture of difficult and complex tools to exacting tolerances.

Robotic machines are spread out on the plant's main floor. Baker noted the firm's proprietary robotic machinery is absolutely necessary to make the Tesla part because human hands, no matter how skilled, could not work with the tough material and maintain the required very tight tolerances.

That's why a part of perhaps the most advanced automobile ever made ships from Chautauqua County, 500 every week.



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