Plain City research center testing future of auto manufacturing


Researchers at KTH’s R&D Technical Center in central Ohio are playing a critical role in trying to ensure the Champaign County manufacturing firm is ahead of the curve in a rapidly changing auto industry.

KTH is an auto parts maker for Honda that specializes in metal stamping and welding operations. The company is one of the region’s largest employers and invested more than $3.7 million to develop a research center in late 2015 as auto makers faced higher fuel economy demands and crash test standards.

MORE: Father, daughter team up for surgeries at Springfield hospital

The research and design center has 19 employees who develop new ways to blend materials and new manufacturing processes. There are plans to add some additional employees by the end of the year.

MORE BUSINESS NEWS: Enon-based Speedway hits near record earnings of $239M

“We wanted to separate ourselves from the like suppliers,” said Rob Hayes, senior vice president of engineering, quality and production at KTH.

Federal fuel efficiency requirements are pushing automakers to develop vehicles that can achieve 42 miles per gallon by 2020 and 54.5 mpg by 2025. The Trump administration has announced plans to re-examine those requirements, but KTH officials said automakers will likely continue to push for safer, more efficient vehicles regardless of the federal requirements.

READ MORE: New $55M auto parts part under construction in Springfield

The R&D facility in Plain City serves several purposes for the company, said Anoop Samant, senior engineer for research and development for KTH. Staff at the facility study everything from stamping ultra high strength steel to new ways to blend aluminum and steel components for auto parts to achieve more lightweight vehicles.

Researchers also work closely with guest engineers from Honda to ensure KTH’s products match the automaker’s needs.

European manufacturers have had success mixing materials to develop lightweight auto parts, but not all of those techniques work for facilities like KTH, which makes auto parts at a much higher volume, said Tom Rose, manager of engineering at the Plain City site.

RELATED: Buyers stretch out car loans to record lengths to lower monthly bills

One of the goals at the R&D center is to develop cost-effective manufacturing techniques that can be applied at KTH facilities in St. Paris and across other sites in the U.S. Company officials said the facility is also a sign of the company’s commitment to central Ohio and its workforce in Champaign County. Some of the processes and materials being studied in Plain City won’t make it onto the manufacturing floor for three to five years.

Staff at the site use computer simulations to determine how the products and designs being developed will hold up in a crash, Rose said. The simulations tell staff at the site exactly how individuals auto parts and materials would fare in a simulated crash.

READ MORE: Longtime Urbana auto dealer sold to SVG Motors

The site itself was chosen to attract new talent and to develop partnerships with other firms throughout the state, Samant said. Its location just outside Columbus allows the company to draw from universities and other businesses across the state, and ideally lure skilled workers in an increasingly competitive market.

Researchers at the site also study techniques like self-piercing rivets, in which as much as eight tons of force are applied to a rivet, allowing two separate materials to lock together without a traditional weld.

The process is stronger than a traditional weld and can join materials like steel and aluminum, said Aaron Casares, a process engineer at the facility. Researchers at KTH are working to determine how best to adapt the technology to its products and to its customers’ needs.

“Even though the technology has been there, how do we adapt it to our needs,” Rose said. “That’s something we need to figure out.”



Reader Comments


Next Up in Local

Richmond school shooting: ‘It sounded like a pistol,’ fifth-grader says of gunshots
Richmond school shooting: ‘It sounded like a pistol,’ fifth-grader says of gunshots

It started as a normal morning today at Dennis Intermediate School, but ended with the suicide of a 14-year-old who shot his way into the school. “It was calm until they said it was a lockdown. Everybody thought it was a drill until they said it again really fast,” said fifth-grader Jayla Henderson. Then, moments later, Jayla said she and...
Driver arraigned in crash that injured Northwestern school board member, killed husband
Driver arraigned in crash that injured Northwestern school board member, killed husband

A Sidney man pleaded not guilty this week to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in a June 30, three-vehicle crash that injured a Northwestern school board member and killed her husband. Charles Robbins 61, appeared in Miami County Municipal Court. He is free without bail. A pretrial hearing was scheduled for Jan. 17. Miami County Sheriff’s deputies...
Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he has no regrets after 8 years in office
Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he has no regrets after 8 years in office

Republican Gov. John Kasich, who leaves office next month, put it all on the record Thursday at a lunch meeting with the press. Here is what we learned: 1. No Regrets. “I’m totally thrilled with the eight years. It was a great time,” he said. “There is one little regret I’m not going to tell you. I’m really...
Study finds heavy metals in popular baby food brands
Study finds heavy metals in popular baby food brands

A recent Consumer Reports study revealed the presence of heavy metals in popular baby foods. Dan Snyder would do anything for his son Austin. So when he found out his son’s baby food was listed on Consumer Reports’ heavy metals list, he was concerned. “We were shocked to see how many baby foods out there that are on the market that...
Partial government shutdown possible: Here’s what it means for Wright-Patt
Partial government shutdown possible: Here’s what it means for Wright-Patt

A quarter of the federal government could shut down just before Christmas if lawmakers don’t agree on a spending bill, but the area’s largest federal employer should escape closing. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is not expected to close if President Donald Trump continues his threat to force a partial government shutdown if Congress does...
More Stories