Growing and Evolving in a Changing Automotive Market
GDC Corporation has built success converting versatile materials like foam and felt into products mainly for vehicle use: airflow management, acoustic insulation, gaskets, seals, and cushions. Now, the company is developing a host of innovative solutions to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s vehicles.
Founded in 1955, GDC is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year. Originally a small, family-owned company providing die-cutting services to the automotive industry, GDC has grown into a variety of other markets, also serving customers in agriculture, commerce, and many sectors of industry.
The company, still family-owned, has expanded into five locations. It sells products all over the world, although its manufacturing operations are in the United States. GDC headquarters are located in Goshen, Indiana. In total it employs almost 500 people.
Over the years, GDC has developed its own proprietary products to meet the specialized needs of customers. Sonozorb, for example, is a valuable solution for acoustic insulation with a number of unique qualities, including being light-weight, durable, hydrophobic, cost-efficient, and fully recyclable. Enduraprene is a TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) made from recycled rubber using a patented process that creates a superior and more versatile TPE product.
Chris Miller, Vice President of Sales and Development at GDC, has helped steer the company in a positive direction since joining its leadership. “The focus of the company since Chris has been at the helm of sales and development has definitely been sustainability, and that has helped us grow immensely,” said Andrew Kitson, Director of Sales at GDC.
Supporting and encouraging its customers to become more sustainable companies, GDC has put itself in a great position with OEMs, reflected in its own growth. Its stance also opens the door to new opportunities to raise awareness about the efficiency of the company’s proprietary products.
“Sustainability isn’t just our marketing plan, it’s the way we do business, and the way we live our lives here. It’s very important to us.”
Recycling, repurposing, reimagining
GDC is committed to finding innovative recycling solutions to improve the sustainability and the efficiency of its operation. In fact, when visiting the manufacturing plants, Miller is known to make his focus clear with his interest in the contents of the dumpster, checking to see what waste can be repurposed.
GDC manufactures most of its own parts and components, particularly in thermoplastics, and its proprietary devulcanization process enables it to recycle rubber and plastics very efficiently. The company takes rubber tire crumb, off-spec plastics, and a variety of other post-industrial waste and manufacture parts out of the waste stream and effectively recycles them all.
That said, the company’s ultimate goal in recycling this material is to improve the quality of the products being produced.
“In certain instances, we’ve actually been able to take natural fibers and work with recycled materials and additives to make them physically better. We’re not going to recycle something or repurpose something just for the sake of doing it – there needs to be a reason why. And that’s to make it better,” says Kitson.
In addition to sustainability, Miller’s vision for the company is to provide customers with products that fit their needs and solve their problems. The way the business was built meant that it never lost the agility to react very quickly to problems as it grew.
When an unexpected delay pops up, GDC begins engineering a solution immediately and gets a prototype to its customers on the turn. The secret is that the company’s outstanding team of engineers work closely with the customer until they have a solution that fits the client’s exact needs.
An exciting challenge for GDC is the unclear future dynamic of the automotive industry as a host of interpretations of electric cars and autonomous vehicles make their appearance.
It’s not surprising that so many companies associated with the automotive industry are nervous about the changing market. Kitson compares the next decade of the transportation industry with how the cell phone market changed after the iPhone product was launched.
“Once autonomous and electric vehicles start becoming the mainstay, some of the vehicles we have today are going to be like flip phones in 10 years. It’s going to change the way everything is done, and it’s changing the way our customer wants us to make parts.”
The uncertainty in the market has led to much secrecy among the leading automotive manufacturers and companies like GDC are anxiously awaiting more information. Still, after 65 years of working in this industry, the company has large resources of flexibility to meet these challenges as they arise. And as technology evolves, GDC is confident that it will evolve alongside.
As a company that offers acoustical insulation solutions, GDC is aware that it will have to adapt to servicing an electric motor which is very different from a gas-powered engine.
Fortunately, over time, GDC has built an expert team of engineers and problem solvers and has a history of successfully evolving with the market and its needs. If there is a thread running through the company, it is the ability to remain relevant and keep up to date with advanced methods of developing new materials and products.
Lightening the load
To serve the upcoming surge in the electric vehicle market, GDC is developing and updating other materials, in addition to acoustic insulation, that it believes will soon be in demand. For instance, to reduce the load on an electric vehicle’s battery the company is working to lighten materials, without sacrificing durability, across the board.
Prioritizing sustainability and lean manufacturing from the beginning, GDC is excited as it makes these changes within its operation.
“The electric market is something we’re very dialed into and it really fits our business plan well because we’ve always been a green company, so there are not a lot of things that we have to do differently. We’ve had these ideas for years, and it’s been good to actually be able to put them in place,” says Kitson.
A key difference between GDC and competitors is that its sales representatives are all engineers.
This ensures that customers receive guidance from people who truly understand the product, with an expert knowledge of specific converted materials and engineering solutions. The company also has a full acoustics laboratory and thermoplastics laboratory, rare for a company of its size but invaluable for new products.
Foam is a material that is convertible to many different applications, and has always been a pillar of GDC’s product portfolio.
The company participates in the annual Foam Expo, loving the chance to demonstrate the width of its product range and its many applications. “When we’re at the foam show we do talk a lot about the foams that we offer but we also talk a lot about our acoustic materials, and we talk a lot about our Enduraprene line.
“I like the way that it’s evolved in that fashion because we get to see a lot of our customers and touch base with them, show them some new things and also see what some of the competition is doing,” says Kitson.
On the other hand, for a number of years GDC has been looking into biocomposite materials.
This began with interest from the European market, but biocomposites are now shouldering their way into the awareness of North American OEMs.
Biocomposites are formed by mixing fibers from plant-based sources. The result is a great alternative to injection molding that uses glass-filled polypropylene because it’s fully recyclable and reduces waste, being so much lighter than glass. Biocomposites are a timely help with the problem of shrinking landfill space in the U.S.
The rewards of service
GDC has been recognized a number of times with awards from industry organizations including an Excellence in Recycling award, the Quality award from GM for four consecutive years, and several Supplier of the Year awards from Yanfeng Automotive Associates. The recognition confirms the company’s commitment to sustainability, quality, and service.
“We try to partner with really smart people and provide them with an avenue to get their smart ideas into the market. I think GDC’s ability to innovate and always have sustainability at the forefront really sets us apart,” says Kitson.
Sustainable, innovative solutions are at the heart of GDC. The company is looking forward to the challenges of today’s – and tomorrow’s – changing automotive market, and is set to evolve with its customers into the future.