Rotomolders told to keep up with technology

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CLEVELAND (May 29, 4:10 p.m. ET) — In the industrial world, computers have changed everything from quoting to new product development to having a consultant fix a problem over Skype, and rotational molders need to keep pace, according to speakers at a Society of Plastics Engineers conference.

Held May 6-9, the SPE Rotational Molding Division’s conference drew about 120 people to Cleveland, said program Chairman Barry Aubrey, a technical service representative with resin distributor Nexeo Solutions LLC of The Woodlands, Texas.

The market for goods has become the entire world, said Jeff Herwig, who works in new business development at Lakeland Mold Co. in Brainerd, Minn. “And yet as the world gets larger, it also appears to get smaller and moves very quickly,” he said. “Product development is now occurring on a worldwide basis, making it much more important to act quickly, because the rate of change isn’t going to slow down any time soon. If anything, competition in most industries and most countries is going to speed up even more.”

Coming up with a quote used to take seven to 10 days, as the part design and quote had to be typed up and mailed back and forth. Fax cut the time down to three or four days. Today it takes just one or two days, thanks to email.

Toyota’s model of early collaboration between members of the supply chain, together with computer-aided design, rapid modeling of three-dimensional parts and process-simulation software have slashed the time needed for product development, Herwig said.

Herwig gave some examples of the global supply chain, where an automotive aftermarket part was designed it Italy for an OEM in the United Kingdom, and the part was molded in China using U.S.-made tooling. In the past it would take 18-24 months to set up this type of far-flung supply chain, where now it takes nine months from design concepts to part production, he said.

Sandy Scaccia, president of Norstar Aluminum Molds Inc. in Cedarburg, Wis., said the RotoSim simulation software is now in its 12th revision. Even though process simulation has been around for several years, he noted rotomolding still lags injection molding, blow molding and vacuum forming in its use.

RotoSim can help product designers get the correct wall thickness in the right areas of a part, which is a critical dimension, Scaccia said. It also can show the impact on a part of enhanced cooling, or the right mixture of cooling, air or water.

”It’s a pretty good picture of what’s going on in the cycle,” he said.

Dave Mulligan has become a “virtual consultant” since he retired as president of Roto Plastics Corp. in Adrian, Mich. That means at his new consulting company, Turn-About-LLC, he can help solve processing problems without leaving his office, by using things like email, cell-phone videos sent from the factory floor and screen captures.

“We’ve already got the basis for a virtual presence in any plant, anywhere,” he said. “Everybody’s got a camera hanging from their belt, or in their pocket.”

Using Skype, Mulligan can give a seminar, take a plant tour, get a close-up of a mold or view entire production cycles to spot problems.

Mulligan said it beats airports and rental cars: “The customer doesn’t want to wait for me. He wants answers right now.”