CHICAGO — More than 10 years ago, Donald Rainville made a suggestion at an SPI Machinery Division meeting that has since reshaped the industry and netted him a major award at NPE 1997 in Chicago.
The idea: Plastics equipment makers should settle on a single communication protocol. A protocol is a set of rules for electronic transfer of data between their machines.
In the mid-1980s, plastics processors each had their own individual protocols. The situation was confusing and costly for equipment manufacturers. There was no single standard. Microprocessor controls had started to sweep through the plastics industry.
Machinery suppliers, including Rainville, president of Universal Dynamics Inc., were feeling some heat.
``We had all realized that we were in a position where each molder was asking us to conform to an existing protocol, in many cases ones they developed themselves,'' he said.
Universal Dynamics, known as Una-Dyn, makes dryers, loaders, feeders and other conveying and blending equipment in Woodbridge, Va.
Rainville took his idea to the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Machinery Division, where it became a big hit.
``The concept of the development of the protocol was mine,'' he said.
In late 1986, SPI set up a Committee on Communication Protocols. Rainville was chairman. Companies sent their top technical experts.
Rainville served as chairman for 10 years, turning the post over last year to Thomas Richards, manager of software development at Van Dorn Demag Corp., who has written much of the protocol software. Today 70 equipment makers in North America, Europe and Japan have licensed the SPI protocol. Rainville remains a committee member.
The first SPI Communication Protocol, linking electronic communication between primary machines and pieces of auxiliary equipment, came out in 1989. It was a heady time. SPI officials, including Rainville, met at the K'89 show in Germany to talk about a single global standard.
But reality soon set in. At first, officials of EUROMAP, the European association of machinery makers serving plastics and rubber, were enthusiastic. But a small group of German equipment makers blocked a deal, Rainville said.
The second SPI Communication Protocol, connecting a primary injection molding machine with a host computer, initially became available at the last NPE, in 1994.
At NPE 1997, the Internet was discussed as the next frontier for the stalled global-protocol movement. In Chicago, European and North American officials talked about adopting the most widely used protocol that links millions of people to the Internet using nearly all types of computers.
``The Internet technology is so available,'' Rainville said. ``There's so much hardware available. It's virtually interchangeable, and that reduces the requirements to develop that technology.''
Rainville received the Plastics Academy's Achievement Award in Machinery Manufacturing at the June 19 Plastics Hall of Fame induction ceremony and banquet at NPE in Chicago.
Una-Dyn employs 230. Rainville, who serves on the board of directors of the Washington-based National Manufacturers Association, has become a much-quoted spokesman for U.S. manufacturing.
``We are champions of small manufacturers,'' Rainville said. ``I spend a lot of time in Washington. Fortunately for us, we're very close to Washington, D.C., which is the news center of the world.''
Close is a 45-minute drive away. That means when a reporter in Washington, where paperwork is produced, needs comments from a factory, where machines are produced, the reporter goes to Una-Dyn.
Una-Dyn has been covered by the Washington Post and other major newspapers.
``We've been on television 30-40 times, including CNN,'' Rainville said. Footage of Una-Dyn's factory made CNN's highlights of 1996 show.
In early 1995, a major German auxiliary equipment maker, Mann+ Hummel GmbH of Ludwigsburg, bought Una-Dyn from the Rainville family.
``Mann+Hummel supports us closely,'' Rainville said. ``They haven't tried to change how we run the business.''