BUFFALO, N.Y. — Industrial designers mingled with suppliers, people who design toys, a man who helped create giant snakes in the movie Anaconda and even a talking gargoyle at a new design conference.
About 140 people came to the Bridge the Gap Conference, held Sept. 4-6 at the Buffalo Marriott. Bridge the Gap was the first conference jointly sponsored by the Society of Plastics Engineers' Product Design and Development Division and the Industrial Designers Society of America.
Organizers and attendees said the conference met its goal of bringing product designers into contact with manufacturing engineers and leaders from the plastics industry.
Even as plastics have swept into the world of consumer products, it's still rare for the two groups to get together, said attendees.
``This is a really great mix and great microcosm of what product design is all about, and there hasn't been a central forum for it,'' said Kenneth Pawlak, a plastics designer at Aksys Ltd., which makes medical equipment in Lincolnshire, Ill. ``That's one reason why the SPE Product Design and Development Division has been so successful. It's taken off like a rocket.''
Only 2 years old, the division, nicknamed the SPE/PD3, has attracted more than 2,000 members — about 5 percent of total membership for SPE, based in Brookfield, Conn.
One of the co-chairman, Jim Karlin, said the SPE design division has held several regional technical meetings.
``But this is the first time we've done a joint conference with IDSA, and truly branched out into a multi-association function,'' he said.
Karlin has an independent company, James Karlin Design, in Fairport, N.Y.
IDSA represents all types of designers, people who work in many different materials, not just plastics. IDSA's Central New York Chapter was the other sponsor. Brian Aiken, who co-chaired the event with Karlin, is vice chairman of that IDSA chapter.
Aiken, senior product designer at Fisher-Price, said organizers first thought Bridge the Gap would be a regional conference. But the meeting drew people from all over the country. Thirty-three companies exhibited at tabletop displays.
Designers are creative people, so organizers tried to make the event fun. There was plenty of time to socialize. Speakers were given a special chocolate bar, molded with the Bridge the Gap logo, instead of the time-honored practice of handing speakers a plaque.
Seminars kicked off the first day. The second day featured an overview of how Fisher-Price designs new toys and preschool products. A tour of Fisher-Price headquarters in East Aurora followed.
Then attendees were bused to a movie theater, where they heard San Szymanski, vice president of Sony Pictures Imageworks, explain how it did computer special effects for Anaconda, Independence Day and Twister. Two seniors at Rochester Institute of Technology also demonstrated Angus, a sinister robot gargoyle they built. Technical papers followed on the final day.
``It's a fun conference,'' Karlin said. ``That was the whole idea — to merge the more-technical side of SPE with the fun side of IDSA.''
Right after the conference, Karlin and Aiken said they were already hearing requests to make Bridge the Gap an annual affair.
Exhibitors called the conference a success, although some felt attendance could have been higher.
``We know it's brand new, but I would say that they had all the right people here,'' said Jim Bell, vice president of sales at product development firm Compression Inc. of Shelton, Conn. ``It's a very, very good way to merge by having designers and engineers together.''
Kintz Plastics Inc., a thermoformer that specializes in helping design new products, showed its wares. Kintz made some contacts with other exhibitors, including suppliers of rapid prototyping equipment, said Todd Helfrich, manufacturing engineer at the company from Howes Cave, N.Y.
One exhibitor in the rapid prototyping business said SPE now can compete against the Society of Manufacturing Engineers for prototyping-related events.
``We probably go to six or seven different SME conferences a year,'' said Olinda Rush, senior sales representative at MCP Systems.
MCP Systems, of Fairfield, Conn., makes vacuum casting machines that make a silicone rubber mold from a part made by rapid prototyping. One mold can yield 25 additional parts.
``I'm glad, from SPE's standpoint, that they are finally doing this,'' Rush said of the conference.
3D Systems Corp. showed its Actua 2100 at the conference. Resembling an office copy machine, the Actua builds a wax model of a part at the touch of a button.
``For us, this is a good opportunity to show our new concept modeling tool to the target market, which is industrial designers. So for us, it's a good, targeted approach,'' said Jay Stone, director of office systems distribution for 3D Systems of Valencia, Calif.
Frank Williams, sales engineer at injection molder PTA Corp. of Oxford, Conn., said the conference enabled PTA to meet industrial designers, not an easy audience to reach. ``The organizers worked extremely hard to pull this off,'' he said.