ST. LOUIS — Hill-Rom Co. certainly wasn't lying down on the job when it created the TotalCare hospital bed. The product was the result of a close partnering of designers, molders and mold makers that used multiple plastic materials and processes.
The elaborate, multifunctional bed kept industry tongues wagging during SPI's Structural Plastics Division meeting in St. Louis.
The judging committee took notice, too: The Batesville, Ind., company rolled away with a special judges' award in the medical and scientific category during the March 31-April 1 conference.
The firm's design team selected numerous processes it believed to be the most advantageous for the project. The team considered such variables as part size, detail and cost effectiveness, said Jeffrey Welling, senior mechanical design engineer for Hill-Rom.
Pooling the resources of designers and molders for the project was intentional, said Welling.
``There were probably six mechanical designers in the development of [the project] at one time,'' he said.
Among the processes: extrusion blow molding, gas injection molding, thermoforming and injection molding.
Modern Plastics Corp. of Benton Harbor, Mich., was the primary blow molder for the project. The company manufactured the headboards, footboards and over-the-bed trays. KEY Manufacturing Inc. of Madison, Ind., gas injection molded various parts for the bed.
A primary mold maker, Preferred Tool Co. Inc. of Seymour, Ind., provided molds for the side rails. Southern Indiana Mold Corp. of North Vernon, Ind., also provided various molds, Welling said.
The design team made use of computer-aided design; mold flow analysis, which involves using a computer program to help predict the flow direction of the plastic within the mold; and finite element analysis, in which a computer-generated model is used to determine how a part will react to stress before it is molded.
A wide range of plastics materials used for the bed were selected to meet structural requirements. Those materials include a polyphenylene oxide-polyphenylene ether resin blend, polypropylene, polyethylene, polyurethane and acetal.
Roger Duncombe, general manager of Modern Plastics' blow molding division, stressed that the success of the part was due to the ``partnering of designers and molders.''
``Hill-Rom came up with the design and we would critique it until we got the product that worked for them,'' he said.
Then it became a learning process, a matter of arriving at a design that could be blow molded. Blow molding the headboards and footboards was preferable to creating them through the injection molding process, Duncombe said, because Hill-Rom wanted a part that was ``hollow but structurally sound.''
Blow molding the parts also kept the costs down, he added. Modern Plastics was involved in the project for about 18 months, Duncombe said.
Hill-Rom, a subsidiary of Batesville-based Hillenbrand Industry, has begun marketing the TotalCare bed to hospitals, Welling said. The cost of a bed depends on how it is tailored to meet its customer's needs.
The bed provides a myriad of services, including bed and chair settings; a removable footboard; dual-functioning manual and electronic patient and caregiver controls; side rail controls; a night light; and the capability to upgrade bed functions.
The judges' special award is meant to call attention to a part that did not capture its category, said Brian Sumpter, southern operations business development director for Mack Molding Co. of Inman, S.C. Sumpter was chairman of the parts competition.