CORONADO, CALIF. — The plastics industry will benefit if it forges closer ties with industrial designers, according to members of a key design association.
Industrial designers ``dictate the use of an enormous amount of plastics,'' said Mark Dziersk, vice president of design with Herbst LaZar Bell Inc. of Chicago and executive vice president of the Industrial Designers Society of America.
Executive committee members also discussed computer-aided-design transferability and plastics coloration in interviews at IDSA's national conference, held Sept. 23-26 in Coronado.
The plastics industry ``ought to get on board with us,'' Dziersk said. Designers take credit for conceptualizing and then popularizing materials like Santoprene thermoplastic elastomers and translucent polyethylenes, said Dziersk.
Translucent PE ``came out of our need for a fresh, inspired look and feel and texture,'' Dziersk said.
``And we are working hard on the next one,'' he said, without disclosing details. ``We haven't quite got a handle on it, but when we get there, it is going to dictate hundreds of thousands of pounds of plastics being sold.''
Design differentiates products in many cases, he said.
``People often think it's plastics'' that differentiates a product, but ``there are a lot of especially price-competitive products where they are both made of [poly]propylene, and the reason someone will buy [one] over the other is design,'' he said.
That element and wide use of CAD software have led to ``designers in many cases dictating shape, form, material [and] use of material and creating the tools for those materials to become products,'' Dziersk said.
``In the matter of a few days, an engineer-designer can understand specific gravities, effective vacuum, the thermodynamics of mold flow by pressing buttons and using this awesome machine,'' he said. This previously unavailable capability ``has given a great freedom to industrial designers.''
Transferring CAD files remains an issue within the industrial design community.
``Early on, the transfer from a design platform like Alias to a manufacturing [program such as] Pro/E[ngineer] very often meant you lost a lot of detail in refinement,'' said Craig Vogel. The difference reflected ``the other group's ability to translate your data and see the value in the details.''
Transfer protocols are ``still a challenge'' but ``every year it is getting better,'' said Vogel, associate dean at Carnegie Mellon University's college of fine arts in Pittsburgh and IDSA president. Less sophisticated translators have ``not managed to get on top of the technology,'' he said, but ``the best people are doing it more effectively.''
Dziersk added, ``When it's Pro/E to Pro/E, it's wonderful. Everybody is happy. When you have to go through Aegis or some sort of a translation file, even the slightest spline that doesn't match up can cause you weeks of headaches. It's terrible.''
Plastics color selection and stability concern designers.
``We want to develop some colorations that will compete well with the mind-set of the buyers and users typically attuned to metal furniture,'' said Ronald Kemnitzer.
``We want some coloration in plastic that does not mimic the metal, but goes a step beyond that with perceived value and quality,'' said Kemnitzer, president of an Olathe, Kan., design firm, associate professor at the University of Kansas and IDSA Midwest district vice president.
``We think we can do something better in plastic than metal, and we are looking to shortchange the perception that the plastic stuff might be of less quality,'' Kemnitzer said. ``We are getting there, but it has been hard to identify resources that can do that.''
Now, Kemnitzer Design Inc. searches the World Wide Web and confers with resin suppliers and clients before selecting material and color for its designs of furniture, household appliances and medical products.
NCR Corp.'s ``biggest concern over the years was discoloration of polymers,'' said Kenneth Schory of Kettering, Ohio, 1998 IDSA national conference chair and Nierenberg chair of design at Carnegie Mellon University. He left NCR in May after 20 years and continues as an external consultant to the firm.
``We wanted products great out of the box and great for 5-8 years,'' said Schory. While plastics have evolved, a problem now involves vendors ``using whatever material they feel is best'' and ``we don't have much control over that.''
Material selection remains a basic issue. ``You've got to be able to consider not only what plastic might be good but is [the part] better in metal or another material,'' said Gerald Proctor.
``The designer has trouble keeping up with the things that are out there,'' he said. ``Some of us get narrowed down because we are looking at a certain product area.'' Proctor is IDSA Mid-Atlantic district vice president and a former partner with Bally Design Inc. in Pittsburgh.
Reflecting on trade practices, Betty Baugh encouraged domestic plastics processors to export fewer production jobs.
``It becomes an automatic thing [to] go overseas,'' said Baugh, a Kirkland, Wash., industrial designer and IDSA secretary/treasurer. ``I think American manufacturers must be competitive in [the plastics] market.''