DUSSELDORF, GERMANY — Klaus Gloger is determined to succeed where those before him have failed. And plenty have.
The 49-year-old German inventor has spent much of his time since 1995 developing and refining an improved compact-disc package. Gloger's patented VarioPac Disc System features a metallocene-catalyzed polypropylene case that uses a trigger mechanism to eject the disc and save it from being flexed when being removed from its case.
Other claims for VarioPac, when compared with traditional polystyrene jewel boxes, include: 40 percent lighter in weight; faster injection molding cycle times; lower processing temperatures; comparable clarity but much better impact strength; highly automated final-product assembly; and space-saving stackability.
So what's the problem? The logical, primary customers for such a CD package are disc-replication firms that, along with their customers, tend to resist even modest change, much less radical concepts.
Many of these firms worry that such changes might disrupt their traditional manufacturing procedures, which yield sliver-thin profit in a cutthroat market.
``Replicators really don't want to do anything new. Their business model is pretty fragile,'' said Matt Bowen, president of Fuse Integrated Marketing Inc. in Newburyport, Mass. Bowen should know. He spent four years trying to sell to firms in the replication/duplication industry when he worked in marketing posts for U.S. media packaging molders Shape Inc. and Global Zero LP.
VarioPac does offer the unusual twist of using a new metallocene polypropylene, but Bowen says that other CD packages have featured triggers and various design novelties, ``but they've never made it off the table. The replicators have seldom bought into it. They're set up to take standard, three-piece [PS jewel] boxes. Any deviation from that tends to upset their business models.''
But Gloger, general manager of the three-employee VarioPac GmbH licensing firm in Bunde, Germany, is unfazed. He has no illusions about taking the CD business by storm.
``The marketplace is so big, and our market entry will be so small, that it will make little difference. ... We could be happy with a good niche product.''
He firmly believes in the manufacturing and end-user benefits of the VarioPac Disc System. It uses Targor GmbH's Metocene X 50081 resin in a single injection molding consisting of two parts that are joined by integral, living hinge and fold in half to form the case. The metallocene catalyst yields a PP material with clarity rivaling that of polystyrene jewel boxes — but without the brittleness that causes the PS cases to break frequently when dropped. This may make the product ideal for the mail-order CD-ROM business, for example.
``This is not a jewel box,'' he stressed in a late-October interview on Targor's K'98 show booth in Dusseldorf. ``This is a new material and a new application in CD packaging.''
Though Gloger says he first conceived the package concept in 1992 while in Australia, where he lived for 33 years, the current designs began to take shape only in the past couple years, after he hooked up with engineer and VarioPac co-director Heinz-Ulrich Diestelhorst.
``We first learned about Metocene in June 1997,'' Gloger recalled.
Targor — a PP joint venture between BASF AG and Hoechst AG — still was not fully aware of all its new material could do, according to Gloger. But since then, VarioPac has worked closely with Targor to develop this application, which uses a general injection molding grade.
The PP material costs more per pound than the polystyrene used in jewel boxes. But Gloger insists that differential, which he would not disclose, nearly disappears once one factors in the waste caused by jewel box breakage, and that the lower-density metallocene PP uses less material per package and yields more product per pound than PS.
Targor and VarioPac are development partners only; no financial agreement exists between them. But both stand to benefit handsomely — if Gloger can find customers, as well as companies willing to license and manufacture his product worldwide. He says his efforts at the K show, combined with a promotional push at the fair from Targor, already have stoked interest from potential molding or mold-making partners from such places as Japan, Israel and Portugal.
At present Ehlebracht AG, a large, publicly held injection molder in Enger, Germany, is molding the VarioPac case, using tooling from Sprick Toolmaking GmbH of Detmold, Germany.
Ehlebracht has exclusive rights to make the cases in the European Union countries, with an option for production rights elsewhere in the world, Jurgen Heitmann, deputy chairman of Ehlebracht's management board, said in an interview at K'98.
Though Ehlebracht has right of first refusal, Gloger says, ``We're looking for partners. America is a very big market, and one manufacturer will never do it.'' Gloger said he hopes to produce 50 million to 60 million pieces next year.
``We will welcome any jewel-box manufacturer [as a partner],'' he said, ``because they know the customer base and how to handle the product. We're not averse to that at all.''
Ehlebracht — which in 1999's first quarter will ramp up to make up to 25,000 VarioPacs per day — now uses a 20-ton Engel injection press to mold the internal lever parts, and a four-cavity tool in a 300-ton Engel to mold the cases.
Gloger claims the cycle times for VarioPac cases run 10-15 percent faster than the 7-7.5 seconds common for jewel boxes. And, he points out, ``If you save a tenth of a second per shot, you save a lot of time at the end of the year.''
Ehlebracht uses robots to fully assemble the product — which conforms to the existing height and width dimensions of current jewel boxes — before it leaves the factory. This, noted Gloger, saves shipping space and labor compared with jewel boxes that require assembly of their back panel, lid and tray after delivery to the replicators.
VarioPac initially is emphasizing two types of single-disc cases — a very thin model just 4.5 millimeters wide and weighing less than 35 grams, and a 7mm-wide, 50-gram version that can accommodate a booklet in a snap-shut compartment. But it also has multiple-disc models as well as versions for the newer, smaller digital versatile discs.
On the lidded cases, the tooling for the case's spine has been curved slightly to produce an optical magnifying effect of 15-20 percent on the booklet label on the spine, Gloger noted. It is this attention to detail that he hopes will make the difference.
``I never did this for the money; the money is just a bonus. I'm an inventor. I love to work with my hands, to make things better. And if somebody decides that this is a great little box, then that'll make me feel very good.''