Automotive toolmakers are not the only companies compelled to broaden their cache of product offerings.
Several firms making plastic parts for the medical industry have the same sense of urgency. For one injection molder, Tech NH Inc. in Merrimack, N.H., the idea offered little in the way of choice.
``Right now, if all we did was molding, we would be in trouble,'' said Roger Somers, Tech NH chief operating officer. ``A lot of customers would say we don't have in-house tooling and make assumptions that we don't know tools. Or if we didn't do our own design work, customers wouldn't think we'd understand that. Perceptions can be coupled to reality.''
Tech NH has gone further than many molders to dispel those myths. It has retooled its operations to offer what it calls full-service plastics processing. Starting in 1982 as a prototype parts maker, the firm gradually has added production-parts molding, tooling and assembly work.
Now, Tech NH has formed a new unit, Tech Design, to conduct full-scale, computer-aided design. Instead of merely assisting customers with design work, the company wants to take the burden of parts design completely out of a customer's hands.
The company recently added 12 Pro/Engineer software licenses. Now, Tech NH plans to compete with outside design houses for business, Somers said.
``We come up with renderings, engineer it and actually produce the full product design,'' said Somers, whose company molds medical hardware, such as patient monitoring systems, and other parts. ``And then we can produce the finished product.''
That ``shopping cart'' approach, as Somers calls it, allows customers to choose from a list of services. Many firms have reduced their research and development staffs, leaving gaping holes that a molder can plug, he said.
Tech NH, which expects to record more than $10 million in sales this year, does all this from two buildings totaling about 50,000 square feet.
Somers claims that by consigning a project to one firm, his medical customers can cut project time by as much as 10 months. ``And many of our customers don't always have projects to keep their design people busy,'' he said. ``We can be more efficient.''
Six other companies in Colorado and Utah have formed an alliance to take a medical product from concept to market by offering all the services in between.
The firms offer an array of specialties — such as product design, tooling, both injection molding and thermoforming, and assembly — concentrated under one roof. Bailey Co., a Denver-based sales agent, finds clients, oversees the projects, creates weekly progress reports and parcels the jobs to member firms.
``We can be a lot more valuable as the sum of all companies rather than broken down individually,'' said project coordinator Phil Bailey of Bailey Co. ``It's a total package concept.''
Bailey, who started the alliance a year ago, said more customers want someone to coordinate a one-stop-shop design and production approach. ``A lot of time, a design company throws back project to customers when they're finished,'' he said. ``They don't care what happens next.''
The other allied companies include Excaliber Engineering of Logan, Utah; Commercial Pattern Inc., a Denver-based prototype tooling company; Image Molding Inc., an injection molder in Denver; Baxter Design Tech/Eco-Plast Inc., a thermoformer in Greeley, Colo.; and Custom Manufacturing Inc., an assembly firm in Elbert, Colo.