STRONGSVILLE, OHIO — The packed attendance at the first-ever SPE rotational molding technical conference shows that rotomolders want to compete head-on with blow molding, thermoforming and other processes, industry leaders said.
``Not in our wildest dreams did we ever contemplate this large of a crowd,'' Glenn Beall said in ending the conference, held June 6-8 in Strongsville.
Beall, a product designer and teacher, chairs the Society of Plastics Engineers' Rotational Molding Division in Formation.
Typically, SPE expects about 80 people to show up at first-time conferences for new divisions. In Strongsville, nearly three times that many — 230 people — jammed the Holiday Inn.
Pete Nenadal, who coordinated registration, said 190 people pre-registered for the event. There were 40 walk-ins.
People outside rotational molding still view it as a low-technology process, more art than science. Industry leaders say they want to change that.
At Innovations in Rotational Molding, attendees heard two days of presentations on the molding process, additives and color, compounds, resins and product design. During coffee breaks, they browsed through 36 tabletop exhibits.
``It's been technical, which is something we like to see,'' said Jerry Ramsey, president and owner of Akro-Plastics, a rotomolder in Kent, Ohio.
Although still a small, close-knit industry, rotomolding is growing about 8-10 percent a year, according to industry estimates.
``The real interesting thing is that rotomolding is going to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the other processes,'' Ramsey said.
Membership in SPE will increase the trade's exposure to the broad plastics industry, he said.
Echoing those comments was Julie Stout, marketing director of Wheeler-Boyce Co. of Stow, Ohio.
``We want to be mainstream plastics, and being part of SPE is part of that process,'' Stout said. ``It's just a phenomenal success.''
Northeast Ohio is a center of rotomolding.
The region is home to giant toy molders Little Tikes Co. and Step2 Co., play-ball molder Hedstrom Corp., several smaller molders and suppliers such as Wheeler-Boyce, a mold maker, and Ferry Industries Inc., which makes rotomolding machines.
The conference was not dominated by local companies, however. Schafer Systems Inc. brought a supervisor, Kurt McCuen, and plant workers Mary Leeper and Ryan Larson, all the way from Adair, Iowa.
The company molds point-of-purchase displays and recreation products.
``It's important to bring people that are actually molding so they can understand the process,'' said McCuen.
Two people came from Minneapolis-based rotomolder Solar Plastics Inc.
``There's been a couple of logistics issues, but from a display point of view and a conference point of view, it's been outstanding,'' said Don King, vice president of operations.
Paul Nugent, technical chairman for the meeting, was impressed with the diversity of attendees, who included company owners, technical directors and sales people.
``I can normally look around the room and know 70 percent of the people. Here it's a roomful of strangers,'' said Nugent, vice president of Remcon Plastics Inc., a rotomolder in Reading, Pa.
The rotomolding group expects to become a full SPE division at SPE's 2001 Annual Technical Conference, said Beall, who owns Glenn Beall Plastics Ltd. of Libertyville, Ill.
A one-year membership was included in the registration fee for about 75 non-members at the Strongsville conference. SPE needs new members, since membership has dropped in recent years to 33,000, from a high of about 38,000 a decade ago.
Jay Gardiner, SPE's president drom 1996-97, encouraged rotomolders to join during a June 7 address.
He stressed the importance of belonging to a proactive group. With opponents of vinyl, such as Greenpeace, trying to oust various products, it is imperative that the vinyl industry fight back.
``They want to get rid of vinyl. If we don't do something about it, they will,'' said Gardiner, whose resin distribution company, Gardiner Plastics Inc., is based in Port Jefferson, N.Y.
Though SPE's rotomolding division is brand new, there already is talk of displaying at NPE next summer in Chicago, as well as involvement in the outreach program through the National Plastics Museum. The outreach program teaches children how various plastic products are manufactured.
The Brookfield, Conn., professional society wants to grow by targeting specific audiences, Gardiner said.
He said SPE's biggest divisional conference, covering polyolefins, started out with 30 people. Attendance now typically tops 1,000, he said.
Wheeler Boyce has not been active in SPE because SPE did not help the company reach rotomolders, Stout said. But at the Strongsville conference, Stout and three other Wheeler Boyce employees joined.
The next step is promoting rotomolding to product designers, who currently know little about the process, said Bruce Muller, conference chairman.
``That'll be the greatest growth area,'' said Muller, who runs Plastics Consulting Inc. in Homerville, Ohio.
That effort will get a boost at Antec 2000. Beall said the rotomolders group will hold a joint session with SPE's Product Design and Development Division. Other future events include a hollow plastic parts conference in mid-2001, with officials from twin-sheet thermoforming, blow molding and rotomolding.
Beall said the group wants to hold a second rotomolding conference in mid-2002, again in the Cleveland area.