Apple's iMac computer has won commercial and critical acclaim for its good looks. Now the idea that it popularized — that an attractive, colorful design can win market share for typically mundane products — is spreading into other applications. And GE Plastics has introduced a new portfolio of products to serve the growing niche.
"Market potential is enormous across all consumer industries," said Peter Wahsner, global program manager for Visualfx products. Wahsner, who is based in Bergen-op-Zoom, the Netherlands, was interviewed via e-mail.
"It started in business equipment and is now being adopted by telecommunications, small appliances and even the car industry," he said. "We fully expect that our customers are able to command higher price points for their products as already seen in the last 12 months."
GE Plastics' portfolio includes products creating light diffusion, metal flake effects, speckled marble, cloudy frost or ice, a bright glow-like energy effect and a three-dimensional, angle-dependent illusion.
Most of the new products are based on Lexan polycarbonate, Cycolac ABS or Cycoloy PC/ABS blends. New branding includes Cycolac Magix for the metal effects and Lexan Intrigue for the color-shifting effect.
GE Plastics showed some of the effects in a design booth at the International Housewares Show, held Jan. 16-19 in Chicago.
"We can help our customers see material selection as an opportunity to differentiate their products" he said. An example of added value might be "a see-through printer that lets you see how the paper flows."
By September, Wahsner intends to establish three customer innovation centers located on the East Coast of the United States, in Bergen-op-Zoom for Europe and probably in Shanghai, China, for Asia and the Pacific Rim.
Wahsner sees the program evolving into a total design offering for business equipment, automotive, toy, appliance and cosmetic markets in addition to those focused on consumers.
Parent General Electric Co.'s corporate research and development center in Niskayuna, N.Y., has focused on the chemistry and physics of the additives.
"The diffuser technology, for instance, in light-diffused Lexan is unique and is being patented," Wahsner said.
The program requires minimal change in staffing, processes and equipment.
"Most of our commercially available effects are made and processed with standard equipment. In some cases we have to invest in equipment in order to produce a material," he said.
The technical considerations "are surprisingly similar to those for standard grades of the materials," Wahsner said.
Wahsner oversees three regional managers and technology experts including a product developer, color specialist, manufacturing coordinator, application engineer and several color matchers.