SAN DIEGO — Major plastics processors need to control programs worldwide and implement them locally in the face of a trend toward manufacturing globalization. "We all here have a challenge," said Richard Hoeske, vice president of engineering with Nypro Inc. in Clinton, Mass. "How do we take ideas and technology and turn them into products in record time?"
Hoeske spoke at Engineering Thermoplastics 2000: Trends in Portable Electronics and Business Equipment, held May 1-2 in San Diego.
"Now [the trend] is taking itself to a new level: not just building [a product], but controlling it worldwide," he said.
A chart indicated the complete life cycle of a typical cellular telephone model might be 20-24 months, including four months of early supplier involvement and another four months of peak production. And, of course, those life cycles overlap.
Compressed customer deadlines force Nypro to "have a real partnership to drive time," Hoeske said. "We must have trust in one another and adjust as the product changes."
The firm is setting up an electronic data vault for customers and Nypro's 25 plants worldwide to access accurate product data.
"We must have no mistakes," he said. "If I have a mistake, it will cost you in the multiple — around the world. None of us can afford that."
Corporate teams for consumer/ industrial, health-care and telecommunications products manage the business lines in conjunction with engineering talent at each plant. "We try to get standardization at the global level so we can transfer or start up in different parts of the world," he said.
"[Nypro is] trying to add value upstream with design and downstream with assembly," he said.
The company steadily is increasing in-house mold building and now makes about 65 percent of its tools, most at shops in Clinton; Gurnee, Ill.; Singapore; and Hong Kong.
Nypro is beginning to characterize itself as a value-added manufacturer, although custom injection molding accounts for the bulk of its current annual sales of about $600 million, Hoeske said.
Another major player, Mack Molding Co., faces similar challenges.
Information technology systems are destined to further impact plastics processors in the future, said Joan Magrath, business unit director with the privately owned company.
"Speed and velocity of money, information and inventory [are the] keys to success," Magrath said.
Electronic commerce requires information systems with instant accessibility to data, she said. "We need to put money into those systems."
Management of risk and investment are new necessary skills and have pushed Mack in evaluating technology, talent and foreign ventures. "We reassess almost on a daily basis now," she said.
Custom injection molder Mack has established full product-development services including design, part prototyping and advanced processing technologies.
"We see a need for seamless product development," she said. [There is] not enough time to do it how it always has been done."
She described a development sequence with multiple vendors needing 65 weeks vs. a Mack-controlled program taking 40 weeks.
"Every time you design and redesign a product, you are wasting time," she said. A computer firm with a server application told her it loses $1.2 million per day in being late to market with a product.
The firm has upgraded its supply-management infrastructure. "A few years ago, one person bought resin and another person bought everything else," she said. Now, 40 people handle the purchasing function.
Arlington, Vt.-based Mack Molding employs 1,300, anticipates sales of $450 million for the fiscal year ending June 30 and has no long-term debt, according to Magrath.
In a different molding niche, an optical-disc producer sees a need to work with plastic manufacturers to develop material for technology improvements.
"Optical media needs high-grade plastic material," said Ram Nomula, chief manufacturing officer with Panasonic Disc Services Corp. of Torrance, Calif.
Replicators of difficult-to-make digital versatile discs use polycarbonate but need improvements in birefringence, substrate-thickness uniformity, jitter and reflectivity between layers, he said. Also, they need PC with a higher melt-flow index to shorten cycle times.
Replicators use PC in molding single-layer compact discs and the two halves of dual-layer DVDs prior to bonding. Panasonic uses only one material grade for both products, Nomula said, although resin makers supply a variety of grades for audio and video applications.
Nomula said Panasonic evaluated alternative materials, but nothing came close to the moisture-free performance of PC at 572° F.
"We have a lab of our own and would be happy to work with suppliers" proposing alternatives, he said.
Nomula said a fully equipped DVD line can cost $2.5 million and make about 3 million discs per year at more than $1 per disc. In contrast, the investment to make a CD is about 10 cents per disc.
He said this year's market will total about 6.9 billion discs worldwide. That includes 4 billion audio andread-only-memory CDs, 2.5 billion recordable CDs and 400 million DVDs in video, audio, ROM, game and recordable formats.
By 2005, the total may reach 17 billion discs, including 3 billion CD audio and ROM, 4 billion recordable CDs and an astounding 10 billion DVDs, Nomula said.
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. formed Panasonic Disc Services as a full-service replicator in June 1996. The operations now employ almost 1,700 and have annual capacity to make 440 million optical discs at the company's plant in Torrance; a joint venture with Universal Music Group in Pinckneyville, Ill.; and a separate venture with Kodak Co. in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Cork, Ireland.