CHICAGO (June 20, 8 p.m. EDT) — The battle for hot-runner supremacy has moved to a new field: the Web.
Two of the leading hot-runner manufacturers have launched sparring Internet sites devoted to the pursuit of business. The fierce competitors plan to use their portals to gain breathing space between them and their counterparts.
Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. (Booth S2983) has launched www.hotrunners.com, a site portrayed by the Bolton, Ontario, company as a way for mold makers to gain access to hot-runner technology and downloaded files.
"A lot of information from other means is not up-to-date," said Martin Baumann, Husky marketing manager for hot runners. "We'll bring mold makers the latest information with access 24 hours a day."
Not to be outdone by its Canadian neighbor, hot-runner supplier Mold-Masters Ltd. (Booth N5426) has spent millions to create a "hugely complex" site that will change the industry, said President Jonathon Fischer of the Georgetown, Ontario, company.
"We had the opportunity to launch a new, innovative business model," Fischer said at a June 19 NPE news briefing. "It's the first tool for us in the e-collaboration, e-business environment."
And what an environment it is. According to Web consultants Forester Research Inc., business-to-business electronic commerce is expected to reach more than $4 trillion by 2003.
Hot-runner manufacturing will grab just a tiny sliver of that action. But the need for speed has driven both companies to react. Husky's system emphasizes the exchange of mold design files and information at lightning speed, while Mold-Masters wants to reduce the molasses that can cover the entire order-taking and processing system.
The need is immediate, Fischer said. Many of Mold-Masters' customers want molds built in four to six weeks, compared with a 20-week standard for many molds in 1997, he said.
He cited companies in the rapidly changing telecommunications industry as a major force behind that.
Mold-Master's upcoming computer system, dubbed Merlin, plans to address transaction speed. The portal, at www.moldmasters.com, will guide mold-making customers from initial order to completion through online automation.
Customers can configure their own hot-runner system and manifold, receive a quote from an Internet shopping cart, place an order, view three-dimensional drawings online and download them, and track order status.
Merlin even will account for such finicky details as shot weight, fill percentage, mold water lines and gating options in hot-runner configuration, Fischer said.
"It takes about 10 minutes," Fischer said. "We give information that now might take days."
And Mold-Masters plans to ship the customized hot-runner system in as little as five days, Fischer said.
It has some heavy hitters behind the program: SAP America Inc., a $4.6 billion software company, assisted with the package, while Structural Dynamics Research Corp. helped conjure the online design models.
And, of course, Microsoft had its hand in the Web-site development, Fischer said.
Like the software giant, Mold-Masters wants to use computer technology to become the dominant hot-runner company within the next eight years, Fischer said. That means a market share of more than 50 percent, he added.
But Husky, considered the market leader by many sources, is not so willing to give up its throne. The company's dedicated site, launched at NPE, includes an extensive design center with hot-runner guidelines, downloadable computer-aided-design files and file-transfer capabilities.
Husky's site does not allow for order taking or processing. At the same time, it is running now. "There will be no need for overnight FedExes to get files," Baumann said.
Mold-Masters' more sophisticated site will launch this summer, and the company has set a goal to get more than half of its customers to place orders online within 18 months, Fischer said.
Both companies have new, rapid hot-runner deployment options. Husky calls its system Pronto, and hot runners can be available within four weeks, Baumann said. The Web site can access a Pronto package.
The company is collaborating with mold-base supplier Omni Mold Systems (Booth N5770) to provide a complete, quickly prepared package to customers.
Mold-Masters calls its fast-delivery system MIM Speed and says it provides the fastest lead times in the industry. The heart of its program is custom manifolds that come in an array of sizes and configurations.
But Mold-Masters might be onto something bigger for the mold-making industry with its mushrooming Web site.
Many Fortune 100 companies are planning to create a similar online model, but Mold-Masters is the first to enfold order taking and design technology, said Jason Mausberg, vice president of Toronto-based Optimum Software Solutions, a reseller of SAP packages.
"(Mold-Masters) is smaller than many of the other companies," Mausberg said. "I think their size helped them get running faster."