SAN ANTONIO (Oct. 18, 6 p.m. EDT) — Textron Automotive Co. is offering licenses for its new closed-loop molding process to molders in other industries, as its first step toward establishing itself as an intellectual property specialist as well as a processor.
The company bought tiny Ann Arbor, Mich.-based M&C Technologies earlier this year to gain access to the patented process owner Milko Guergov developed, using microtransducers to monitor and control every stage of the molding inside the press.
The early results of IntelliMold are impressive, said William Maclean, president for the Troy, Mich.-based auto supplier's trim division. Machines with the equipment already in place have seen a 7 percent drop in scrap and a 20 percent improvement on cycle time.
The system can pay for itself within six months on some large presses, he said Oct. 16 during Plastics News' Executive Forum 2001 in San Antonio.
"The process works," he said.
Guergov, now vice president of technology for Textron Automotive, compares IntelliMold to the cruise control on a car, using the transducers to control — in real time — the internal melt pressure and make constant adjustments to maintain optimum conditions.
"The process operates like an auto-pilot for molding machines," Maclean added. "It's based on a very simple principle: You can't control what you're not measuring."
Research Triangle Institute of Research Triangle Park, N.C., and Deloitte and Touche Intellectual Asset Management Group will work with Textron on the license program for Textron.
"Licensees will find IntelliMold of significant interest because it eliminates uncertainty, replacing black art in the molding process with scientific controls," said Laura Schoppe, manager of commercial programs for Research Triangle. "As a result, molders will achieve greater control, quality and output, which drive cost savings and enhanced profitability."
Productivity rates among plastics processors have fallen, noted Michael Paslawskyj, vice president for economic research for CIT Group Inc., during an overview of the industry at the Executive Forum.
While annual growth of productivity for all manufacturers in the United States climbed to 3.7 percent from 2.8 percent from the 1980s to late 1990s, plastics processors saw their rate of annual productivity growth drop to 2.3 percent from 2.8 percent.
Paslawskyj blamed the drop on a slowdown in machinery and technology spending from companies that are more likely to throw relatively cheap labor into their shops to fix a problem, rather than investing in capital equipment.
Textron, meanwhile, has seen strong interest from sporting goods giant Nike Inc., which may put the unit to work on presses making injection molded components for tennis shoes, he said. Other potential licensees may work in the consumer, medical, packaging or furniture markets.
The business is shying away from noncompetitors in the auto industry, but may consider options that would make IntelliMold available to Textron suppliers, he said.
IntelliMold is just the first foray for the company beyond its traditional auto-supply-chain business, but it is not the last, Maclean said.
"We want to mine our intellectual property," he said.
Future projects could include marketing software programs Textron first developed to track its own projects.
Its corporate parent, Textron Inc., already has established a presence outside the manufacturing field, with one division specializing in finance. Textron Automotive can follow that lead to create its own revenue source outside the volatile automotive market, Maclean said.
"We're setting a bold course," he said. "We don't pretend to be a new-economy company, but we don't have to pretend about becoming a next-economy company."