ATLANTA — Sometimes it's not so important to think "outside the box." Sometimes what's needed is just thinking about the box.
Thinking about the box led developers of a reusable, high density polyethylene storage container to a new design that reduces one of the main headaches with the plastic box. And it garnered them the top prize at the recent design contest in Atlanta sponsored by the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Structural Plastics Division.
The Gemini Smooth-Wall Container, designed by Arca Xytec Systems Inc. on molds from MSI Mold Builders, cuts down on the surface area of previous designs by 80 percent, by moving structural ribs from the outside wall to the inside wall. Less surface area equals less time to clean the box, one of the chief headaches for those using the container, said Joe Oates, manager of product development and operations for Tacoma, Wash.-based Arca.
The product's simple gray walls do not look like much. But the engineering that went into putting the ribs on the inside is what impressed the judges, according to Ciro Petrucelli, head of the SPD parts competition and president of Springfield Mold Works Inc. in Westfield, Mass.
"For the industry it is in, it really is sexy," said Oates, who added that the smooth surface is key. "Having a smooth wall is ... more pleasing to the eye."
Getting the ribs inside required new hot-plate welding technology and experimenting with assembly techniques, he said. The company worked with its welding suppliers and had its mold builder, MSI, involved in the project from the beginning. Arca worked with its Perstorp, Sweden-based parent, Arca Systems AB, but the U.S. unit took the lead, he said.
MSI, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, built the mold for the low-pressure structural foam molded product. The product also incorporated some gas-assist parts. The challenge was building a mold flexible enough to support the 42 variations of the product Arca wanted to make, said MSI President Roger Klouda.
Good communication between Arca, which means "box" in Latin and Greek, and MSI was crucial, he said.
"What you have to understand is that there are customers that allow you to help and those that don't," Klouda said. "We have had a relationship with them for 20 years."
MSI built 11 separate tools for three separate molding runs, Oates said.
The easier-to-clean surface should help Arca get more reusable containers into markets that now use only disposable ones, such as processed food and retail distribution, Oates said.
"We are just scratching the surface of potential applications," he said.