AKRON, OHIO - Watlow Electric Manufacturing Co., a manufacturer of industrial heaters and controllers, has restructured its company by creating five ``solution centers'' to focus on specific markets, including one for the plastics industry.
The St. Louis-based company wants to change its image from a supplier of components to a more customer-oriented, market-driven company, said James McMillin, director of the new Plastics Solution Center. McMillin comes to Watlow from Gammaflux LP, where he was director of sales operations at the maker of hot-runner temperature controllers.
Heaters have ``become kind of a commodity game,'' McMillin said in an April 30 interview at Plastics News' office in Akron. Watlow wants to be viewed as a company that can develop complete heating solutions.
In their Akron visit, Watlow officials also described a new hot- runner controller and a new relay that does not use mercury.
Watlow's roots run deep. In 1922, Louis Desloge Sr. founded the company to make electric heating elements for the shoe industry. In 1950, his son, George Desloge, invented the narrow-band cylindrical heater, with a patented strap, for plastics machinery. Today the company has 2,500 employees in the United States, Europe and Asia. Annual sales are more than $300 million.
Other managers hired to run the Plastics Solution Center include Lori Morrison, marketing manager, Mac McDowell, engineering manager and Reiner Lehnert, director of the Plastics Solution Center in Europe, based in Kronau, Germany.
One example of a ``solution supplier'' is a new hot-runner heating element that uses thick film.
``Most of the downtime problems associated with hot-runner systems are the result of burned-out heaters or thermocouple problems,'' McMillin said. Watlow officials met with hot-runner suppliers and end users when they designed the new heater.
Watlow uses a patented process to make the heating element by printing film onto a metal sleeve. Features include a low profile design that allows for closer spacing between hot-runner nozzles, very fast heat-up and a uniform heating profile that eliminates hot and cold spots.
``This combination leads to both higher-quality products and shorter cycle time,'' McMillin said.
The other new product is called the E-Safe Relay, a mercury-free power switching device. Europe has banned mercury switches, and the United States is expected to follow suit, according to Watlow. The E-Safe bridges the gap between mercury and expensive solid-state switches, the company said.
Watlow designed the relay to fit the same footprint as older relays, so customers can easily change to the new mercury-free design. Watlow will take back the old relays and make sure they are disposed of properly.