Economic slowdowns can give rotational molders a chance to draw some business from other plastic processes.
Low tooling costs enable customers to get hollow pieces in low volumes quickly and at one-half to one-third the cost of blow molding tooling, said Julie Stout, marketing manager with rotational mold maker Wheeler Boyce Co. in Stow, Ohio.
``There is an economic slowdown, but people are still inventing new products, starting new companies and needing new plastic products,'' said James Leitz, vice president of marketing for rotomolder Gregstrom Corp. in Woburn, Mass.
``In these times of economic uncertainty, companies will select the most economical way to introduce that new product,'' he said.
Whether a slower economy stimulates business for rotomolders is a subjective question, said Jack Pape, vice president of sales and marketing with rotomolder Meese Orbitron Dunne Co. in Saddlebrook, N.J.
``The criteria for cost efficiencies and savings is there and might spark some interest in the process in an economic downturn,'' Pape said.
Uncertainty tends to drive end users to a process that requires lower upfront tooling investment, allows for short runs and has a short lead time from design to production, Leitz said.
``Rotational molding fits all three of these criteria.''
The combined cost of tooling and piece price for a required quantity can be lower than competing processes, although, by itself, the piece price may be higher.
Leitz noted a downside: Bad times can draw some fringe customers with dubious financial resources.
``We have to be very careful about extending credit to these questionable accounts,'' he said.
Leitz said toolmakers exclusively serving rotomolders sense an economic improvement.
``They feel they have turned the corner, and things are starting to pick up'' after three bad quarters since October, Leitz said. ``Maybe they are just seeing [that] customers are turning to rotomolding because they can't afford the other processes.''
Stout said that with the current economic slump, ``people are holding onto their money [and finding it] easier to justify a roto project rather than blow molds.''
A user can amortize inexpensive tooling over each piece easily and take a low risk to enter and test a new market.
Many parts launch in rotomolding but switch to blow molding as volumes increase, Stout observed.
``Several rotomolders have added blow molding capabilities so that they don't lose the work when this happens,'' he said.
Flexibility makes a difference. In some cases, ``rotomolders want to go to just-in-time inventories, [making] maybe only 10 parts a day'' with numerous mold, color and logo changes, Stout said.
Rotomolding is an ideal process for the low volumes of heavy equipment manufacturers such as Deere & Co. and CNH Global NV's Case and New Holland brands, she said. Annual production may approximate 2,000-3,000 on some large products.
``All their new designs are going to plastic,'' Stout said.
There are no limits on geometry, so designers can eliminate parts and use available space that previously had been wasted in forming steel components.
Vertically integrated RMB Products Inc. of Fountain, Colo., regards rotomolding as an option when volumes are very small for precision components of engineered polymers, said Randy Gardiner, president and owner.
``We use the rotational molding process when we need to'' for large parts such as a 4-foot cube, he said.
RMB operates seven rotomolding machines and has capabilities for injection and compression molding and compounding. That process diversity sets RMB apart from most custom processors, Leitz said, and its high-end market provides a different perspective.
``Historically, rotomolders have seen an influx of potential customers during economic times such as these,'' Leitz said. ``The objective, after we have gotten these customers, is to keep them from going back to other processes when the economy becomes better.''