GE Plastics has gone over the rainbow and landed in Selkirk.
That's where GE Plastics' ColorXpress program opened its ``customer innovation center'' less than two years ago. The center has been particularly busy in the last year, as customers have searched for ways to differentiate their end products in the face of an economic slump.
In 2001, ColorXpress received 60 percent more color-match requests than it did in the previous year. So far in 2002, the requests have continued to pour in at that elevated level, according to ColorXpress leader Greg Quinn.
``As the economy slowed down and companies got desperate for market share, they saw color as a less-expensive way to get more mileage out of their products,'' Quinn said during a recent interview in Selkirk.
``It's a war,'' he added. ``These [end] products are all on the shelf at Wal-Mart and [consumers] can pick whatever they want.''
GE Plastics is fighting that war with a variety of unusual weapons, ranging from Picasso prints to art books to pieces of fabric. All of those items - as well as an open, couch-filled meeting area and a nearby white-walled room stocked with a spectrum of thousands of color chips - are designed to help customers find the shade that is right for their products.
``A customer will say they want `warm and fuzzy' and that's our starting point,'' innovation center manager Kristine Esposito said. ``Our team then has to be capable of talking to the customer and getting them exactly what they want.''
Since launching in 1997, ColorXpress has built a catalog of 35,000 colors. Most color matching can be done within 48 hours. Lots as large as 4,000 pounds can be delivered in that same time frame as well.
Although the actual matching work is done in Selkirk, production can be handled at a number of GE Plastics plants producing polycarbonate or other specialty GE resins. To ensure consistency, spectrophotometers and other color-matching equipment are calibrated at each site via a partnership with color systems and software maker GretagMacbeth LLC of New Windsor, N.Y.
The ColorXpress business recently branched out to offer corporate color-management services ranging from color education services for clients' staff, to equipment installation. Microsoft Corp. made use of the service for the recent launch of its Xbox video game, and Compaq Corp. has signed on as well, GE officials said.
GE Plastics' lineup of color offerings may sound like a list of good names for racehorses (Mirage, Kaleidoscope) or kittens (Softness, Smoke), but they mean business in the design world.
``There's been a resurgence of design as a product differentiator,'' said Andrew Day, GE Plastics' global aesthetics leader. ``Design is becoming a key driver of growth.''
The company's Visualfx products, with a range of colors, metallic effects and special features such as EdgeGlow light piping, are an example of what Day is talking about. GE Plastics is adding four new Visualfx grades this year, with a majority of sales in clear PC or opaque ABS used in business equipment, electronic devices and telecommunications gears.
``The guts [of electronic equipment] are all made by the same people,'' Day said. ``Manufacturers need to differentiate on price and what's on the outside.''
He added that ease of use also is vital for customers considering alternate products, such as colored compact discs with EdgeGlow trim.
``This is mass customization,'' he said. ``Customers want something they can drop in without changing their machinery. They can then get a higher price for the same product.''