Bayer Corp. wants to use the magic of Fantasia to change the way processors think about the firm's plastics product line.
Fantasia is a line of five color and special-effect technologies aimed at helping designers make full use of Bayer's line of engineering resins, including polycarbonate, ABS and related blends.
The Fantasia line will be unveiled at a Sept. 4 gathering in New York. More than 150 designers - representing such firms as Polo Ralph Lauren and Nautica - are scheduled to attend.
``We want people to think of us first when it comes to design options,'' Bayer plastics consumer markets marketing manager John Skabardonis said Aug. 21 at Bayer Corp. headquarters in Pittsburgh.
Fantasia's fantastic five are:
* Aura, a color-infusion technology that uses what Bayer officials call the ``Easter egg method.''
With Aura, molded parts are dipped into a colored liquid mix then removed and dried. The process calls for the installation of machinery for the process of dipping and drying, but it spares processors from having to keep dozens of different-colored materials in stock.
Processors also are able to create their own colors by mixing Bayer dyes with its patented liquid mix. The liquid allows color to penetrate parts to depths of 3-5 millimeters, said plastics industry manager Robert Pyles. In true Easter egg fashion, processors will be able to adjust part color by altering the amount of time parts are immersed in the liquid, Pyles said.
``Aura offers simplicity and inventory reduction,'' said plastics consumer market Vice President Azita Owlia. ``It's necessary because of the fast life cycles of these products. In information technology, colors change season by season.''
The Aura system also eliminates downtime created by processors taking down and cleaning their machines when switching colors. Drying cycles for dipped products can range from 30 seconds to five minutes.
The system works particularly well with small batches, such as information-technology products, officials said.
``Designers can have a ball with this,'' Owlia added. ``The flexibility and possibilities are enormous. There are a lot of color design applications that haven't been tried because of the per-unit cost of traditional color.''
* Leda, a series of effects created for Bayer's pre-colored compounds, including edge-glow, metallic, translucent and fluorescent.
* Imagio, a line of coatings developed in conjunction with PPG Industries Inc. for color-spraying molded parts. The coatings can produce varying levels of glossiness. They're expected to find use in products like cellular phones, computer monitors and workstations.
* Faria, a line of PC-based film inserts.
Bayer is pulling out all the stops to impress designers in that area, culminating in products that can have a mirror finish on one side while allowing light to pass through and back-light multicolored images on the flip side. The images also can be viewed to varying extents from different angles on the mirrored side. The mirrored finish is a first for film insert molding, Bayer officials claim.
Other effects allow the film to incorporate fibers that match the tactile feel of denim or velvet.
* Milena, a series of colors for optical-media products like compact discs and digital versatile discs.
Dry color is inserted at the feed-through point, allowing for more precise color control. It's also a time-saver, officials said.
``The [optical-media] industry has been having problems with replicators changing colors and purging their entire systems,'' Skabardonis said. ``It takes a lot of time, but they have to do it because of the possibility of contamination.'' Bayer began testing the Fantasia line several months ago with a dozen beta customers.
In addition to the New York event, Bayer plans to host seminars with design professionals around the country well into 2003.
Monty Lawton, co-owner of In House Furniture, a Los Angeles designer and manufacturer, was won over by the Fantasia approach when his firm was designing a cafe chair, complete with a back slot to hold a menu.
Lawton and partner Mark Zuckerman hatched the idea in 1999, with the prototype chair winning a design award from a furniture industry trade magazine. They showed the chair at the Chicago Design Show in 2000, but ran into some roadblocks when they wanted to move into commercial production.
``We went to some Italian manufacturers because we were told we would have problems making [the chair] in the U.S., but then they had problems with it, so we came back to the U.S.,'' Lawton said in a recent telephone interview. ``We figured early on that we wanted polycarbonate because it was a hard, durable engineering plastic. It was just a matter of making it work.''
In House then met with toolmaker Douglas Archibald, who helped design Apple's iMac computer, before meeting with Bayer's sales staff to select a material.
``With Fantasia, Bayer seemed to really have a handle on how designers think,'' Lawton said. ``The way they presented [Fantasia] really gets you thinking and helps lead to creative ideas. Design is all about practicality and meaning, and Bayer understood that.''
After choosing several colors and grades from Fantasia's Aura and Leda groups, commercial production of the In House chair - with a translucent PC seat and back on a metal frame - began last month. The product is being produced by A&S Mold & Die of Los Angeles, which also designed the molds.
The chair is available at furniture boutiques across the country and in a major furniture mail-order catalog, Lawton said.
Fantasia's reach into consumer products eventually could range from lighting to furniture to small appliances. Even sunglasses and automotive uses like lighting, trunk releases and other safety features could be enhanced, officials said.
Interest in breaking through design barriers hasn't waned as the global economy has moved into an uncertain period, officials said.
``It's true that some information-technology people have been destroyed by the economy, but all the design firms are focused on what's coming next,'' Skabardonis said. ``They want the next `wow' effect. They're not saying they have to keep it simple because of the economy.''
The Fantasia project has called for the cooperation of various Bayer units - not only those that make PC, ABS, PC/ABS and thermoplastic polyurethane resins, but also coatings and film. Bayer even can provide machinery needed to set up an Easter egg operation for the Aura product.
Bayer's main color-compounding operation is in Hebron, Ohio, but the firm also does some of that work in Baytown, Texas, and Addyston, Ohio. Its PC film production site is in Berlin, Conn.
If it lives up to Bayer's expectations, Fantasia could help reverse a trend that saw the North American unit lose $138 million in the first half as sales dropped 8.5 percent to $4.4 billion, compared with the same period in 2001. Globally, Bayer Corp. brought in about 31 percent of first-half sales for parent Bayer AG of Leverkeusen, Germany.