Global competition is driving a trend toward uniformity in design and retail distribution of consumer electronics, according to Lou Lenzi, vice president of global business development and new ventures for Thomson multimedia Inc. of Indiana- polis.
Thomson, for example, already markets the same digital-versatile-disc player around the world. For the convenience of the manufacturer, packaging in the United States carries details in three languages, he said.
Lenzi suggested firms should take the offense in going after international markets, noting that Thomson sees China as the next big market. Lenzi was among the designers and manufacturers who spoke about global trends and business relationships during the Sept. 18 Design Day conference at Plastics Encounter in Indianapolis.
``We recognize innovation is everyone's responsibility'' and that includes in-mold decorating, said Philip Thompson, KitchenAid studio manager with Whirlpool Corp.'s global consumer design team in Benton Harbor, Mich.
Relations between designers and processors need ``to be a series of checks and balances,'' said Richard Gresens, Mercury design manager for Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich. Too often designers abuse the give-and-take process, in part because ``there are too many prima donna designers out there.''
Gresens cited the difference a can-do attitude can make.
``We had two suppliers, one very large and one very small. It's a big difference when you get a response that says, `No, we can't do that,' and another one says, `We are having problems with that, but we can maintain the beam if we change this a little bit trying to maintain the design integrity.' ''
Small-appliance maker Sunbeam Products Inc. has roots in Chicago but now almost exclusively does its manufacturing in China, said Augusto Picozza, Sunbeam manager of corporate industrial design in Boca Raton, Fla.
Sunbeam often supplies a design including form, aesthetics and features, and a key vendor procures tooling, manufacturing and materials at an agreed-upon price, according to Picozza.
``How do we constantly educate each other to the possibilities and find these examples of two-shot molding and material processing and the right special effects?'' he said. Processors unwilling to pay attention to requirements give nay-sayers a broad opening to dismiss the technology, he said.
In some cases product designers access the services of a psycho-acoustic engineer to study the psychology of how individuals sense sound, smell and feeling. ``Is it a reliable, trusty sound or does it just sound cheap?'' pondered Bruce Claxton, senior director of design integration with Motorola Inc.'s commercial, government and industrial solutions sector in Plantation, Fla.
Claxton has observed a disconnection between material suppliers and processors.
``I will find some real wow factor'' such as a plastic with a mica effect, Claxton said. ``I try to get it molded, and no one wants to touch it. There is a disconnect there in helping us get to the end point in an effective way, and I think there is an opportunity hidden in that dichotomy.''
An afternoon panel focused on the differing needs of molders and designers and methods of collaboration.
Bemis Manufacturing Co. strives to ``do everything possible to make the designer's dreams come true,'' said Gary Vande Berg, engineering director with Bemis' contract injection molding division in Sheboygan Falls, Wis.
``If the stylist and the designer do their jobs right and they hit a home run, guess what? You get to go along for the ride,'' Vande Berg said. From a financial perspective, ``it is in the molder's best interest to learn the language and understand styling to make their dreams come true.''
Significant work is under way in changing plastics, Vande Berg said.
``We have done some work with plastics that have a specific gravity of three,'' he said. Other material is ``being formulated to mimic lead, and it is plastic. I see a day when people may not be able to tell the difference between plastic and metal.''
In addition, ``natural materials are back in a big way,'' said panel moderator Mark Dziersk, senior vice president of design with Herbst LaZar Bell Inc. in Chicago.
Bob Battey at Steelcase Inc. cited the award-winning Cachet chair line as a recent design-related success. ``We dragged designers into mold shops [and] molders on design evaluations,'' said Battey, engineering team leader for seating with the office furniture maker in Grand Rapids, Mich. ``We got everyone to understand the language the others were using so we could talk intelligently and trust each other.''
Scott Henderson, industrial design director with Smart Design in New York, said: ``I like to see things mass-produced across many markets. My philosophy: do whatever I can do to make collaboration as smooth as possible with as much communication as there can be to get to that goal.''
Dziersk noted that Henderson ``goes out of his way to learn language of molders.''
GE Plastics aggressively seeks to convert development investments to volume material production, said Robert Johnson, global technical manager for aesthetics marketing for the resin supplier in Pittsfield, Mass.
``Of those programs we dedicate resources to, we probably end up actually selling enough resin to redeem our investment about 30 percent of the time,'' Johnson said. Publicly traded parent General Electric Co. walks a delicate line in balancing return on investment and entrepreneurial initiatives.
``Resin suppliers, like any business, look for a big payback,'' Johnson said. ``If you are putting a couple of hundred thousand dollars' worth of resources to do fill-in analysis - design consultation through resin modification on a new product - that's about a half-a-million-dollar deal to tweak an existing formulation. ... We have to take risk on best bets'' and those tend to involve large opportunities.
Plastics News organized the conference with major help from the Industrial Designers Society of America in Dulles, Va.