Dow Chemical Co.'s engineering plastics unit is seeing red. And green. And blue. And metallic and translucent shades of those and many other colors.
``The economic climate really has led people to look to differentiate their product in the marketplace,'' Dow global color manager Scott Collick said in a telephone interview. ``And color lets them do that.''
That's easy to say, but Midland, Mich.-based Dow backed up its words earlier this year by opening a color center in Midland and by adding personnel and equipment to a similar center it opened two years ago in Terneuzen, the Netherlands. Each center has an array of compounding equipment to let customers sample numerous shades of Dow's color palette.
``Prior to [opening the Midland color center], we had to go back and forth using testing machinery and bringing equipment to customers' sites,'' said Collick. ``Now we can host customers here and get a lot more done.''
Early next year, Dow also plans to introduce several new metallic effects later this month and three or four new color products for its line of engineering resins - which includes polycarbonate, ABS and PC/ABS.
``Fashion is getting more pervasive in things that we never thought of as fashion items before,'' Collick said. ``And designers are making a lot more products with faster product cycles. Product cycle times have basically been cut in half.''
Collick cited an appliance maker that recently produced a Ferrari-red vacuum cleaner in a limited edition of 50,000 as an example of nontraditional color use. Game Boy hand-held video games also are produced in a variety of colors and effects.
Large opportunities also exist in cellular phones, computer peripherals and many information-technology-related products, Collick said.
With that quick-change goal in mind, Dow has introduced its Appearance Engineering software technology, a program that allows designers to predict accurately the appearance of a finished part on a computer screen. About a dozen customers have picked up the technology since it was launched in March.
Appearance Engineering ``is a big time-saver in the product-development cycle,'' Collick said. ``It cuts down on the number of design steps and goes one step further in the [computer-aided-design] process by introducing gloss and texture.''
The program also allows customers to view onscreen interpolymer matching, easily seeing changes in parts made of polypropylene, PC, ABS or other plastics.
Dow also is reporting renewed interest in its Promatch-brand self-coloring system, which first was commercialized in the mid-1980s.
The process allows customers to feed color concentrate directly into their machines when making injection molded parts.
``It's more important with so many colors out there to help customers with inventory and speed to market,'' Collick said. ``Customers need to reduce their dead stock. There were a lot of printer makers out there stuck with lime and berry [resin] when the Imac changed colors.''