Glenn Beall celebrated designers in a speech at Antec 2003, saying that plastics processors could keep more work in the United States if they started in-house parts design.
``Manufacturers can only produce what designers design,'' Beall said, after accepting the Society of Plastics Engineers' International Award on May 7. It was believed to be the first time SPE gave its top honor to a plastics product designer.
Beall, president of Glenn Beall Plastics Ltd. of Libertyville, Ill., said he has enjoyed his career, which began in 1957 and included work at General Electric Co. and Abbott Laboratories. He started his own engineering firm in 1968. He said plastics ``provided me with an endless stream of stimulating new projects. The work was enjoyable and, best of all, they paid me for having fun.''
But Beall, one of the most well-recognized people in plastics thanks to three decades of seminars taken by 34,000 people, also hammered at what he said are design problems facing U.S. manufacturing.
Beall said ``MBA-types'' have downsized away the old procreative minds, who no longer are around to mentor computer-aided-design-loving youngsters. He said the cost-cutting mantra, which gives us the $4 lawn chair, ``is driving the price down to the point today where the quality of the design is beginning to fail.''
Beall cited strong reasons to invest in good design. The Institute for Competitive Design said product design represents only 5 percent of the cost of a product, but decisions made during the new-product-design process lock in 70 percent of the final cost.
He gave a sweeping speech that bounced from the caveman making a spear tip to three-dimensional CAD.
For centuries, under the cottage industry system, the same person who designed a product did the manufacturing. The Industrial Revolution decreed that all workers would specialize in one activity. ``The downside of specialization was that designers became isolated from manufacturing,'' Beall said. Designers also lost customer feedback, a problem he said continues to this day.
In the United States, a system evolved where ``gray-bearded'' experts trained young engineers. But companies have laid off the veterans. Instead, ``the full-court, high-pressure sales hype'' about 3D CAD has led MBA managers to embrace CAD, even though some products that look good on the computer screen cannot be molded, Beall said.
Another trend has U.S. corporations subcontracting design work to suppliers, but often, the designer does not know enough about the product's end-use requirements.
CAD, coupled with corporate downsizing, has led original equipment manufacturers to combine product design and part design into one position, performed by a single engineer, Beall said. Product design - how the finished product will look - and part design - the nitty-gritty work to create all the components - used to be separate jobs, he said.
Beall said today's designers are doing a good job on plastic products. But not enough attention is going to details of part design. But plastic part design requires plastics-specific knowledge about things like stiffening ribs and which process to use - areas that molders are well-equipped to handle.
Beall said that most processors are trying to cut costs, too, and may balk at adding design staff. That's a mistake in an era when jobs can move anywhere in the world.
``Every company in the global manufacturing industry can purchase the same plastic material, the same tooling, the same processing machine and the same auxiliary equipment. Today, there are very few things that separate one processor from another,'' he said.
He praised the ``early supplier involvement'' trend as a return to how plastics suppliers worked until the mid-1960s.
``This close collaboration between designers and their suppliers is something that is not available from a non-English-speaking supplier in Mexico or Asia,'' Beall said.
Using a staccato delivery, Beall explained how design kicks off economic growth: ``If the designer did a good job, then the manufacturer had to buy some plastic material in order to produce that part. He had to buy a paperboard box to put it into. He had to hire a trucker to deliver the part to Wal-Mart, and if you could even find a clerk at Wal-Mart, you could actually buy one of them,'' he said, to laughter.
``But it gets even better, because the clerk will ring up that sale, and once a year an accountant will total up those sales. And everybody up and down the line will get paid. And then taxes will be collected. And then the federal government takes those taxes and hires Ken Starr to stalk Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton around the back alleys of Washington, D.C.
``If there's any money left over, they build a road. ... And you and I will drive up and down that road to go to work to make more money, to buy a bigger, fancier car, or maybe an SUV. So that we can drive down the road in style, to go to Antec, to take our kids to college, buy plastic luggage, stay in motels and and eat at expensive restaurants.
``And the gigantic American wheel of commerce begins to turn.''