Forget for now the buzz that a new product design can create.
Forget about the hype of colors and textures.
Innovative designs, even for things a consumer will never see or touch, mean business.
``When it comes down to it, we're manufacturers, and this is a competitive business,'' said Greg Jager, sales director for the North American body and glass division of Dura Automotive Systems Inc., which will launch production of a new plastic window-regulator system later this year.
``I can build this in a small corner in any building, and I can save money. I don't have to go to China to compete.''
The basic window regulator, which is used to raise and lower the glass in a car door, was developed in the 1920s as two pieces of steel, liberally coated in grease and operated with a hand crank to work like a pair of scissors.
A drum and cable system has become more popular with wider use of powered window systems, but still require heavy steel components, grease and expensive and fragile cable systems.
Entrepreneur Paul Fenelon found the older arm and components in the early 1990s inside his Lincoln Town Car when he pulled apart the door because the window was malfunctioning.
``With the old designs, they'd practically paint grease on the units,'' Fenelon said. ``The grease solves the problems with lubrication, but the downside is that it catches a lot of sand and grit and dust and makes it a gooey mess.
``When that happens and then you drop the temperatures, the gooey mess doesn't want to go as well as it even did in the first place.''
So Fenelon went to work, using his background as a material scientist and his experience in plastics. He recently had sold his interest in resin compounder ComAlloy International Corp., leaving him with time to come up with a better design.
His first basic layout, using interlocking gears directly driving along a thermoplastic rack, not only worked, it outperformed the existing standard.
Opting against trying to make the regulator on his own, Fenelon teamed with Mertech Intellectual Properties LLC, a Nashville-based company that licenses intellectual property. Existing automotive suppliers, he said, have the connections and experience to sell new products to automakers.
Fenelon and Mertech eventually hooked up with Dura, which bought into a license once it saw improvements over the existing system. Dura featured the system at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2004 World Congress March 8-11 in Detroit.
The glass-filled nylon track and gears have integrated lubrication, eliminating the need for grease. It comes in 2 pounds lighter than a drum and cable system, capable of saving 8-12 pounds per vehicle.
It is more efficient, requiring fewer volts, which can make a difference for automakers looking to package more electrical options with the same battery. It performs better in all weather conditions and requires less space in the door, Fenelon said. Most importantly, it is easier and less expensive to make, requiring only three to five assembly steps and 20-30 percent less in up-front investments.
``We can make this cheaper here than they could the old system in China,'' Fenelon said. ``It doesn't make any sense to send it overseas. Design and manufacturing go very much hand-in-hand here.''
Rochester Hills, Mich.-based Dura needs only 600 square feet to make the regulators using parts supplied by an outside injection molder, with a line capable of turning out 180 parts per hour. It is looking at doing its own injection molding in the future, which would bring its space requirements up to 1,200 square feet.
The first production launches late this year for a major North American automaker. Others are interested, but waiting to see how the system does, Jager said.
``[Customers] are extremely excited, but hesitant to sign on because we don't have 10 years' worth of warranty data to show them,'' he said.
Jager said he expects sales to climb quickly, though, once the initial program begins.
There are simply few opportunities to cut costs on the old systems beyond taking production to lower-cost countries, he said. Fenelon's design is in its infancy, with improvements ahead.
Already, Jager said, the company has four to five ``significant developments'' in the works.