Becoming well-versed in mold manufacturing helps companies get the most out of rotational molding, according to a top designer at Step2 Co.
Andrew Hauptner called rotomolding ``a very fun process to design for,'' because it allows for tremendous creativity. But designers also need technical knowledge.
``We feel that it's key to have a firm understanding of how your molds are made. We at Step2 are trying to push the envelope all the time on our products, and our understanding of the tooling is a big part of our ability to innovate our design process,'' said Hauptner, senior product engineer at the Streetsboro, Ohio-based molder of toys and lawn and garden products. He talked about Step2 product designs during a June 7 presentation at the Rotational Molding by Design Conference in Cleveland.
Hauptner explained how designers prevent warping on large surface areas, such as the sides of a children's climber, by adding subtle features like crowning, contours, textures and a slight ``pillowed look.''
Pressures from mass retailers add another demand for rotomolding designers. ``At Step2, we spend a lot of time and emphasize for designing for packaging and assembly,'' Hauptner said. ``Our products are big and bulky. We're always trying to minimize our package size. We're only given a limited amount of space at retail to put our product on display.''
He gave some examples, including the Naturally Playful picnic table, which ended up winning the People's Choice Award at the Cleveland rotomolding conference. When the table comes out of the box, the consumer folds out the legs and snaps them into place for a permanent fit - a design that saves space in the box.
Another children's product, Step2's Push Around Buggy, was designed with a removable push handle that fits into a recess under the car. That feature allows the buggy to fit into a smaller box. Parents also like the removable handle because it makes the buggy easier to transport in the car.
Step2 is the second-largest rotomolder in North America, with $100 million in sales, according to Plastics News data. The largest is another northeastern Ohio toy molder, Little Tikes Co. of Hudson.
Hauptner said Step2 is not locked into rotomolding for every part. If volumes get high enough, and the design works out, the company sometimes will switch to blow molding or injection molding. Two parts that are now blow molded are picnic table tops and wagon seats, he said. Step2 outsources the blow molding work.
But rotomolding remains the company's first love. ``You're not restricted to the parameters of other plastics forming processes. We feel the possibilities are limited by our imaginations,'' he said.