Rotational molding veteran Johan Aasen threw down the gauntlet to industry members in India recently, challenging them to change how they think or risk being crushed by global competition.
Other speakers at a Feb. 15 conference, meanwhile, also urged those in attendance to broaden their horizons and exploit rotomolding's capabilities beyond the traditional storage tanks and barrels.
Aasen is president and chairman of Ã ales1und, Norway-based Technology Holding Ltd., which rotomolds polyethylene foam products. The firm opened a $3 million, two-machine plant in Pune, India, in mid-December.
As a speaker at the Association of Rotational Molders International's South Asia Region Division conference in Noida, Aasen warned, ``I'm concerned that our industry is not changing fast enough.'' He told attendees that their competitors are not other rotomolders. ``Our main competitors are companies making products in steel, aluminum, fiberglass, injection or blow molding.''
Aasen advised rotomolders to:
* Develop value-added products and ways to convert products to the rotomolding process.
* Excel at a few products, rather than be fairly good at making a long list of items.
* Say no to customers that want them to invest research and development in products with a limited upside.
* Focus on quality.
* Deliver goods on time.
* Cooperate with other firms to leverage each other's strengths.
* Invest now in new equipment and automation, and avoid jobs that need frequent mold changes.
* Strive to reduce the number of employees.
``Those who believe that cheap labor can replace or delay investing in new equipment will lose. Too many people employed equals poor quality,'' he said.
``We need new equipment and high-quality molds. Value-added products demand this.''
When it comes to stretching the imagination, Aasen pointed to how one of his subsidiaries, Motion Technology Ltd., is supplying modular water tanks with capacities of 13,000-130,000 gallons. The firm is studying how to produce a 264,000-gallon, land-based tank for fish farming. He even thinks rotomolding a 2.6 million-gallon tank is feasible.
Products ``are not limited to the size of your oven,'' he said. ``We can make big, big products with multiple pieces.''
Speaker Dave Mulligan, president of Adrian, Mich.-based Roto Plastics Corp., took the ball from Aasen and ran with it. Mulligan's firm rotomolds PVC plastisols.
``Liquids scare many rotomolders,'' Mulligan said, but ``they offer a chance to broaden your scope.'' However, toys, balls, dog toys and the like - ``those already are coming in by the ka-billions from China.''
Instead, he suggested medical equipment housings, point-of-purchase displays, boat fenders, statuary and helmet liners.
India's retail market, for one, offers huge potential for rotomolders. Keynote speaker Sujit Banerji, president of Reliance Industries Ltd.'s polymers and olefins business, said retail in India is growing 40 percent annually. He urged attendees to convert metal shopping carts to rotomolded plastic carts.
Ravi Mehra, speaking Feb. 12 at Plastindia's business conference, noted there is strong potential in India for school furniture, bus-stop shelters, bicycle rickshaws with single-piece seats and vending carts. Mehra, an ARM Hall of Fame member who founded the group's South Asia Region Division, is managing director of mold maker Norstar International LLC in Cedarburg, Wis.
Mehra acknowledged the hurdles facing his industry: There are limited rotomolding-specific resins available, the process remains largely a mystery to many designers and original equipment manufacturers, and large-volume production remains a challenge.
But, by ``thinking outside the tank'' and by applying the guidelines offered by Aasen, the rotomolding industry has tremendous potential. In fact, RIL's Banerji predicts the rotomolding business in India will grow 16 percent a year, or twice the country's current rate of gross domestic product growth.
Aasen also believes India's rotomolding industry will grow strongly, but not all will prosper. Unfortunately, he said, ``Most of them won't listen.''