It stopped people in their tracks. Time and time again, passersby - many there for a noisy, preteen cheerleading competition - would stop and backtrack a few steps to take a better look.
For many of those moms, dads and youngsters - the manufacturer's target market - the giant plastic children's playhouse stirred memories of youthful fun. For industry insiders and longtime plastics manufacturers, it did the same.
The difference between the two groups is that the plastics experts could appreciate the manufacturing savvy it took to put it all together. That recognition led to the Cottage children's playhouse being the buzz of the show, and its innovative roofing system pulling down top honors at the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Alliance of Plastics Processors conference, held April 2-4 in Columbus.
In addition to the Conference Award, Cobourg, Ontario-based Horizon Plastics Co. Ltd. won in the retail and consumer category and was honored with the People's Choice Award - voted on by conference attendees. The event drew almost 200 people.
Horizon made the roof panels with low-pressure structural foam, a process gaining momentum as resin prices continue to hover near historically high levels. Windsor, Ontario-based Impact Tool & Mould Inc. produced the molds. The roof sits atop blow molded wall panels and structural foam flooring that make up the giant playhouse. Detroit-based Thinking Outside LLC is the original equipment manufacturer.
A diverse range of firms entered a total of 49 parts in the annual product design competition at the event, which until last year was known as the SPI Structural Plastics Conference. Injection molding, the most common process used, was used to make 23 of the parts. Low-pressure structural foam was used in 11 of the entrants. Those groups were followed by gas-assisted injection molding (nine), thermoforming (eight) and coinjection molding (five). Reaction injection molding, compression molding and profile extrusion each were used in three parts. Insert molding and direct compounding each were used on two parts.
Of the 49 entries, 12 used two processes and one used three processes. Jack Avery, a consultant in Salt Lake City, said the industry is moving toward combining more than one technology in a single part, as a way to push the technological envelope and beat back competition from low-cost countries.
Mack Molding Co. picked up five awards, in the categories of medical and scientific, appliance, material handling, furniture and computer/business, and best single part. Mack submitted 14 parts, the most ever by the Arlington, Vt.-based company, according to Jeff Somple, president of Mack's northern division.
Somple said all the parts are new work. That shows the success of Mack's move five years ago to diversify beyond products such as computers and printers, he said in an April 3 interview in Columbus. Mack made the change when many of its core products moved to China.
``We're launching an awful lot of new programs,'' Somple said.
The other big winner - measured in number of product awards - was Bemis Manufacturing Co. of Sheboygan Falls, Wis. Bemis took home the Judges' Award, the award for lawn and garden and the Industrial Designers Society of America/Plastics News Design Award.
Here are this year's winners:
JUDGES' AWARD: Bemis Manufacturing won for its molded-in-color fender deck that it makes for a relatively new customer - Osaka, Japan-based Kubota Corp., in Kubota's signature orange.
Bemis used gas-assisted molding for the hand-hold rails and coinjection to make the fender deck to minimize material costs in the end product, a small utility tractor for residential or commercial use.
Bemis molds the parts from thermoplastic olefin, glass-filled polypropylene, and an alloy of polycarbonate and polybutylene terephthalate.
Gary Vande Berg, engineering director of Bemis' injection molding operations, said Bemis and its product designer traveled to Japan to work directly with Kubota's designer. Kubota wanted to redesign the utility tractor. ``About 80 percent of our ideas made it into the final product,'' he said.
The result: fewer parts, with cost reduction on 14 major plastic components.
Bemis ships the parts to the Kubota Manufacturing of America Corp. plant in Statesville, Ga. Vande Berg said the redesigned utility tractor is selling well in Kubota's home country, too. ``We are shipping products to Japan,'' he said.
The mold maker is Delta Mold Inc. of Charlotte, N.C.
AGRICULTURE: Composite Products Inc. of Winona, Minn., uses the compression transfer molding process, and a huge, 4,000-ton vertical press, to mold a tractor roof for John Deere Commercial Products.
The roof, for a midsize utility tractor, provides the structural backbone to house heating, ventilating and air conditioning and electrical components serving the cab. According to CPI, the roof had to be strong enough to enable the components to be assembled into it, but still have good aesthetics that would not require secondary finishing.
Engineering manager Darin Grinsteinner described the exotic compression transfer molding process in a technical presentation April 3 during the conference. First, large extruders produce a 24-pound log of glass-filled PP. Workers hand-load the log into a shooting pot. As the mold closes, the shooting pot pushes the material into the mold.
Grinsteinner said the process does not use any gas or blowing agents.
According to CPI, that form of in-line compounding allows creation of deep-draw features that cannot be obtained using other long-fiber processing methods.
Once again, the mold maker was Delta Mold. The designer was John Deere's Southeast Engineering Center in Charlotte.
AUTOMOTIVE: Minco Tool and Mold Inc. of Dayton, Ohio, the mold maker, submitted the winning automotive part - a rocker molding for the Honda Odyssey van that features the paint-film process instead of traditional painting. Green Tokai Co. in Brookville, Ohio, first vacuum forms the paint film, then molds the part. Green Tokai uses gas-assisted injection molding to minimize warping on the long, flat part.
Paint film allows the automaker to change colors from car to car.
APPLIANCE: Mack Molding won for its injection molded polycarbonate parts for a housing for water-testing instruments made by Thermo Electron Corp. of Beverly, Mass.
MSI Mold Builders of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, made the mold.
Available in hand-held or bench-top models, the water analyzers have to be lightweight, waterproof and have good impact resistance to withstand rough handling in the field.
MATERIAL HANDLING: Mack Molding won for a highly impact-resistant part, molded from a soft and flexible thermoplastic elastomer, that covers the motor on a walk-behind pallet mover made by Raymond Corp. of Greene, N.Y. The process is low-pressure structural foam molding.
The cover easily snaps on and off, for easy maintenance.
MSI made the mold. The designer is Raymond Industrial Equipment of Brantford, Ontario.
BUILDING & CONSTRUCTION: LRM Industries LLC of Rockledge, Fla., used a process it calls Thermo-Plastic Flow molding, or TPF, to make the winning product, a structural H-beam for a Department of Defense shipping container.
The H-beam parts, molded around a steel tube, can support a load of 60,000 pounds, according to the company.
The winning part is 19½ feet long and made from PP with 1-inch-long glass fibers. But Bart Berghuis, vice president of marketing and sales, said TPF can use any type of resin and any fibers, including agricultural fibers. The process works well with recycled materials, he said.
``The process is blind to the application,'' he said.
The key, he said, is that the fully automated process uses low shear and low pressure. The extruded material comes out of a computer-controlled die, which opens and closes as it lays down the reinforced polymer in a tool in the shape of the finished part.
That means that during compression molding, the material does not have to be squeezed down and forced to flow through the tool - so big parts can be made on smaller, low-pressure presses, he said.
LRM, which is a joint venture of Nova Chemicals Corp. and Envirokare Tech Inc., made its own tooling.
FURNITURE & COMPUTER/BUSINESS, and BEST SINGLE PART: Knoll Inc.'s Chadwick office chair helped nab both awards for Mack Molding. Don Chadwick designed the all-plastic chair for the East Greenville, Pa., furniture maker.
Mack uses nine tools to mold 14 parts out of glass-filled nylon, including the frame, arm and base. Several parts use gas-assisted injection molding.
Single Part honors went to the encapsulated fabric seat. Mack uses a two-step process to chemically bond one resin to the fabric. The second step mechanically bonds the overmold section to the seat frame, giving a good cosmetic appearance.
Mack uses MSI molds to make the chair parts.
INDUSTRIAL & MILITARY: Pelican Products Inc. of Torrance, Calif., uses structural foam molding to make heavy-duty cases with detachable steel casters. The resin: mineral-filled, ultrahigh-impact PP.
For this product, the structural foam ``look'' is perfect, since it shows off the rugged appearance of the big cases, the judges said.
Pelican is listed as the molder, designer and original equipment manufacturer of the cases. Syncmold Enterprise Corp. of Tapei, Taiwan, supplies the molds.
LAWN & GARDEN: Bemis and Deere teamed up again to win the category for front hood assemblies on Deere's L and G tractors in its Select Series.
Injection molding and coinjection turn out the high-gloss hoods, with a core of recycled or off-spec ABS, to improve impact strength while reducing cost.
Instead of a decal, Deere wanted side nameplate strips. Bemis molds the letters and strip in one mold, with a two-barrel machine using retractable-core technology. Vande Berg said the decorative strips are less expensive than decals.
The mold maker is CDM Tool & Manufacturing Co. of Hartford, Wis. The designers are Insync Design of Whippany, N.J., and Curve I.D. of New York.
MEDICAL & SCIENTIFIC: Mack Molding uses gas-assisted injection molding to make the side panels and handle for the E-Series Defibrillator from Zoll Medical Corp. of Chelmsford, Mass.
Mack uses PC and modified ABS for good impact properties and chemical resistance. Mack overmolds polyurethane on the handle to make a soft-grip part.
MSI and Mold Master Engineering Inc. of Pittsfield, Mass., made the molds.
IDSA/PLASTICS NEWS AWARD: Bemis won for an engine enclosure for Deere's new 8030 tractor series. Bemis uses injection molding and coinjection to make the large hood. The three IDSA judges liked the graceful lines, fit and finish of the part sections.
The body panels are molded of a PC/PBT blend, to give the hood impact strength and rigidity and to aid in molding. The enclosure contains several large, louvered sections, to allow heat from the engine's radiator to escape, instead of moving into the cab.