GE Plastics doesn't do NPE anymore.
Gone for good, apparently, are the days when GE's booth was a must-see, with its slick professional presenters and slicker new product applications.
The Pittsfield, Mass.-based company has a new way of reaching customers. In the past year, GE Plastics has held 22 seminars around the country, with invitations sent to several hundred molders, designers and original equipment manufacturers located near each event.
A recent seminar held in New York offered presentations on topics and end markets of specific interest to local customers - health care, defense, metal replacement, part design and regulatory trends, among others. The company also offered one-on-one consultation with GE engineers, either to troubleshoot problems or to assist in bringing products to market as fast as possible.
Timothy O'Brien, GE Plastics' vice president of the Americas, attends several of the seminars each year, including the New York event. He was pleased with how customers have responded to the strategy.
``Fewer of our customers were able to make the [NPE] show'' in June, because of travel cutbacks and other issues, O'Brien said. In a sense, the seminars allow GE to bring the show to its customers - without having to compete for their time and attention.
At a typical event, GE will invite 150 molders, designers and OEMs, O'Brien said. About 120 will RSVP with plans to attend, but 170 or more will show up. One recent event in Los Angeles had about 250 attendees, he said.
GE still exhibits at some end-market trade shows. But it likes the seminars because its best customers seem to attend - GE follows up with each attendee and tracks their success.
Inviting designers is relatively new. The company realizes it needs to get involved early in new projects - not just to win business, but to help design cost out of new products.
``The earlier we get involved, the more value we can add,'' O'Brien said. That can include adding visual effects or shielding in one step, rather than via secondary decorating or finishing processes.
``We can't just pound our fist on the table and take cost out. We have to design it out,'' he said.
The company plans to do more of the seminars in the future. ``We're not as good as we could be, but we're trying to get better,'' O'Brien said.
GE Plastics also held a news conference at the recent New York seminar. Executives there took the unusual step of addressing recent rumors about whether GE Plastics might be sold.
``At GE, our standard policy is we don't comment on rumors. So when we do comment, it's important,'' O'Brien said. He pointed out that in recent weeks, Charlene Begley, GE Plastics president and chief executive officer; and Jeff Immelt, chief executive officer of General Electric Co., had made firm statements dismissing the sale rumors.
``The plastics business is not for sale,'' O'Brien said. ``I think they want to make sure this story becomes a non-story as soon as possible.''
The sale rumor story surfaced when GE announced it was selling its Advanced Materials unit, which makes and distributes silicone-based products, sealants, adhesives and high-purity quartz and ceramics. Some analysts immediately called on GE to sell its plastics business too, pointing out that polycarbonate and ABS resins are too much of a commodity to fit into GE's long-term plans.
O'Brien said plastics is in ``one of the tougher cycles right now,'' but GE executives understand that, and still plan to invest in the business.
Brian Gladden, vice president and general manager for Lexan and resin product companies, said GE is ``doing whatever we can to invest in the high end.'' He estimated that GE adds significant value for 65 percent of its plastics customers.
``Our strategy over the next three to four years is to continue to grow that part of our business, and [to] minimize the commodity part,'' Gladden said.
In other news:
* GE Plastics plans to introduce about 200 new products this year, Gladden said. Some recent introductions include Valox iQ and Xenoy iQ, which combine the firm's existing Valox-brand polybutylene terephthalate and Xenoy-brand polycarbonate/PBT alloys with 85 percent post-consumer PET.
* The company is investing $30 million to increase capacity of Ultem polyetherimide resins by 12 percent in Mount Vernon, Ind.
* The company also is investing $250 million to boost capacity in Cartagena, Spain, which will allow it to make new products.
* At the end of October, GE will introduce a new high-heat, high-performance polymer, ``the first new polymer in 20 years,'' Gladden said. The material will be in the Ultem family, but will carry a new brand.
* GE is continuing to move forward with its plan to add PC capacity in China. The project, announced this summer, will be a joint venture with PetroChina Co. Ltd. Right now, the companies are undertaking licensing and regulatory approvals. They have not publicly identified a location for the new plant.
``Our plans are to have an asset up and running in China before the end of this decade,'' O'Brien said. ``We probably will break ground sometime in 2007.''