If innovation is the key to surviving and thriving in today's economy, where do companies start? For rotational molders, the beginning step is to understand what makes a rotomolded part original and unique.
Mark Kearns, a molding research manager, provided a long checklist of innovative features to more than 300 attendees at the recent Association of Rotational Molders International annual meeting. Kearns is with the Polymer Processing Research Center at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland,
``A rotomolding company that promotes innovation must couple creativity, calculated risk and entrepreneurial spirit with business and project delivery constraints,'' Kearns said. While keeping the balance of creativity and control is a delicate and risky task, ``not innovating is even riskier.''
Kearns illustrated innovative processes and products in rotomolding with a collection of case studies, including a window-washer bottle for the Bugatti Veyron, which Bugatti claims is the world's fastest and most expensive production car; and a waste-oil tank with molded-on graphics that provide fluid-level calibration marks.
Another example was a vented roof tile that not only combines rotomolding and injection molding, but also takes advantage of a molded-in polypropylene mesh as well as a combination of micropellets and powder that creates excellent flow for very complex moldings, he said.
The innovative use of multilayer, multishot foamed structures is growing, particularly in Europe, Kearns noted. He said companies also are using combinations and blends of materials to produce complex structures.
Another noticeable trend is that rotomolding applications are moving from outdoor products toward indoor items, such as sinks, bathtubs, chairs, lamp shades and storage system for trucks.
Kearns suggested molders take lessons from the methods and techniques used to rotomold aircraft parts such as air ducts. Those techniques such as statistical analysis and advanced measuring systems can help rotomolders make consistent, high-quality parts in their own production environment.
A common misconception is that innovation is all about new technologies and research and development. But the real key is creative thinking, which, according to Kearns, can make businesses more efficient and transform products, processes, people and profitability.