This week's special report on Plastics & Design highlights some of the opportunities for plastics processors — and suppliers — that are involved with the industrial design community.
Let's connect the dots and consider some of the success stories:
* Apple Inc. has a reputation for keeping a tight lid on new products — which can be tough on companies that design and mold accessories.
But San Francisco-based Hard Candy Holdings took a chance this year and designed its ShockDrop cover for the new iPhone 5, assuming the new phone would be longer and thinner than previous models.
The bet paid off. Hard Candy was able to introduce its case an hour before Apple unveiled the iPhone 5, and now the new products are ready to ship from Hong Kong.
The ShockDrop case even accounts for a smaller connector and a shift of the earphone port to the bottom of the phone — a design change that caught other Apple accessory makers off guard — not to mention owners of older iPhones.
Big bets like this don't always pay off. Last year, Hard Candy assumed the iPhone 4S would be the same size and shape as previous versions.
But being first to market with a newly designed product that will be in heavy demand is likely to pay big dividends.
* Eastman Chemical Co. collaborated with Portland, Ore., design firm Ziba to come up with new products using Tritan copolyester. The result was a whiskey flask called the Topo, with thick and thin curving lines that mimic topographical lines on a map.
The result? A product that shows off the capabilities of the material, plus a group of designers who now have a better understanding of the creative possibilities that plastics can offer.
* PolyOne Corp. held a 1½-day “design storm” with students from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., focused on developing concepts for the home health-care market.
The effort resulted in three new products, using a variety of materials.
In addition, the students now have hands-on experience with plastics. Their greater familiarity with the diverse properties that plastics offer is likely to pay off in future products.
As Rhoda Miel reports this week, resin companies have been investing in outreach programs and collaborating with industrial designers for years. To use a baseball analogy, not every effort is a home run.
But the singles are important too. As she noted, each new project continues to pay off with insights for resin makers — not just in terms of how designers think but in new information about their own products.
A growing number of plastics processors are following the same strategy, and it's hard not to notice that many of them are among the most successful in their markets.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.”