Procter & Gamble Co. continues to be coy about its recently formed Imflux Inc. subsidiary in Hamilton, Ohio. For more than two years Imflux has quietly gone about its business, which is something to do about innovative injection molding. But P&G does occasionally leak out just enough information about Imflux to string out interest in its claims.
The latest “leak” occurred to the Cincinnati Business Courier. Imflux vice president of customer operations Jared Kline told that newspaper's reporter that Imflux now employs more than 100 in the United States and Europe and Is partnering with unnamed customers to produce prototype and production molds. This sheds a little more light on Imflux, which so far has mainly been viewed from its website that has been posting help wanted ads for toolmakers.
P&G is the world's largest consumer products company, but it is not known as a molding technology expert. The company's name evokes images of such globally recognized brands like Crest, Downy, Gillette and Oral-B. Along the path to developing these iconic products it learned a lot about plastics in packaging and its finished goods, And, apparently, it learned enough to convince itself it knows better than its suppliers more effective ways to mold parts Its patent flurry is evidence of that.
Given the large amount of plastic resins its products represent, P&G's interest in plastic molding materials is not surprising, and it is not new. In 1993 it rattled its supplier network by making moves to directly source its major resin needs, a trend it borrowed from the auto industry. And for years its scientists toiled silently on sustainable materials development, before the company reduced its exposure to the research by selling its portfolio of polyhydroxyalkanoate resin technology to Meredian Inc. in 2007.
So like most OEMs, P&G has done a lot of research that it has kept quiet about. But what is so special about P&G's new molding technologies? P&G's recent patents are broad and don't reveal where the sweet spots are, where the real innovation is most effective. The broad strokes in its patent claims blur P&G's true abilities and intentions.
One thing is for sure. If P&G is onto something successful, other brand owners might be tempted to look at their product design and manufacturing models, and might want to become less reliant on outside engineers, designers and suppliers. If this is the case, P&G truly is proposing “disruptive” technology.
But it is hard to understand is how Imflux fits P&G's much-trumpeted exercises in weeding out low performing product lines, streamlining manufacturing and distribution, and boosting its sustainability claims. P&G has not explained in public where this fit lies, and it is curious that shareholders and the investment community have not pushed harder for explanations.
To be sure a 100-person business is peanuts to a behemoth like P&G, and it is not obliged to report on such a small business, but to spend any resources on it at all while cutting back in other areas seem to deserve explanation. To paraphrase a well-worn phrase from Missouri in the 1890s, I'd like to add, “I'm from Plastics News, show me!”
(Thanks to Plastics News correspondent Mike Lauzon for this post. Mike has been following Imflux since 2013).