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Partnering for profits

Partnering for profits

Prescott, WI--New research sponsored by Design News shows that design engineers play a very active role in choosing molders and other plastics fabricators. But to really get the most from these vendors, you need to make them a part of your design team as early as possible.

For a good example of the payoffs you can realize, take a look at the relationship that Northern Wisconsin-based Phillips Plastics has forged with such major OEMs as Black & Decker, John Deere, and Chrysler. Increasingly, the engineers at these companies have allowed Phillips engineers to view new product programs at the concept stage--even before the first CAD file is created. It is then that the injection molder can offer such services as design and engineering support, advice on choosing the appropriate resin, evaluation of tooling, manufacturing, and automation requirements--even assembly and packaging issues. While Phillips and the OEM engineers work together on perfecting the design, work is already beginning on building the tooling for the production runs.

For the past four years, Phillips has worked very closely with Black & Decker to develop such products as the DeWalt line of drills, which have won industrial design awards and boosted the company's market share in the highly competitive hand tool market. Before any design work had begun, Black & Decker asked Phillips engineers to explore the idea of creating a tool with a soft-touch handle. This would require a two-shot molding process--a concept never before tried by Black & Decker. The first shot would produce the rigid main housing, made of a polycarbonate-ABS blend. The second shot, using a thermoplastic elastomer, would create the soft-touch handle.

Since that first successful project, Phillips has helped Black & Decker develop 16 high-volume products, says Phillips Senior Engineer John Conlin, who now spends abut 70% of his time working with the Maryland-based toolmaker. "When I walk into their corporate offices, it seems like I know half the people there," he jokes. His work involves routine exchange of 3-D CAD files with Black & Decker engineers and visits and contacts with Black & Decker manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and in Europe.

Nick Papson, a senior purchasing official with Black & Decker, notes that, because of this design partnership, Phillips has passed on to his company price reductions of 6%, 11%, and 12% over the last three years. "The cumulative effect of these reductions is that to date Black & Decker has realized savings of nearly $1.5 million dollars. This technical alliance also has cut delivery times and resulted in zero defects in more than 800,000 parts produced during the past eight months.

Papson admits that it takes a "cultural change" for a manufacturer to bring in suppliers at the concept stage. "It is very easy to get too far down the road with a design, but then it's too late for the molder or other supplier to be of much help in curbing costs and development time."

Bob Cervenka, CEO of Phillips, says that the idea of offering price decreases to OEM customers in exchange for the chance to get involved early in a project is increasingly becoming a formal business strategy at Phillips, which Cervenka, a mechanical engineer, founded in 1964.

Customers that have benefited from this approach include OEMs in fields as varied as automotive, medical, lawn & garden, appliances, home entertainment and communications. Says Cervenka: "This diversity of experience is an important advantage we can offer engineers versus in-house molders or those that serve only one market."

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