The Innovation Advantage
In a well-established industry like moldmaking, the idea of innovation is a bit like the weather – everyone talks about it, but no one seems to be able to do anything about it. Wade Clark, President and CEO of Electroform Inc., is an exception to that rule.
Clark and Electroform have been receiving a lot of industry press recently for developing a proprietary rotary turntable for multi-shot molds. Clark designed the Electroform Turn Table to be +more robust than previously-existing turn tables; he also recognized the need for additional support of the platen, and developed a patent-pending support for the table and platen. The system will work on both tie-bar and tie bar-less machines.
Clark says that he had spent years developing and working with in-mold assembly of plastic parts in or with rotating mold and index plates, and was ready for a new challenge. “We reached out to customers looking for something to develop,” he says. “It came to our attention that there were failures with some of the existing turn tables on the market due to the weight loads required.”
When Electroform received an order for a multi-shot tool that was better suited for a rotary table than an index plate, the company saw an opportunity. “We offered to build a table and the mold under the contract. We then added customer-suggested options, gave them a new table and moved forward with the product line along with some heavy load testing,” Clark explains.
With the tagline “Imagination without limits” on the website home page, Electroform has identified innovation as a differentiator for its business. The Rockford, IL-based company specializes in molds for multi-shot and in-mold applications, product development, single-cavity prototypes to multi-cavity, high-volume hot runner molds and stack molds, as well as manufacturing cell development and mold validation for a variety of industries.
“There is a lot of innovation out there that people are hesitant to use—finding customers to take risks is a challenge,” says Clark. To help mitigate this perception of risk, it helps to first identify the applications for a new technology. “The best thing to do is present (new technology) to customers based on what you know their needs are,” he explains.
Some companies may use the recent economic downturn as an excuse to avoid the risks involved in new product development. Yet according to Clark, that’s not the biggest issue. “I see so many mold shops not sticking with their core competencies,” he says. “Yet I’ve seen companies that stuck with their core competencies and did very well in good times and bad.”
Clark does not limit the idea of “core competencies” to product mix or customer base; it includes a combination of the best use of people (labor) and equipment (capital investment). “The same goes for new developments,” he adds. “If you’re going to be doing something new, you need to make sure it’s going to work. You need people who can back it up with knowledge and experience.”
A new innovation cannot create business opportunities if no one knows how to use it. “The customer needs to have the workforce that can successfully implement new technology,” Clark says. “That kind of training is a workforce issue that the molding industry needs to address.”
Electroform’s success suggests that, for mold shops, new opportunity can come in the form of innovative products and processes. He adds, I didn’t create the first turntable, I refined it. I saw a need, and went from there.”