Through an intricate series of events, mutual industry contacts, and old-fashioned good luck, we’re in discussions with a developer of a unique consumer product which is an ideal candidate for rotational molding. The product will have broad market appeal, demands form and function for which only roto can meet, and represents growth opportunity throughout the rotational molding supply chain.
For better or worse, the customer has limited experience with rotational molding; consequently the product designs he’s developed are somewhat lacking in specifications, dimensions and features required to produce tooling and ultimately begin the part production phase.
As we reviewed the not-quite-completed part designs with the customer, we called upon our go-to list of questions to initiate project discussion:
- Who is your rotational molder?
- Who is your product designer?
- Has your molder weighed-in on these designs?
- How many tools will you require?
- What material will you be running?
- What graphics options have you considered to brand the product?
- Where will the graphics be located?
We should’ve seen it coming, but the customer’s exasperated response caught us off-guard: “Wow, you roto guys are sure tough to work with. Why is it so hard to launch this product? Why do I have to talk to 10 different people to produce one product? The blowmolders I’ve worked with don’t make it this difficult…”
As we considered his comments, it was easy to understand his level of frustration. Let’s be honest: sometimes we DO make it difficult for customers to find their way to rotational molding, in part because our supply chain is fragmented, with individual links in the chain operating within their own, respective vacuums. We make it necessary for customers like the one described above to develop a design, define aesthetic requirements, purchase tooling, contract with a molder, select material(s), etc., in a one-off process, while lacking the “connective tissue” in the supply chain to offer a complete solution.
How can we make the road to roto easier, and facilitate product development within the unique and value-added parameters of our industry? The ARM organization can attract and identify opportunities for us, but as industry members, we must collaborate more effectively to simplify the concept-to-roto-reality process. Instead of defining ourselves as molders, tool-builders, material suppliers, design consultants and graphics suppliers, maybe we’d be more effective if we view our role as Roto-Ambassadors.
One solution is to espouse more of a partnership philosophy among the links in the supply chain. In my experience, for example, it’s the exception – not the rule – for molders to develop true partnerships with tool-builders. More typically, tool-builders are viewed as a commodity with little differentiation beyond price, while in reality, tool-builders provide invaluable perspective that can lower investment costs, enhance manufacturing outcomes, and accelerate product-to-market timelines.
Similarly, tool-builders can provide expanded value by working closely with material suppliers to understand melt flow indices, for example; particularly in instances of tight geometries and critical fill areas of molded parts. In addition, we can provide marketing insight by advising customers of branding solutions unique to rotational molding, such as Mold In Graphics® vs. the more conventional (and less eye-catching) option of cast-/machined-in logos. Connecting all of this activity is the molder, who, viewing his supply chain as a respected partner and extension of his business, can then promote a more complete and value-added solution to the customer.
Finally, adopting an abundance mindset – viewing opportunity as infinite vs. limited – encourages us to step out of our comfort zone, broaden our vision, and focus on delivering a solution, and not just manufacturing a product. As an industry we’re more effective when we combine our efforts to expand the collective opportunity, in contrast to viewing as a threat exposing our customers to a broader solution via contact with other links in the value chain.\
Is there risk in expanding our roles to Roto-Ambassadors? Sure. Is it scary to let go and let others drive value to the customer? Yes. But by clinging to a narrow, compartmentalized definition of who we are, we run much more risk of sending our customer down a different, non-roto road.
Tom Innis is VP Sales & Marketing for Lakeland Mold Company. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and La Universidad Ibero-Americana in Mexico City, Tom is a fluent speaker of Spanish and Portuguese, and has given technical and market-focused presentations at numerous international conferences. Throughout his career, Tom has directed new business development initiatives, led successful brand-building campaigns, built self-directed, high-performing teams, and developed global manufacturing alliances. A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Tom currently resides with his family in the Northeast Ohio community of Chagrin Falls.
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