Brooks Running Sets the Pace for Growth
Specialty running products manufacturer adapts shoes to the runner and the run
Brooks Running Company enjoys a long history of keeping customers running longer, farther, faster and free from injury. From everyday joggers to high-profile athletes, runners have come to rely on the company’s devotion to creating innovative shoes.
Never a group to rest on its laurels, the Brooks design team decided to take the company’s shoes to an entirely new level by developing a truly adaptable cushioning system that would respond to the unique characteristics of each runner -- from weight, gait and running surface, to pressures and speeds. As if that weren’t enough, they also wanted to create a unique energy-return midsole that would add spring to the runner’s step.
This wasn’t the first time a shoe manufacturer had taken a run at this challenge. Other shoe companies had developed electro-mechanical systems to adapt cushioning stiffness, but runners were generally unhappy with the results. The Brooks design team knew it was up to the challenge, and they were confident they could create a breakthrough running shoe. But to do so, they needed to find a material that could deliver a fast reaction time -- a runner’s foot-strike time is 40-50 milliseconds from heel to toe – and the ability to both absorb energy and offer top-notch energy return properties.
The Brooks design team members turned to PolyOne for help developing a solution that would work seamlessly with Brooks’ proprietary TPE blend used in the shoe's midsoles.
Working together, teams from both companies created a customized TPE material that matched the performance of the Brooks TPE blend. The result? All of the components in the midsole worked together to create a shoe with custom cushioning and optimum energy absorption and return.
“Synergy in concert was the key to success in this application,” said Derek Campbell, Brooks future concepts manager. “The components and materials were carefully designed and engineered to work together properly and optimized for geometry, thickness, flexibility and performance.”
It didn’t take long for the Glycerin®8 shoe to hit the ground running. Within a month of the new product release, Runner’s World magazine featured it as the “Editor’s Choice” in its Shoe Guide.
“We can now offer shoes with a cushioning system that instantaneously adapts to a runner’s unique biomechanics, weight, pace, gait and surface,” Campbell said. “This is a feature that no one else can offer, giving us a clear competitive advantage.”
But that was just the first of many accolades for the shoe, which also delivered wins in sales, performance and sustainability.
- Increased sales: Retail bookings in the first year of the new shoe increased 40 percent over the previous model.
- Performance improvement: At the highest energy impacts, based on 7 to 9 mph for a large runner, Brooks testing shows the TPE-based system provides a 30-50 percent improvement in cushioning over traditional systems.
- Reduced energy usage and scrap: Previous cushioning systems required a four-step manufacturing process. Switching to PolyOne's GLS™ TPEs enabled Brooks to move to a single injection molding process, yielding a 30-40 percent reduction in energy usage and a projected savings of $80,000 to $100,000 annually.
As one final benefit, Brooks is regrinding and reusing its post-industrial scrap, further reducing its environmental footprint.
Auto Parts Maker Gets Peak Production with New Approach
How they produce more parts in less time and drive improved quality
For a specialty auto parts molder, peak demand from a customer presented a real dilemma.
Its customer, a luxury European automaker, was buying radiator shrouds that the molder made from a black talc-filled polypropylene on a single-cavity injection system. Spikes in production were great for the molder’s bottom line, but sometimes the increased demand outstripped its ability to fill orders. To make matters worse, the quality of the product was slipping.
The supplier needed to find a way to boost productivity and product quality, without increasing capital expenses – all while dealing with an extremely price-sensitive market.
The molder asked PolyOne to help analyze the situation. The team’s first move - optimizing the molding machine parameters to boost productivity – helped, but it was not enough. Needing even more throughput on the molder, they looked for additives that could improve performance.
They found just that in PolyOne’s OnCap™ CTR. The additive concentrate not only reduced cycle times as expected, it allowed the supplier to achieve better flow and mold filling. In addition, the new parts exhibited increased dimensional stability compared with the old parts, which had been plagued with warping.
By rethinking its approach to making the radiator shrouds, the auto parts molder was able to increase production capacity and improve part quality without expensive new investments in tooling or machinery.
Improved operational efficiencies: Optimizing the molding machine parameters and adding OnCap CTR reduced cycle time by more than 24 percent. That reduced the overall cost of each part by 5 percent, giving the supplier a net savings of more than $65,000.
Improved part quality: The addition of OnCap CTR kept critical dimensions of the parts within tolerance and improved rejection rates.
Since making the change with its radiator hoods, the specialty auto parts molder has expanded its use of OnCap CTR to several additional parts, further boosting its production and competitive edge without system increasing costs.
Guerilla Graffix wins with switch to water-based inks
Apparel printer creates new service line while delivering for marathon
For Guerilla Graffix, a 57,000-piece order hardly turns heads. Unless, of course, the job involves a potentially disruptive change to the company’s printing process.
The Rockford, Ill.-based contract apparel printer works with a number of notable athletic and consumer brands. It produces items for college bowl games and rock concerts, routinely shipping to some of the world’s largest retailers. Plant capacity is some 45,000 printed impressions per day.
So the order for 57,000 items from a well-known, branded apparel manufacturer for an upcoming Chicago marathon wasn’t unusual. Guerilla Graffix had been working hard to cultivate the customer, so a strong performance on this order was important for future business.
If only it were that simple.
The order specified non-PVC decoration. But Guerilla Graffix specializes in inks made with plastisol, a heat-sensitive PVC resin and the most common solution for custom printing on apparel. The company’s high-volume production lines were set up for plastisol, and its people were trained to work with it.
Non-PVC decoration is usually done with high solids, water-based ink. While the printing process for both types of ink is similar, the way each must be mixed and stored is very different – as is the care of the print screens. Making the change for a large job like this was potentially disruptive and carried some risk.
There was a second, more technical concern: 50,000 units of the order were to be printed on the kind of polyester wicking fabrics that are so popular among athletes today. While water-based ink works well on cotton, it tends to draw the dyes out of polyester fabric and into the wet imprint. This results in poor color reproduction.
Dan Smithline, vice president of Guerilla Graffix, needed to convert the company’s print processes from plastisol to water-based inks with the least amount of disruption to production volume, and without increasing downtime.
Smithline brought in PolyOne to help identify ways to handle the switch. Smithline’s staff worked closely with PolyOne to define print parameters and develop training on mixing, ink storage and care of the screens to assure the high-volume printing went smoothly.
For printing the cotton garments – one-eighth of the total order – Guerilla Graffix selected Wilflex™ Oasis Hydrate – a high solids, water-based ink that PolyOne customized to meet specifications of the order while maintaining production efficiencies.
For the much larger run of polyester shirts, Guerilla Graffix decided to test PolyOne’s Wilflex™ Oasis Black Magic – an innovative ink formulated to block dye migration from polyester fabric.
Trials of the new products and processes went smoothly, as did the subsequent production run.
With the switch to water-based inks, Guerilla Graffix found a solution that allowed it to meet the requirements of a large, high-visibility order. The new printing process yielded a number of important benefits for the company:
- Increased production: Printing with the Wilflex inks resulted in faster production times than typically experienced with plastisol-based inks
- Reduced downtime: The company also experienced less downtime with the water-based inks
- Expanded offering: Guerilla Graffix now promotes PVC-free printing among its differentiating capabilities
Producing high-quality results for the marathon also positioned the company to win more business with the major brand that had placed the order.
“Support was key to the success of this initiative,” Smithline says. “When the word ‘water-based’ is used, the majority of printers shy away. It was easier than we originally thought.
“Some of the printing techniques were different from the water-based products we tried before,” he adds, “but PolyOne’s training and support helped us run the product efficiently, and satisfy our customer.”
Tough Enough for Bathrooms, Gentle on the Earth
Design Ideas Ltd.’s eco-conscious bath accessories rely on bio-based polymer
How did Design Ideas Ltd., a home and office product design firm, find a way to create refined, resilient and responsibly made bathroom accessories?
Not by compromising.
Design Ideas CEO Andy Van Meter and his team wanted to develop a “green” line of bathroom products to meet growing consumer demand for environmentally responsible products and to further the company’s own goals. “We take pride in making our products in a socially responsible way,” he explains.
The concept was to create products—including a soap/shampoo dispenser, toothbrush holder, wastebasket and cup—that not only stood out for their renewable content and biodegradability, but also for their high-end aesthetics. What Design Ideas found, though, is that the bathroom is a harsh environment for sustainable materials.
“We were having difficulty finding a source of polymer that could meet our sustainability goals while delivering on the functional requirements of the application,” Van Meter says. “Many candidates could not stand up to the moist, warm conditions of a bathroom.”
Design Ideas needed a material that was environmentally responsible while providing excellent injection molding performance. It also had to offer stiffness, durability, chemical and heat resistance, and come in vibrant, eye-catching colors.
Following several false starts, Design Ideas turned to PolyOne for collaboration. PolyOne identified a potential solution in PHBV — Poly(3-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyvalerate) — a biopolymer material derived from 100 percent annually renewable resources, such as starch.
With a promising option in hand, PolyOne set to work. First, it characterized the base resin. Next, it conducted a series of experiments to develop refinements that would provide the right combination of processability and physical properties while retaining the biodegradability that was important to Design Ideas.
The result was a polymer that does not deteriorate in the open air or with ordinary use, but does decompose into carbon dioxide, water and biomass when exposed to microorganisms in compost or soil. In addition, the PHBV-based biopolymer can withstand temperatures of 110 C/230 F and will perform for years under normal conditions.
As a final step, PolyOne pre-colored the compound to provide superior part appearance and lot-to-lot consistency for Design Ideas’ eye-catching color palette.
The custom reSound™ Biopolymer enabled Design Ideas to create a unique and attractive eco-conscious line of bathroom products while supporting its sustainability goals.
- Green branding = new market penetration: With the distinctive bathroom accessories, Design Ideas created EcoGen™, a brand that targeted consumers’ desire for eco-conscious products without any compromise to style or quality.
- Differentiated product line = higher price point: Thanks to its unique value proposition, Design Ideas was able to position its EcoGen products among such high-end house wares retailers as The Container Store.
- Reliable product performance = enhanced consumer satisfaction: The custom-compounded biopolymer is impact resistant, enhancing safety in the bathroom. The material also passed a stringent dishwasher test involving multiple cycles, something most other biodegradable polymers could not achieve.
- Green product with vibrant colors = increased consumer appeal: Green products are often less physically attractive than their non-green counterparts. The pre-colored compounds used by Design Ideas provide consistent, vibrant, beautiful colors that keep their good looks, even with regular use.
Design Ideas’ EcoGen line of accessories received significant media attention and proved popular with consumers.
“We chose to produce this new range of products from the most natural material we could find without sacrificing performance,” Van Meter says. “Producing new products in an environmentally sound way is core to our mission. In PolyOne, we found a reliable partner that was able to create an outstanding material solution.”
TM “EcoGen” is a trademark of Design Ideas Ltd.
Sealing in Medical Device Savings
An infusion pump manufacturer saves $175,000 with a material switch
A lot can change in 15 years. But for a global medical device manufacturer time had stood still for a key component in one of its products.
When the company decided to redesign this critical valve insert for one of its medical pumps, the project was beset with problems. For starters, the insert was made from thermoset silicone rubber – a tried-and-true material that requires a slow-and-costly manufacturing process. What’s more, the part’s outdated design made it inefficient to produce and resulted in a labor-intensive assembly of the finished product.
The manufacturer needed an overhaul for the part – from a completely new base material to a more efficient manufacturing process.
To get help in finding the best alternative material that could be produced faster and more efficiently, the manufacturer turned to PolyOne. Starting with specific performance requirements, PolyOne’s formulation experts set to work developing several thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) grades that could deliver better productivity and enhanced key properties than the silicone rubber part.
The resulting custom-formulated grades of GLS™ Dynalloy™ OBC and Versaflex™ TPE allowed the manufacturer to switch to a two-shot molding process that eliminated the time-consuming and costly assembly operations needed for the old part. The new materials also offered quick set-up and faster cycle times, resulting in higher productivity.
Extensive compatibility testing confirmed that the new grades would bond chemically with the engineering thermoplastic rigid substrate required in the device. In addition, the custom grades were formulated to provide a number of other key attributes not found in the silicone rubber part, including:
- Multi-functionality, which enabled replacement of three different hardness grades of the silicone rubber
- Superior tension set
- Improved compression
- Enhanced permeability
Finally, the new TPE grades also boasted lower extractables because they required no crosslinking, unlike thermoset silicones.
The decision to redesign the valve insert paid off in multiple ways for the medical device manufacturer, generating a total annual savings of more than $175,000 a year.
- Reduced assembly costs: Switching to Dynalloy™ OBC and Versaflex™ TPE allowed the introduction of two-shot molding, which eliminated a multi-component assembly process. That saved the company $70,000 a year in direct manufacturing costs.
- Reduced freight costs: The lower specific gravity of TPEs versus thermoset silicone rubber cut the overall part weight by 20 percent. That reduced associated freight costs by $36,000 a year.
- Reduced scrap costs: The easy processability of the two TPE materials resulted in major scrap rate reductions totaling more than $70,000 a year.
As a final benefit, the TPE formulations produced a regrind that resulted in new recycling options that were previously unavailable with the use of thermoset silicone rubber.
Strength, Low Weight and Greater Flexibility
With help from PolyOne, auto parts manufacturer HellermannTyton finds a nylon lightweighting solution
HellermannTyton was at a crossroads when it came to the bent steel plate it was using to fabricate a complicated seat-fastening device for a leading automotive manufacturer.
As a global leader in automotive fastening solutions, it was well aware of the industry’s desire for lighter weight parts to achieve greater fuel efficiency. But HellermannTyton had priorities of its own, too; namely, reducing manufacturing costs while increasing design flexibility.
“We saw an untapped market opportunity for improved seat-fastening solutions and recognized that continuing to use bent steel plate would hold us back,” said Hagen Spiess, senior design engineer at HellermannTyton.
HellermannTyton’s original design involved was a complex bent-steel part manufactured with multiple openings and an irregular shape. Mounted under the driver and front passenger seats, the part functioned as the attachment point for power seat positioning, heating and electronics.
“Sheet metal restricts design flexibility, and different automotive OEMs request different attachment configurations for the part,” Spiess explained. “So it becomes extremely time consuming to design and fabricate multiple variations in metal.”
With the price of bent steel plate going up and OEMs demanding lighter-weight components, HellermannTyton’s designers believed that engineered thermoplastics for automotive applications were the answer to their challenges.
Having worked with PolyOne for years, the designers sought out a recommendation for a material to replace the bent steel plate. HellermannTyton wanted a material that was strong and stiff, could resist impact, had moderate temperature resistance and didn’t warp.
They found just that in Bergamid™ PA-6 resin with 30 percent glass fiber reinforcement. The material met all of the company’s performance requirements and offered cost benefits as well.
The material’s stiffness and performance were a perfect fit, providing the high-impact and temperature resistance the company sought, along with the ability to support and secure multiple electronic attachments. What’s more, the polymer enabled HellermannTyton to switch from a two-step metal fabrication process to a one-step injection molding process, while PolyOne provided additional assistance with tool development, process optimization and testing.
Switching to an engineered thermoplastic put HellermannTyton in the fast lane. It gave the company the performance it was looking for while also reducing weight, increasing design options and saving money.
- Excellent performance = customer satisfaction: The strength, impact resistance, low warpage and other properties of Bergamid resin helps ensure that HellermannTyton’s part meet stringent OEM requirements.
- Design flexibility = fast customization: With plastic offering greater design freedom than metal, the company can quickly develop and produce variations of the part for different customers.
- Lighter weight = environmental benefits: With an approximate 50 percent weight reduction, the Bergamid resin parts help HellermannTyton’s OEM customers achieve better fuel efficiency and lower CO2 emissions.
- Injection molding = cost savings: Compared with metal fabrication and its time-consuming secondary operations, injection-molded plastics are produced as a net-shape part in a single step, which boosts productivity and lowers system costs. The materials also allow designers to integrate features into the part without the need for fasteners or secondary operations. And the material costs for Bergamid resin are lower than those of bent steel plate.
Using Bergamid material from PolyOne, HellermannTyton has been able to distinguish itself in the automotive fastening solutions marketplace.
“We were able to recreate a complicated part in nylon 6, which not only solved cost, time and weight issues, but also provided a unique offering for our automotive OEM customers,” Spiess said. “The new seat securement part has already been adopted by a major German automaker, and we are confident that other manufacturers will come to us for this lightweight, cost-efficient solution.”
If you'd like to learn more about finding custom engineered thermoplastic solutions, contact an expert at PolyOne today!
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Interested? Then join us in our global network of Innovation Centers. Let’s work together to quickly and efficiently formulate solutions, and manufacture physical prototypes, to help you speed your improvements from the drawing board to your customers.
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