NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Alpha Technologies has taken one of its stalwart testing instruments and totally revamped it, the first in what will be an overhaul of its entire product line.
The company unveiled its Premier MDR—standing for moving die rheometer—at the ACS Rubber Division's Rubber Expo, held Oct. 14-16 in Nashville.
Officials said the instrument marks the first major enhancement since the Series 2000 MDR was introduced a couple of decades back.
The Premier MDR has significantly less instrument-to-instrument variation than its predecessor, and is a “reliable, highly precise instrument providing a new level of repeatability and reproducibility,” said Alpha Technologies President Lynn Zarcone.
The cure testing instrument offers such innovations as Dynamic Symmetry, to ensure parallel die closing, and Smart Alignment, to create excellent die cavity sealing, the firm said.
Other options include the SmartSeal, which eliminates the conventional elastomeric seal and maintains a close, pressurized cavity for improved long-term data stability and reduced torque calibrations, along with the Rapid Change adjustable eccentric that allows simple and fast oscillation angle changes without the need for recalibration, it said.
Alpha took about 11/2 years to study the Series 2000 MDR from an engineering perspective, looking at such attributes as stress analysis, thermal analysis and overall performance, said Patrick Kosuth, the firm's vice president of engineering. It gave the team a better handle on the instrument's strengths and weaknesses.
“This is a ground-up redesign with all lessons learned,” he said. “Essentially there are no parts on here that are on the Series 2000.”
But the new design will work so there is a commonality of parts when other items in the product line are updated. “We truly are going to create a product family with a maximum amount of reusability,” Kosuth said.
Zarcone added that the Premier MDR not only reflects the voice of the customer, but also input from Alpha's own field support engineers. The field staff said it was vital to make the MDR easier to service, so it would be more user friendly but also retain the capability and technical expertise for which the firm is known.
Kosuth said there were two full field service reviews, first from U.S. engineers and then from European service engineers. “(The Europeans) were much harsher on us because of the voltage issue and their being held to a tighter global standard,” he said. “It was a very good interchange of information of how to make things better. They were very instrumental into the input of this machine.”
On the market
Alpha also worked with four beta customers, a combination of U.S. and foreign firms, with a mix of tire companies and other users, Zarcone said.
“In that beta testing time, we already made some development changes,” he said. “We found some things that weren't working like we thought they were. Engineering was able to quickly go back and fix these pieces and make the instruments even better.”
Kosuth, a six-year company veteran, said after nearly two years of development work, he was proud to be able to announce it to the world at the Rubber Expo. “You see the data and you see the results,” he said. “We've worked hard. You have a lot of failures. That's what you do. You try, you fail. You keep coming back. Sooner or later you get it.”
Following the unveiling in Nashville, Alpha will showcase the Premier MDR at a show in Shanghai in early December, a show in India in mid-January and several shows in Europe prior to spring, Zarcone said. The company also will have the MDR at company locations around the globe, including Europe, China, India, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, the U.S. and one in either Malaysia or Singapore.
Alpha will have smaller seminars in various locations, bringing in customers for tutorials. The firm will continue to sell the Series 2000 for a couple of years before transitioning over to sell just the Premier MDR, Zarcone said.
Kosuth said this is the first of many releases that Alpha will make to redesign its entire product line, noting that the firm is working on about a four-year road map for the changes. “A lot of our instruments are 10-20 years old,” he said. “They're workhorses, but they need to be updated.”
Zarcone has been at the head of the instrumentation firm for about a year, and one of his tasks will be to make sure that development leads to commercialization in a timely fashion.
“These guys would be testing until the end of time, but occasionally you have to launch something commercially,” he quipped. “But the neat thing is they will test it every possible way because most of the time they're proving it to themselves. Calibration standards and the reliability of these instruments are phenomenal, and it's because of the way we look at rheology. We just love the testing and the market, and the data is something that is extremely important to us.”
He brought a varied background to the job, starting with EPDM and followed by a time in plastics, a stint working with coatings, a job running a small private equity chemical company, and then onto his post at Alpha. He said he took the position because he loves the intellectual property of the Akron-based unit of Roper Industries Inc.'s Dynisco business.
Besides upgrading its product lineup, he said Alpha also will look at bringing its technology to markets other than rubber or tires—basically anything that cures.
What he liked about Alpha was its great engineering work and the fact it wouldn't shy away from anything different or new. “I think the company had been a little stagnant for awhile,” he said. “I found a wonderful global team. A good portion of our business is the service and calibration. We have field support engineers everywhere in the world.”
Zarcone feels he brings a combination of energy and the passion to move things forward to Alpha. “I have a technical background and spent probably a quarter of my career with technology,” he said. “Then I really branched off into running businesses, and that's really exciting for me.
“It's not a turnaround (at Alpha). It's really just adding to what they already have. Dusting off some of the great things that they have been doing and adding to that. It's turning this into a company that continues our core technology of rubber and data, and then brings that into the future with some new innovations that we have.”