AKRON—It was around six years ago when one of Shin-Etsu Silicones of America's customers approached the firm with a request.
The customer, Minnesota Mold Engineering Group, needed a product that would help manufacture an improved headset for coaches to use during football games. And they needed it soon.
Shin-Etsu successfully utilized three existing silicone products that improved the functionality, comfort, durability and branding of the headsets. In a matter of months, headsets that used Shin-Etsu's products were common in professional football stadiums across the U.S.
"The overall message is, we had a fairly demanding customer who was pretty precise about what they wanted," said Eric Bishop, Shin-Etsu's North American marketing manager.
"We had a tight window to deliver, but by working collaboratively, Shin-Etsu and MME delivered a product to meet the aesthetic needs as well as functional and comfort needs."
Bishop said his company couldn't reveal the other companies involved in the project. But according to the MME website, Motorola asked the MME Group, from St. Paul, Minn., to build three headsets to fit new standards.
MME said that the headsets were tested in NFL Europe, revised to meet additional requests and then produced in time to outfit every NFL team in time for training camp.
Shin-Etsu a U.S. subsidiary of Shin-Etsu Chemical Co. Ltd. of Japan, played a key role in the project's success. First, the company identified three silicone products to resolve issues in the headset:
• KEG2000-70 was used for its flexibility and durability in the boom part of the headset;
• KE1950-10 was used for added cushion in the temple pads; and
• KE2090-70 was used in the headband for better elasticity.
In addition, Shin-Etsu engineers used a silicone ink to print a logo on the headband, addressing the problems of faded, scratched logos on older headsets.
"We had to use a number of applications," Bishop said. "The headstrap needed material that would bond to plastic, be pigmentable, soft and bond without primer or resins to plastic surfaces."
Shin-Etsu sought a soft, resilient product for use in the forehead pad.
"We had to find something that (coaches) could wear on the temple for three to four hours and still be comfortable," Bishop said. "That was critical."
Another important factor in the silicone's success was its ability to withstand extreme temperatures, according to Bishop. Football is played during the heat of summer, through the bitter cold of winter.
"One of the unique aspects of silicone is, through the wide range of temperatures, the physical properties remained constant through the range,"Bishop said.
"The cushion is still just as soft in zero degrees as well as 100 degrees outside. Some thermoplastic elastomers get harder in the cold, softer in heat."
While the headsets being used today no longer are made with silicone produced by Shin-Etsu, Bishop said the project validated the product's application in other products.
"It's biocompatible, so we can use it in health care applications, such as respiratory masks for sleep therapy and needle-free IV values," Bishop said.
"It's also used in some industrial applications such as in gaskets in plastic housing for a variety of applications, from smoke detectors to plastic lenses in emergency vehicles or vehicles with strobe lights," according to the executive.
Shin-Etsu Silicones of America is based in Akron and employs 150.