RUTHERFORDTON, N.C.—Trelleborg Engineered Coated Fabrics has added a new Rapid Prototype Center at its Rutherfordton facility to enhance and expand the operation's capabilities.
The center consists of miniature prototype equipment that allows the company to innovate faster and less expensively, "reducing the new product development cycle time for our customers," according to Steve Brockman, sales and business development director for Trelleborg Engineered Coated Fabrics.
"Our manufacturing equipment is very large, with some of our coating lines extending over 50 yards long," he said. When considering the cost of lost production capacity "and the large sample size needed to run development projects on the production equipment, it was very expensive to develop new products.
"We saw an opportunity to improve customer service by miniaturizing our production equipment into smaller-scale lab equipment."
Trelleborg Engineered Coated Fabrics, which is part of the Trelleborg Coated Systems business area of Trelleborg Group, did not have to expand the Rutherfordton plant to add the RPC, Brockman added. In fact, he said the center is positioned perfectly in the facility because it is located between the testing laboratory and production operations. Financial details on the project were not disclosed.
Adding the new RPC capability enables the company to bring new products to market faster, he noted. After defining a customer's needs, developing a concept and receiving approval from the customer, Trelleborg's research and development team designs a customized lab sample in the RPC that undergoes stringent testing before moving to serial production.
" 'Measure twice and cut once' is an old proverb that could be used to describe the standard to which Trelleborg's engineered fabrics operation bases its innovation process," according to Brockman.
After defining the performance requirements with Trelleborg's customers, the company can work through the iterative development and qualification process in a fraction of the time and cost using the RPC rather than full-sized production machinery, he said.
Trelleborg Engineered Coated Fabrics' new addition at the Rutherfordton plant contributes significantly to the fourth step of its five-step new product and technology development process to ensure customers select the right polymer material and engineered textile for their application and performance requirements, the company said.
According to Brockman, the five-step process includes:
- Defining the end use application and corresponding coated fabrics performance specification;
- Development of a design concept by the firm's R&D team;
- Concept review and approval to proceed to the prototype development step;
- Production of samples in the RPC to validate the concept and test to ensure the intended performance requirements are met, which "is typically an iterative process as we work to optimize performance and value; and
- Industrialize the new product as we transition it to our production equipment," Brockman said.
He said the greatest benefit of the investment in the RPC is improving the firm's ability to meet customers' needs. "As an innovation company, we must respond to the ever-changing demands of the market. Our customers need engineered coated fabrics to do things we couldn't even imagine a few years ago."
By utilizing the RPC, the company can expeditiously and cost-effectively try various combinations of polymer coatings and substrates in much less time than it could previously produce just one sample with machinery in the plant, Brockman said.
"It has been a joy to provide new samples of new products to our customers in a matter of days versus weeks or months," he added.