CLEVELAND—Rep Corp. has been working hard in recent years to change the perception that the firm only caters to the top end of the rubber molding machinery market and ignores the rest.
"There's a perception that we have to change, at least here in the states, because when people think of Rep they always think of the Ferrari so to speak, and we want to be more than just that," said Tim Graham, president of Rep Corp., the North American subsidiary of Rep International SAS.
So Rep has been trying to position itself globally to be able to attack all levels of the market, Graham said at the recent ACS Rubber Division Rubber Expo in Cleveland. Thus far, the strategy has been working.
"It's starting to help," he said. "We're starting to see business with other products within our line that are focused to those particular markets, and we're getting results. We're doing the right thing, and the right thing is to be competitive in those markets."
Rep's first steps in this direction can be traced back 13 years and its partnership with Taiwan's Tung Yu Hydraulic Machinery Co. Ltd. They first marketed compression presses, then got together to build an injection press, originally called the RTIP (Rep Tung Yu Injection Press).
Graham said that led to the RT9 line of presses, which were low cost but included the Rep injection unit on it. The partners found that to be competitive the machinery had to be priced right, and with the influx of Asian producers the price point in the market was lower than where the firms had priced the RT9.
"We had to improve not only in pricing, but we had to improve the technology because we want to at least make sure we have more technology than the other people at those levels," he said.
More recently, Rep Corp. is marketing the G10 Core press that the parent company debuted at the 2016 K Show. It is tailored to the mid-range category with 160 to 500 tons of clamping pressure. It is positioned as a leaner version of the G10 Extended top line offering, Graham said, for customers who want economical, practical solutions to their rubber molding challenges.
Thus far, he said reception has been good in North America, and Rep has done a good job with the packaging of the press, along with the pricing level.
"People who benefit are the ones who don't need all the technology available on the Extended, and price is the driver," he said.
Rep's new business model is working well, but the company still needs to work at connecting with customers at the different levels of the market. About 80 percent of its business is tied to automotive suppliers, and the machinery firm is looking to boost its exposure in such other markets as custom molders, appliances, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, and recreational goods.
Graham told of a customer who bought an RT9 that will be compared to a competitor's line the firm previously had purchased. "It was a matter of getting competitive so he could try that machine next to the (competitor's) machine," the Rep official said. "I'm sure it will end up he'll see the value of the technology, but the bottom line is you still have to be in the price level to even get that look."
It will take time to completely change how Rep is viewed, Graham acknowledged. "We have to look at how we present ourselves to the market," he said. "How do we change the perception to get people to know that we have offerings at all levels to all people, and that's not easy."
Advancing Industry 4.0
Rep also has been looking to meet the evolving challenges of the Industry 4.0 initiative, having released a new app and software package dubbed Rep Pack 4.0, which includes the Rep Net 4.0 and Rep Net App. The fourth generation of the RepNet supervision software and the app allows for real-time monitoring and plant floor modeling, centralized management of mold settings, productivity calculations and statistical process control functions.
Graham said RepNet has gone to a yearly subscription and license renewal model, which he believes is easier for customers to accept, whether they have one machine or 60.
It's an area where Europe definitely is ahead, with Industry 4.0 beginning on the continent. He said there is growing acceptance in North America, but he still doesn't believe customers here are taking advantage of the benefits.
"We have to supply a lot more training to our customers to make sure they understand not only what data to look for but what to do with that data," Graham said.
He said it should be used to improve their process, which will help improve with such things as consistency in both the rubber material and how the molding cell operates.
One problem is the injection molding industry has a shortage of process engineers, and more people are changing positions. So that makes it difficult for companies to sign off on expensive training when there's a good chance that the person may go elsewhere. "If you don't have a champion at the company that's going to run with it, that makes it very difficult to do," Graham said.
And while Europe currently is ahead in this area, it's a global market and over time he believes things will even out. "It's a relatively small part of our business, but it's something we need to have," Graham said.
Automotive is becoming an increasingly difficult market to serve as global customers are putting more pressure to standardize and push down pricing, said Graham. "Where it goes, I have no idea, but it's getting more difficult."
There's also a lot of pressure on payment terms, with some customers wanting to extend it out as long as possible. He noted in France by law terms can't be any longer than 60 days, but some customers are asking Rep Corp. for 90, 120 and in some cases 180 days.
"It's OK when your business level can support it," he said. "The problem is when business levels go down and you have people on long terms, it really puts on a hurt. In some cases, if you don't agree you don't get the business, regardless of what you have to offer."
Right now 2018 looks promising for Rep, he said. The firm has a good backlog of orders and likely will have to add to its staff of 17, at least on the sales side, and possibly on its after-sales service staff.
"It doesn't seem like there will be any major downturns in the near future, but you never know," Graham said. "You have to make sure you're in a position to react one way or another."