Meet your new competitor: P&G’s custom moldmaking business

Procter & Gamble’s newly formed company, iMFLUX, which it established about two years ago in a large facility in Hamilton, OH, is now a full-service mold manufacturing company. Its website provides information on how the company’s capabilities include machining of multiple types of metals on state-of-the-art three-, four- and five-axis machines, with wire and sinker EDM capabilities, as well. The company provides “unmatched experience creating solutions for customers in medical, automotive, packaging and aerospace industries,” according to the company.

So, if you thought that iMFLUX was just there to provide services for P&G, think again. If you make molds or perform molding for P&G, you have a new competitor . . . and it’s P&G.

It was assumed that iMFLUX would be doing low-pressure molding at its facility, but according to the website, they offer injection molding consultancy services to help customers develop and manage new product concepts at their facility or at iMFLUX. It specializes in complex injection molding applications. The company doesn’t say how many molding machines it has in the facility. But, I’m assuming that iMFLUX will be a regular custom injection molding facility specializing in low-pressure molding.

Gene Altonen, Chief Technology Officer for iMFLUX, has his name pinned on an additional nine (9) patents (yes, you read that correctly!). Patents include one issued on June 25, 2015, for “Methods of Forming Overmolded Articles,” which describes overmolding: It reads (as far as I can tell) like a description of overmolding that molders have been engaged in for many years. Another one accounts for “Injection Molding Machines and Methods for Accounting for Changes in Material Properties During Injection Molding Runs” (issued April 30, 2015) using a special controller that signals when there is a “change in material flowability” and “alters a target injection pressure to ensure that molten plastic material completely fills and packs a mold cavity to prevent part flaws such as short shots or flashing.”

Another low-pressure injection molding machine and mold (reportedly formed of an easily machineable material that is less costly and faster to manufacture than typical injection molds, which makes me wonder if he is talking about aluminum) patent is titled, “Non-Naturally Balanced Feed System for an Injection Molding Apparatus.”

A patent issued to Altonen on April 9, 2015, and assigned to P&G is for “Process and Apparatus for Making Tufted Article.” Hmm, like a toothbrush? This one uses pressure sensors and a control “mechanism for monitoring and adjusting an injection pressure according to the pressure-dominate algorithm . . .” Another patent assigned to P&G, the unit dose dispensing apparatus, issued on March 24, 2015, appears to be a material metering/dosing system.

A patent issued on March 17, 2015, and assigned to iMLFUX Inc., is for “injection molding machines and methods for accounting for changes in material properties during injection molding runs,” which involves a controller (similar to the one noted above) “that alters injection pressure to ensure that molten plastic material fills a mold cavity within a correct amount of time to prevent part flaws such as short shots or flashing.”

Gee, none of these sound like groundbreaking ideas, but then maybe I’m missing something. Do any of you have any ideas about these “patents” on machinery and processes that appear to me to be nothing new?

Maybe Altonen is patenting these machines and processes because no one else in the industry has gotten actual patents on these machines or processes or process controllers. I found a number of Milacron patents dating from the early 1970s, including a patent issued in 2010 for an injection molding machine with vertical plasticizing unit. I find it hard to believe that machinery manufacturers and process and controller developers wouldn’t file for patents, but the world of patents is a squirrely one.

Maybe Altonen will go around and sue everyone who is using these molding machines, processes and controllers on the grounds of patent infringement. If you think that’s not possible, consider the cautionary tale of Jerome Lemelson. It’s a fascinating story of what can happen to some really big companies with regard to their products if patents aren’t filed in a timely manner.

While many inventors support the evidence that Lemelson was a true inventor who spent hours writing down his ideas in notebooks, which he dated to prove authenticity, others consider Lemelson to be a “patent troll,” someone who goes through the patent files at the USPTO, finds patents and makes a claim for prior art and sues the company with the later patents.

In 2013 the U.S. House of Representatives passed litigation reform, called the Innovation Act, but Congress failed to act on this, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, which continues to urge a government crackdown on the practice of “trolling” for patents. The Innovation Act would require that those filing patent infringement claims be more specific in those claims about the product that infringes on their patent. During his lifetime, Lemelson filed dozens of lawsuits against some large manufacturing companies, including robotics product makers and manufacturers of vision systems.

Altonen has an awful lot of patents in his name, many assigned to P&G, and the nine patents he has been issued so far this year—some just barely a year after he filed them—show that he’s either a brilliant “inventor” or just someone who patents everything already known in the plastics industry hoping to get some future rewards through the courts.

If after reading his patents, you have an opinion, let me know.

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