ANTEC 2019: Four information-packed days covering plastics, composites
For the first time since 1992, the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE, Bethel, Conn., U.S.) returned to the Motor City for its Annual Technical (ANTEC) conference. SPE honored the city of its origin by holding its 77th ANTEC conference there from March 17-21, 2019. The engineering society got its start in Detroit 77 years ago when a group of plastics salespeople who covered the automotive industry first got together and dreamed of an engineering society dedicated to the newly emerging field of plastics. The rest, as they say, is history. The Detroit area still plays an important role in SPE with its Detroit Section and Automotive Division, among the society’s most active groups, annually hosting three technical conferences, an international awards competition, and a materials auction. Both groups also donate significant proceeds to advance educational efforts ranging from Christmas toys for underprivileged children to undergraduate and graduate scholarships to travel funds so students can attend technical conferences like ANTEC to the innovative PlastiVan program for middle school students.
This year’s program was held at the iconic Renaissance Center (RenCen), which also currently is the world headquarters of General Motors Co. (GM, Detroit, Mich., U.S.). The conference took over a significant portion of two floors of the building and its exhibition filled a large ballroom on a third level. ANTEC attracted a global audience estimated at 1,226 people to watch 438 regular presentations, keynotes, plenary talks and panel discussions in 67 technical sessions over four days. Additionally, SPE’s sixth-annual Plastics for Life parts competition displayed novel plastic and composite parts from a number of industries that already had won competitions held by SPE divisions/sections the previous year. Those parts were then voted on by a committee of judges, with winners being announced in six categories: Protecting Life, Improving Life, Sustaining Life, Quality of Life, as well as Grand Prize and People’s Choice awards (the latter selected by conference attendees). A busy student poster competition attracted 56 students from 43 schools in 24 countries to showcase their latest research and get valuable networking experience with industry professionals.
A number of special events Sunday through Wednesday provided ample networking opportunities for students and professionals alike. A pre-event awards dinner the evening of Sunday, March 17 fêted a number of luminaries in the plastics and composites industries. Monday night featured an offsite Punchbowl Social, while a 5K run with a 7:00 am start time got Tuesday’s activities off to an early start. Tuesday also featured an excellent Women’s Networking lunch that drew 180 people — a third of which were men. The day ended with a Brewfest reception in the exhibition area. And on Wednesday night, an SPE Fowling tournament (combining American football and bowling) was held offsite.
Tuesday’s excellent Women’s Networking lunch drew 180 people — a third of which were men. In addition to a meal, guests listened to a panel discussion comprised of Patricia Miller (left), CEO and visionary at Matrix 4, Inc. (Woodstock, Ill., U.S.); Sonita Lontoh (second from left), global head & VP-marketing of 3D print and digital manufacturing at HP, Inc. (Palo Alto, Ca., U.S.); Eve Vitale (third from left), CEO of the SPE Foundation (Bethel, Conn., U.S.); and panel moderator, Mercedes Landazuri (right), operations manager, Apex Colors, Inc. and VP, Indace, Inc. (both Skokie, Ill., U.S.). Photo | Peggy Malnati
Rich technical content
The challenge of attending a four-day conference in which so many papers are presented in 13 parallel tracks on two levels of a large building for most of the event is finding a way to attend all the talks you wish to hear. Since you can’t, that means difficult choices have to be made.
Sessions in the INSPIRE portion of this year’s ANTEC (all day Monday through noon on Wednesday) covered a broad variety of technical and business topics ranging from Applied Rheology to Technical Entrepreneurship Bootcamp to Product Design & Failure Analysis Prevention to Joining to Mold & Moldmaking Technology to Color & Appearance as well as Decorating & Assembly. There were sessions on Composites, Polymer Modifier & Additives, Scratch and Wear Behavior of Polymers, and four separate Injection Molding tracks covering Materials, Processing, Simulation and Product Design & Development. There were three sessions dealing with Structure Property Relationship, including for Composites and for Polymers and Blends, plus a tutorial on Fundamentals of Structure/Property Relationships. Two other tutorials — on Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing and Polymer Additives —rounded out the program. Topics involving mobility were well represented, including sessions on Automotive Materials Development, Automotive Process Developments, Automotive TPO Materials Development, a more general Transportation session.
An additional INSIGHT segment (from Wednesday afternoon and all-day Thursday) featured keynotes and panel discussions covering some of the plastics industry’s largest industries —including packaging, building & construction and transportation — whose topics, SPE notes, were designed to focus on big-picture issues and to answer questions currently being asked within the plastics community.
The Composites track featured several days’ worth of interesting presentations plus two excellent and well-attended keynotes. On Monday morning, Alan Taub, professor-materials science and engineering at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and a former executive at GM and Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, Mich., U.S.), spoke about the challenges and opportunities in Light Weighting Automobiles. Photo | Peggy Malnati
On day two of the Composites track, Mark Voss, engineering group manager-advanced structural composites and pickup boxes at GM, discussed Light Weighting Automobiles with Metals, Composites and Plastic Materials, where he described the multi-material approaches and innovations that went into development of the CarbonPro carbon composite pickup box on 2019 GMC Sierra Denali pickups. Photo | Peggy Malnati
Sustainability front and center
Of special note, the negative impact on the plastics industry from news and social media over the massive problem of “mismanaged plastic waste,” which tends to end up in bodies of water, was very prominent in the program, including multiple sessions on Bioplastics, Sustainability, and Ocean Plastics, plus a stirring plenary talk on Tuesday morning by Steve Russell, vice-president-Plastics, American Chemistry Council (ACC, Washington, D.C., U.S.) on the topic of Can We End Plastic Waste? Russell not only covered the current technical and logistical challenges with plastics recycling, but also presented updates on ACC’s own WRAP Recycling Action Program (WRAP) for plastic film recycling, the Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter from the Global Plastics Alliance (combining ACC, PlasticsEurope, Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association, and Asia Plastics Forum), and what promises to be a really innovative Alliance to End Plastics Waste (AEPW). The non-profit alliance was launched this January and is personally led by CEOs from 25+ plastics-industry and consumer-goods companies who recognize that if their industries don’t proactively tackle the plastics waste problem, plastic materials could easily be legislated out of existence. AEPW’s leaders have pledged to spend US $1.5 billion over the next five years to support infrastructure development, public education, cleanup, and recycling innovation in regions with the highest amount of plastic waste accumulations. The issue of plastics sustainability carried over to three keynotes in Thursday’s morning’s INSIGHT program by Lorraine Justice, professor-industrial design and dean emeritus, College of Art & Design, Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, N.Y., U.S.) on Global Product Innovation for a Complex World; Albin Kälin, founder and CEO, EPEA Switzerland GmbH (Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency, Bäch, Switzerland) on Leveraging Cradle to Cradle: Design for a More Circular Economy; and John Ortiz, global director-product stewardship at HP on the topic of How Additive Manufacturing Can Address the Challenges of Tomorrow. All three speakers subsequently participated in a panel discussion.
SPE — which has spent significant effort retooling ANTEC over the past four years to better match changes in industry demographics and the way people learn and share information — reports that the transformation seems to be paying off. “We were very pleased with ANTEC overall, including preliminary attendance numbers,” notes Sue Wojnicki, SPE director-member experience. “We’re excited that the changes we’ve made in the technical program — including the new INSPIRE and INSIGHT tracks — and the networking opportunities were very well received. The response and energy from the new event features were truly amazing and the engagement between attendees, staff, exhibitors/sponsors and speakers was the best I’ve experienced in the last nine ANTECs.” Next year’s ANTEC will be held in San Antonio, Texas from March 30 to April 2, 2020.
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