Work in plastics lab helping reduce waste in manufacturing

Jun 3, 2014

"It’s a huge opportunity for companies to innovate and save disposal costs while working toward sending zero waste to the landfill," Mark Richardson said.

Work in the Polymer Processing Lab is directly helping industry reduce waste.

Despite the obvious utility of plastics in a variety of products that are vital to daily life, the material also is stigmatized for a very simple reason.

“Many plastics float,” said Mark Richardson, lecturer in the Kettering University Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering (IME). “That’s one of the biggest problems with plastics -- it’s often easy to see the results of misuse or improper disposal, and that becomes the focal point. Conversely, there are other much more dangerous air and water pollutants that aren’t as visible, so they aren’t perceived as being big problems the same way plastics are.”

In Richardson’s Polymer Processing Lab, students and industry partners are developing ways to challenge the notion that plastics are destined to pose major environmental threats. In fact, the goal is to create methods that will allow industry to send zero waste to landfills.

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“It’s a matter of finding ways to recycle them,” said Richardson, noting that things like water bottles can be converted into material that helps make carpet or polar fleece and materials from milk jugs can help make decking. “Thermoplastics -- they’re amazingly recyclable. Things like bags, jugs, containers, those are easily recyclable, it’s a matter of having the facilities to do it and convincing people to stop sending them to the landfill.”

In addition to working on concepts to minimize plastic waste in the lab, Richardson is also developing a multi-disciplinary plastics minor for IME and Mechanical Engineering students in direct response to an industry need for more engineers with plastics expertise.

“There is a need for people in industry who can look at recycling as an aspect of engineering -- for people who can come in, look at the outputs and figure out a way to reuse plastic materials from a variety of products before they become pollutants,” he said. “It’s a huge opportunity for companies to innovate and save disposal costs while working toward sending zero waste to the landfill.”

Richardson noted that General Motors, a Kettering corporate partner and supporter of work in the Polymer Processing Lab, has begun using waste paint and polymer blends to produce 75-pound and 55-pound transport pallets. The collaboration has the University closely partnered with two companies who are tenants in Kettering’s Innovation Center -  Prefered Filter Recycling and Filtration Services Group.

Another key industry partner, Asahi Kasei Plastics North America, Inc., has also been a supporter of work being done in the lab. They employ Kettering co-op students and have opened up research and collaboration opportunities for the lab through their industry contacts. Asahi Kasei account manager and alumnus John Klein ‘98 and John W. Moyer, president of Asahi Kasei Plastics North America, Inc., and a member of the Kettering University Board of Trustees, will be on campus June 4 to speak to students and unveil a sign that will hang along other co-op partners in the Great Court. The talk will be at 12:30 p.m. in the Academic Building, room 1819.

“Support from companies like Asahi Kasei is vital to our students,” Richardson said. “The lab gives the students the basics of polymer processing, but being able to work with industry partners to truly understand the needs and career opportunities out there is extremely valuable.”

Industry and philanthropic partners, including Ford, GM and Chrysler, as well as Steelcase, the Dart Foundation, Bay Plastics Machinery, MAAC Thermoformers, Coldjet, Universal Dynamics, Rebuilding and Fabricating Inc., Asahi Kasei, AddComp, Grainger, Chroma Corporation, Century Extrusion, Linear Mold and Engineering, Premier Material Concepts, The Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) and The Society for Plastics Industry (SPI), Milacron and others, have been a major supporter of the lab and plastics curriculum development. Many of these companies, through the advocacy of Kettering alumni, have donated or consigned equipment, donated materials and made their expertise available to students and faculty. Richardson hopes that over the next five years, the lab will expand to do more advanced materials compounding and testing.

“This work will impact deeply into industry in the United States and potentially globally,” Richardson said. “Kettering, together with our partners, Prefered Filter Recycling and Filtration Services Group, will continue to develop ever more innovative ways to recycle and reuse that which was previously landfilled or incinerated into the atmosphere." 


Written By Patrick Hayes | Contact: Patrick Hayes - phayes@kettering.edu - (810) 762-9639