About the Polymer Engineering Center (PEC)

Polymer engineering activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison date back to 1946 when Professor Ronald Daggett first included plastics in the mechanical engineering curriculum. Currently, the group has six faculty members (Osswald, Rudolph, Gramann, Ploeg, Rowlands, and Turng) with a wide variety of expertise and research interests. These range from traditional plastics and polymeric/metal composites to bio-based polymers, composites, and smart materials; from conventional to emerging and innovative processes; from geometric modeling and prototyping to process control and automation; from nanofilm and nanocomposites to microcellular plastics; and from advanced modeling and simulation to Internet and Web-based tools for design and manufacturing. The breadth and depth of research activities at the PEC and its sister Rheology Research Center (RRC) at UW-Madison have made them among the nation's strongest research groups in the areas of mechanical engineering, polymer engineering, and Rheology research.

Motivation

Today, the plastics industry plays a significant role in the state of Wisconsin and the nation. The Wisconsin plastics industry employs over 60,000 people, and ranks in the top 10 states in the US. According to the Society of the Plastics Industry, the plastics industry is the fourth-largest manufacturing industry in the United States, accounting for approximately $331 billion in annual shipments and more than 1.5 million direct employees nationwide. Since 1976, plastics have been the most widely used materials in this nation, surpassing steel, copper, and aluminum in combined volume. In spite of the strong growth and ubiquity of plastic products, the plastics industry continually faces new customer demands, furious global competition, steadily rising oil prices, and growing environmental concerns. Many problems remain unsolved and new ones appear each day. To address these problems collectively with the plastics industry through education, training, and research, eleven faculty members at the College of Engineering at the UW-Madison joined force together to create PEC in 2001. In October 2002, PEC joined the Center for Applied Polymer and Composites Engineering (CAPCE) at The Ohio State University and the Florida Advanced Center for Composite Technologies (FAC2T) at Florida A&M University and Florida State University and became a multi-University Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) sponsored by the industrial consortia of these three centers and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Industrial Consortium

This combined Industrial Consortium brings about innovation through university-industry-government collaboration. It aims to leverage the financial support from industry to foster innovation, creativity, excellence, productivity, and profitability of its consortium members. The consortium provides a formal means for the PEC and its industrial collaborators to jointly determine a research agenda, share expertise and resources, validate research outcomes, educate a preeminent workforce, and facilitate the two-way transfer of technology. At present, the PEC has 15 consortium members.

schematic of the collaboration between the PEC and industry

Benefits of the industrial consortium include:

  • Directing program thrusts and accessing research results on a first-hand basis at the three participating universities,
  • Creating a professional network for members to share expertise, tools, and resources based on common interest,
  • Accelerating research progress by having industrial collaborators evaluate and validate the research in a timely and critical manner,
  • Offering a learning environment to train a skilled workforce with both academic and industrial experiences,
  • Facilitating continuous and seamless technology transfer and dissemination of resulting knowledge and technology.

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Research

The various research projects currently being conducted by the faculty, staff, and students at PEC may be viewed in detail at our Research page. New projects that have great potential and industrial impact will be initiated upon recommendation by the consortium Industry Advisory Board.

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Polymer Engineering Education

Furthering polymer-engineering education has been a main goal of the members involved with the PEC. Adding to the regular Ph.D., M.S., and B.S. degrees, the faculty members at the PEC have created a special Masters of Engineering degree and a Certificate Program in Polymer Engineering and Science that can be achieved via either residential or outreach programs. That is, engineers can obtain the Masters of Engineering degree or the Certificate from UW-Madison while fulfilling commitments at work or at home.

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