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DEARBORN, MICH. — The Society of Manufacturing Engineers has formed a new plastics association that could compete head-on for programming and membership with two well-established trade industry groups.

SME, a 70,000-member group based in Dearborn, announced the launch of the Plastics Molders & Manufacturers Association of SME at a March 25 panel discussion during its Westec '97 conference in Los Angeles. The association, known as PMMA/SME, has evolved from a small plastics group formed by SME in 1994.

The association, which plans to kick off a worldwide recruitment campaign this fall, has initial membership of more than 1,600 people, said PMMA/SME manager Cheri Skomra.

About 60 percent of its members are injection molders, with the rest including other plastics processors, original equipment manufacturers, resin suppliers and mold makers.

On March 25, PMMA/SME managers met at Westec with two representatives of the Structural Plastics Division of Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. During the exploratory session, the two groups discussed forming a cooperative working arrangement on programs and events.

Both sides came away saying the idea has its merits, although further meetings were needed to discuss specifics. SPI has 2,000 member companies, about half of which are processors.

``SPI has the potential to be a really good fit for us,'' said PMMA/SME group market manager David Reid. ``We're always open to looking at ways to participate or form partnerships with groups that can help our membership.''

The discussion was initiated by SPI's Structural Plastics Division, which has a similar arrangement with the Industrial Designers Society of America, said Jack Avery, manager of operational assets for GE Plastics in Pittsfield, Mass., and immediate past president of the SPI division.

``We think there's some synergy between the groups,'' said Avery, who attended the meeting. ``Their members are primarily manufacturing engineers who want to deliver products faster and more cost-effectively, while our members are companies in various parts of the supply chain. There might be opportunities to learn from each other and help grow the industry.''

SME steadily has become a player among plastics associations. Even without an external recruitment drive, membership in its plastics group has grown by about 20 percent per month over the past year, Skomra said. Many new members have been involved with SME's 10 other associations, which includes groups in the composites, finishing, metal fabricating, rapid prototyping, machining technology and robotics industries.

With association status, PMMA/SME has increased its budget for programs and membership, Skomra said. Currently, 20 of SME's 260 staff people devote a large portion of their time to the plastics group. No budget figures were available for the new association.

The Society of Plastics Engineers, based in Brookfield, Conn., is the largest plastics-based association with 35,000 members worldwide, according to Lisa Chirco, SPE member programs and services coordinator.

Chirco would not comment on the new association, but she added that SPE offers a variety of both technical and hands-on programs for its members.

Similar to SPE, PMMA/SME will offer individual memberships. After paying a $15 initiation fee, members are charged $60 annually to join SME and $12 for each association membership.

SPE charges professional dues of $80 per year, while SPI offers new processor company memberships for $250-$10,000 per year.

The group also plans to add three people to its six-person board of advisers. Current board members include Chairman Brian Read, vice president of Horizon Plastics Co. Ltd., a structural foam molder in Cobourg, Ontario; injection molder John Hudson of medical instrument molder C.R. Bard Inc. in Billerica, Mass.; injection molder Richard Clark of Tecla Co. Inc. in Walled Lake, Mich.; toolmaker David Meeks of Imperial Tool and Manufacturing Co. in Lexington, Ky.; and independent manufacturing consultant Shirish Patel of Brecksville, Ohio.

``A major strength of SME is the opportunity to work with end users in metal fabricating, finishing and other areas,'' said Read. ``They're interested in what we can provide them. That was a major reason for us to start a new association.''

PMMA/SME will offer members a chance to share expertise with members of other associations through a technical referral database.

PMMA/SME will focus its efforts on education. The group offers more than 70 plastics events annually in the United States and Southeast Asia and plans to increase that number by 15 percent per year, according to Reid.

Some of its programs are offered on a regional level through SME offices.

At the same time, the association is not planning an annual plastics conference, although that could change, Reid said.

The association also is not involved in public affairs, government lobbying or certification programs.

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