By: Jessica Holbrook
April 26, 2013
CINCINNATI — The Society of Plastics Engineers is looking at the future.
The trade organization is embracing new technology, experimenting with social media and working to attract a new demographic.
"We have a gap to bridge with the younger generation," said CEO Willem De Vos, in an interview at Antec 2013. "The old boys group, they used to close deals at the bar. The younger generation, they still have drinks at the bar, but their way of networking is completely different…it's much more digital or e-networking.
The organization is also facing modern market realities: it's nearly 15,000 members have less time to donate to SPE activities and are looking at the value of their membership. Meanwhile, globalization and the internet have changed the market structure, he said.
In response, SPE is redesigning and upgrading its website to improve both aesthetics and navigation. The new site will be more dynamic and simple and allow SPE to post new content daily. Upgraded software will enable the site to "recognize" members and tailor content to their interests, and a new enterprise resource planning system will make it easier to find relevant data.
The group is also launching SPeConnect — a social networking venture in the style of Facebook or LinkedIn but designed specifically for the plastics industry.
The site, which should be up and running by the end of the year, is designed for SPE members, but the group is hoping to team up with other industry organizations and "build the first and biggest professional social network for the plastics industry," De Vos said.
SPE is also planning to create apps for its events. A free Antec 2013 app that offered announcements, an exhibitor listing and a schedule of events, was available for iOS and Android mobile devices.
The newly-installed SPE executive committee looks to be on board with the organization's plan to attract millennial members. New SPE President Jon Ratzlaff took a new approach with his video welcome message. Rather than donning a suit and sitting down for an interview, Ratzlaff speeds around a race track in a fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro, swigs from a plastic water bottle, and explains the advanced polymers that made the car (and bottle) possible, the years of science and technology that went into developing today's plastics, and the benefits of being an SPE member.
The video includes a blooper reel and ends with an homage to the 1986 film "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," to reward "anyone who's still watching," said Ratzlaff, in an interview at Antec.
Ratzlaff emphasized that along with attracting a younger audience, SPE is looking to highlight innovation. At Antec 2014, set for April 28-30 in Las Vegas, the organization will hold a global parts competition that will feature "innovation out the whazoo."
The still unnamed competition will highlight the innovations that won awards at other SPE conferences and events throughout the year, and pit them against each other in a grand prize competition.
"What we really want to do is tell the world that we are the Society of Plastics Engineers. We are the ones who innovate, and who else is better to show that off?" Ratzlaff said. "This is an excellent way of doing it; it's a fun way of doing it."
The competition will foster friendly competition between SPE members and may give OEMs, some of whom feel out of place in SPE, "a chance to have a fun competition and show off their work," he said.
Taking on new goals doesn't mean the organization is forgetting its old ones. Over the last few years, SPE has focused on globalization and continues to do more global events, De Vos said.
"We're starting to be global as a society…we're following the path that was laid out in front of us," he said.
The organization held a successful Antec in India last year and will hold upcoming conferences in Europe, China and the Middle East, he said.
Antec 2013, held April 22-24 in Cincinnati, attracted close to 2,000 people and featured about 530 technical presentations, both technical and business-related.
It is the biggest plastics industry event in the U.S. in 2013, De Vos said.
Antec was also the site of SPE's annual business meeting and ushered in the organization's new executive committee.
As Ratzlaff starts his one-year term as president, Vijay B. Boolani will become president-elect.
Ratzlaff, technical services manager for Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LP in Bartlesville, Okla., joined SPE in 1995. He served as president-elect in 2012-13 and senior vice president in 2011-12, and also served as chair of the SPE Rotational Molding division, president of the Oklahoma Section, and spent four years as chair of the International Committee.
He is an SPE certified plastics technologists and one of the authors of the SPE Injection Molding Technicians Toolbox guide.
Boolani, president of Boolani Engineering Corp. in Mumbai, India, will be installed as president of SPE at Antec 2014. He joined SPE in 1981, and previously served as vice president/secretary and vice president.
Boolani also was chair of Antec Mumbai, held in December 2012.
The rest of SPE's 2013-2014 executive committee follows: