CHICAGO (June 19, 8:25 p.m. EDT) — Georg Menges is on a first-name basis with plastics machinery leaders in Germany and around the world.
For 22 years, he headed the place where many of them learned their craft: the world-famous IKV plastics school in Aachen, Germany.
IKV is the Institut fur Kunststoffverarbeitung, or Institute for Plastics Processing. Menges is not the founder of IKV — he arrived in 1965, 15 years after it started. But machinery officials credit Menges with building up the technical school by increasing the number of staff members and students.
Most importantly, Menges greatly strengthened IKV's strong ties to industry. IKV now has 300 industrial members in its Association of Sponsors — making it a world leader in linking groundbreaking research for machinery makers, resin companies and plastics.
“Half of the professionals in the plastics industry came from us,” said Menges, who retired in 1989, two years after he handed the IKV directorship over to current leader Walter Michaeli.
Menges said Michaeli will accompany him to Chicago during NPE 2006 this week, as Menges enters the Plastics Hall of Fame.
When Menges tours NPE, he will run into lots of friends. One is Karlheinz Bourdon, a German who is president of global plastics machinery at Milacron Inc. Bourdon got an advanced degree from IKV. He called Menges, his mentor at IKV, a major pioneer in the European plastics industry.
Bourdon said IKV, under Menges, focused university research onto real-world needs.
“He would combine what you would do in terms of research with what the industry needs. That was his unique model, and a lot of universities in Germany followed subsequently that model,” Bourdon said.
He works well with other people. “He likes to communicate. He is very well-known worldwide in the industry. He has very good connections,” Bourdon said.
Menges, 82, goes back well before IKV — to World War II — to tell how he developed his people skills. A young soldier in the German army, he spent four years doing forced labor and mining coal as a prisoner of war, after being captured by Russian forces near Riga, Latvia.
Dealing with others was a survival mechanism. “I learned the Russian language. I learned especially how to handle people. This is a very important thing to learn,” Menges recalled.
After the war, he went to the Technical University of Stuttgart to earn a degree as a mechanical engineer. He worked for a stainless-steel firm in management positions in quality and new products. Then he got into plastics, working in fiber spinning for Rhône-Poulenc and later founding its plastics fabrication business to make nylon tubes for automotive.
IKV was founded in 1950 by industry, academia and Germany's skilled workers union. The plastics institute was affiliated with the University of Aachen, a technical school.
The goal from the beginning: contributions from industry would finance the IKV. Today, IKV earns about 55 percent of its income through research and development for processing and resin applications; the rest comes from the union and the university.
Menges arrived in Aachen in 1965, taking over as managing director from Karl Krekeler. At that time, IKV had 52 employees. When Menges retired, IKV employed as many as 400, including 75 scientific staff members, who are the professors, and students who get paid for some of their research.
During Menges' 23 years at IKV, there were 1,700 student theses, 1,200 diploma theses and 210 dissertations. IKV students and professors published more than 1,500 articles and books during his tenure.
Menges said he tried hard to get more students. “With this capacity, we could do more research,” he said. Beefing up research was a key to making IKV world-renowned.
“First of all, we had to deliver some research results, and by those results, we got members. Managers of firms asked for membership because they heard from their competitors that it seemed to be useful to be a member here; you got access to all research experiences that we could deliver. This is the reason we have been growing very fast,” he said.
Under Menges' leadership, IKV industrial sponsors tripled, from 100 to 300 company members.
Machinery executive Frank Nissel, who nominated Menges for the Plastics Hall of Fame, said sponsors can access research.
“They publish a quarterly bulletin listing all of their current research activities. And the members can send for the detailed studies,” said Nissel, president of Welex Inc., which makes sheet extruders in Blue Bell, Pa.
IKV has done groundbreaking R&D projects:
* The invention of the pin extruder, widely used in the rubber industry.
* Early work on using sensors to measure mold-cavity pressure and also the melt pressure during extrusion. This important work, which started in the mid-1960s, right after Menges arrived, ushered in the closed-loop machinery controls of today. “We showed the first computer-controlled machine in 1972,” he said.
* Automated manufacturing cells, with robots, beginning in the mid-1980s.
* Plasma coating of blow molded PET bottles.
* The use of a robot to automatically produce parts from fiber-reinforced plastics.
* Development of water-assisted molding.
Welex is a longtime member of IKV, and Nissel is a big fan. “Machinery companies do very little real research. [IKV is] doing basic research. They're trying to develop the theory that makes it work, and from that, extrapolate how to make it work better,” he said.
IKV's technical work has gained all the attention, but colleagues credit Menges' management ability for fostering teamwork at the plastics institute. Menges believed all professors should have freedom to design their own work, including financial matters.
“We discussed the progress for the research. Then we decided what is the best solution,” Menges said.
But the freedom was not unlimited: “I always had the policy that the solution that came from my co-workers always came first, and when it was not working after a time, then they would have to go with my ideas.”
Milacron's Bourdon said the bottom line was that Menges wanted the best for IKV students. “Everybody who was studying plastics would get a job when he was finished with his university education. He was very concerned about that,” Bourdon said.
Those people skills, again. From a technical expert.