The Society of Plastics Engineers of Brookfield, Conn., has a new president under whom globalization and international growth will take center stage.
Vicki Flaris, 41, was named president for 2007-08 during SPE's annual technical conference, held May 6-10 in Cincinnati. Flaris, whose native country is Australia, speaks four languages and has lived and worked in Australia, Germany, Canada and the United States.
``There are no borders for where extra polymer capacity is added, and there are no borders where the information can, and will, flow,'' she said at Antec.
SPE's communications committee, for example, is made up of members from all around the globe, Flaris said later in a telephone interview.
``It's the first time it's been really global,'' she said. ``It seems to be what our members want as well. ... It's not only what I see, but what the community expects us to deliver to the marketplace.''
Flaris has asked SPE's international committee to identify key non-U.S. organizations to partner with in strategic markets. Certain regions for that focus include India and Europe.
``To expand in other countries, you really need to understand local legal and political aspects, for example,'' she said. ``We're looking to partner with associations in those regions to increase membership and visibility.''
Tim Womer, outgoing SPE president and chief technology officer at screw and barrel maker Xaloy Inc. of New Castle, Pa., shares the goal. ``One of the main things is that we want to broaden SPE's international exposure because we know that's where the activity is,'' he said.
SPE now has units like its India advisory board. Vijay Boolani of Boolani Engineering Corp. in Mumbai, India, is providing specific feedback to SPE. Boolani also was named to SPE's executive committee as a vice president. Another international appointment is Ken Braney from Thermoforming Solutions Ltd. in Essex, England, who was named treasurer.
Under Flaris, SPE will try to keep industry better informed and more involved in Antec. At the 2008 Antec in Milwaukee, officials will offer parallel commercial tracks.
``The Antec operating committee has some new goals, and their first goal is to develop a corporate outreach program,'' Flaris said.
For Flaris, who now is an assistant professor of chemistry at Bronx Community College, part of City University of New York, some of her most fulfilling accomplishments during her career include seeing her research translate into commercial products.
During 15 years of her corporate career, Flaris worked with BASF Corp. on projects like Microsoft Corp.'s game console Xbox. She's been crucial in developing new products for the siding industry and in automotive and transportation. Her very first project under her doctorate was a polypropylene bumper. At the University of Melbourne, her doctoral thesis was improving the impact toughness of PP at low temperatures.
``That was very exciting because my fellow peers had told me polypropylene was never going to make it to the automotive market,'' Flaris said of seeing PP used in a bumper.
With Huntsman Corp., Flaris developed an anti-squeak solution to foam polystyrene used in the automotive industry that was commercialized within six months.
She'll use that academic experience to reach out to students as well, especially as SPE works to improve student retention and mentoring. Flaris, for her part, is interested in getting undergraduate students to stay and specialize in polymers.
``I believe in mentoring because I believe it's important to share experiences, to have role models in the industry, to follow in the footsteps of someone who you admire and for students to love the area of research,'' she said. ``The way I stimulate my students is giving them examples of what I've done in the industry. You want to create a society that's at the next level.''
Her background in academia makes her a great president for SPE, Womer said.
``She is the first academic that we've had for many years,'' he said. ``I think that's going to help bring that point of view across, so that's a different spin on how we've been doing things.''
The student who has worked with Flaris the longest credits Flaris with mentoring him so that he is considering a career in plastics.
``Professor Flaris almost has been like a mother to me,'' said Sikiru Lawal in a May 17 telephone interview. His own parents had to return to their native Africa, where Lawal attended high school but was unable to conduct the research he wanted because the government cut funding, he said. Lawal and Flaris authored the paper ``Polypropylene/Polysulfone Membranes,'' which Flaris presented during the recent Antec conference.
Through that research, Lawal and Flaris successfully blended PP and polysulfone despite viscosity and processing temperature variations. The blends showed structure property improvements with the addition of functional polyolefins, and they made a series of membranes using an environmentally friendly process, they said.
``This was another chance for me to be able to do research,'' Lawal said of working under Flaris. ``Professor Flaris was able to guide me through. She is a guide. Nobody else gave me the chance. I needed that push to believe in myself.''