The Society of Plastics Engineers is holding its own, despite what Executive Director Susan Oderwald called ``a very slow, but steady'' decline in membership, to 18,500.
Membership peaked in SPE in the early 1990s, around 38,000, but by 1999, it was down to 29,500.
In the past several years, membership for Brookfield, Conn.-based SPE has declined anywhere from a half percent to 3 percent, Oderwald said May 5 at the group's Antec conference in Milwaukee. Antec ran May 4-8, along with Plastics Encounter.
Oderwald also announced SPE will hold a European version of Antec next year, Eurotec 2009.
She said SPE has a core group of very active volunteers, ``a `gang of 1,200' people that sit on all of our section and division boards around the world, and the council and executive committee.''
But Oderwald said SPE — like all trade associations and professional organizations — faces tough challenges as volunteerism has declined. ``That's a trend that's been around since the mid-1990s,'' she said. We really have to re-evaluate what we're asking volunteers to do, make sure their time is really well-spent.''
SPE also has cut its staff nearly in half over the past six years, from 42 employees in 2001 to about 25 now. The society is increasing its partnerships and outsourcing relationships — such as picking Wiley-Blackwell to publish its trade magazine, Plastics Engineering. SPE is still the owner.
SPE also is boosting its ability to deliver technical content over its Web site by investing $300,000 over the next three years into its site, database and other information technology. For the first time, SPE membership includes free access to every issue of the journals Polymer Engineering & Science and Polymer Composites, also published by Wiley. Members also can pull up an online library of Antec papers since 1998.
Oderwald said that Antec, with 615 technical papers, remains an important source for leading-edge content on technology.
``Antec is a really good indicator of what kind of areas and technologies are hot at the present moment,'' she said. Speakers presented about 70 papers on nanotechnology and 50 on bioresins.
Oderwald said Antec had been getting top-heavy with papers from academia, but now about 40 percent of its papers come from businesses.
``We actually developed what's called a `commercial track' and that's a track where we're still having technical presentations. They've still been reviewed. But they do relax some of the commercial restrictions that we do have,'' she said. Antec 2008 featured about 20 of these types of papers.
Oderwald thinks business interest will increase next year, when SPE collocates Antec with NPE 2009, the international plastics exposition run by the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. NPE 2009 will be held in Chicago from June 22-26. Some academic SPE members, have never been to the mammoth show, Oderwald said.