The Society of Plastics Engineers remains a trusted source for technical information, but now SPE must adapt to the global economy and lure young professionals, said leaders of the society during Antec 2009.
Executive Director Susan Oderwald said SPE now has about 16,000 members, down from 18,500 a year ago.
A decade ago, its membership was around 30,000.
New SPE President Paul Andersen said several factors have hurt membership, including the retirement of industry veterans, the migration of jobs off-shore, and plastics industry layoffs and companies cutting back on paying membership dues for employees.
SPE needs to reinvent itself to become more virtual and more global, Andersen said.
The society has to evolve to maintain its relevance, he said.
Andersen, SPE president for 2009-10, is senior manager of process technology and new development at compounding extruder supplier Coperion Corp. in Ramsey, N.J. He joined SPE in 1988. Andersen outlined the challenges in a speech at the kickoff of Antec 2009. Later, he joined Oderwald at a news conference where they discussed steps the society is taking.
Antec, SPE's large annual conference, was held together with NPE2009 for the first time. Technical sessions of Antec were held at the new McCormick Place West.
Oderwald cited a misperception that SPE is not global. SPE is sometimes thought of as a U.S. organization. But truthfully, for the past 30 years we've had sections in Japan, we've had sections in Taiwan. Our India section is celebrating its 27th anniversary this year, and we've certainly had a number of sections in Europe. So SPE has been globally represented for a long time, she said. But we need to do more.
One major move will be the first SPE Eurotec conference, in Barcelona, Spain, in October 2011. The six-day Eurotec will be similar to an Antec, featuring technical papers and presentations. Oderwald said the event is aimed at plastics industry members in Europe and the Middle East.
SPE had originally scheduled the inaugural Eurotec for fall of this year, but officials decided to push it back to 2011 because of concerns about the global economy.
Oderwald said new SPE groups are forming in Mexico and the Middle East. SPE also is active in other parts of the world, including Asia and Brazil, she said.
The Chicago Antec, held June 22-24, had about 750 technical papers, including a large number of papers on the hot topics of nanotechnology and bio-based plastics.
SPE organizes 15-20 conferences a year. Oderwald said the next step will be virtual conferencing. SPE's first Virtual Processors Conference will be Oct. 1-2 and will feature technical presentations on injection molding and extrusion.
In a best of format, the conference will include four keynote presentations recorded live at Antec 2009, and access to prerecorded webinars. Exhibitors at next year's Antec will be offered free exhibition space in a virtual trade show.
Oderwald said SPE has been using webinars for several years to hold meetings for committees and other small groups. But Antec 2009 marked a breakthrough: the first-ever online voting by members of SPE's 107-member governing council.
The meetings will remain physical meetings, but we will also allow remote, broader participation and encourage people from different parts of the world to become SPE leaders, she said.
Oderwald announced several new SPE programs:
* New SPE groups on the social-networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, which are attracting SPE members and newcomers to the society. The goal is to convert non-members into active SPE members.
* An online plastics encyclopedia, with definitions and links to the latest U.S. patents and published journal articles, updated weekly.
* SPE Pro (Plastics Research Online), a weekly offering of technical articles on new developments in plastics research.
* This summer, SPE's magazine, Plastics Engineering, will launch a new Web site that will provide access to the society's online technical library, the new encyclopedia and SPE Pro.
SPE recognizes that to attract and retain a more globally and generationally diverse membership, we must continue to provide leading technical content in ways that are easily accessed online, Oderwald said.