Nestled between the Allegheny Plateau and the Appalachian Mountains, Williamsport, on the north bank of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, once boasted of being the lumber capital of the world.
Home to Shop-Vac Corp., a maker of wet/dry vacuum cleaners, and Lycoming Engines, a small aircraft engines subsidiary of Textron Inc., the city of 30,000 also claims the fame of being the original home of the nonprofit organization Little League Baseball and Softball.
The city's place in publishing history rests on the 111-year tenure of the national weekly newspaper Grit, which first was printed in 1882 in Williamsport by German immigrant Dietrick Lamade as a way to spread good news about rural America.
But it was a 35-ton thermoforming machine, as well as a series of renovated teaching laboratories, that brought about 40 members of the plastics educational and manufacturing communities April 6 to Pennsylvania College of Technology, where officials dedicated a new thermoforming center and a revamped Plastics Manufacturing Center.
According to PMC director Hank White, the ribbon cutting that night marked good news for the college, whose thermoforming center is believed to be the only one of its kind in North America.
This completes two years of renovation of the plastics program and the whole plastics wing here, and puts Penn College in the position of being second to none in plastics education in America, White said.
Funded through a combination of private money, industry contributions and state grants, the new thermoforming center and classrooms cost an estimated $400,000, White said.
Maac Machinery Corp. in Carol Stream, Ill., built the thermoforming press, which is capable of forming 40-inch-by-40-inch parts with a depth of 10 inches, and is capable of pressures of as much as 100 pounds per square inch.
Also in the 1,800-square-foot thermoforming center, students can learn about material and mold trials, material development, process development and troubleshooting, physical and analytical testing and consultation.
When we look at the students and the way they benefit from the highest technology that's in the world today, when they leave here, they have the benefit of knowing this and not only being the engineers and technicians of tomorrow, they're the leaders in the industry, White said.
The technology college, which is affiliated with Pennsylvania State University, also had its first National Hands-On Thermoforming Seminar on April 8 and 9. The conference featured training by Mark Strachan, president of Global Thermoforming Technologies Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Jay Waddell, founding partner and key management principal of Plastic Concepts & Innovations LLC of Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Roger Kipp, vice president of marketing and engineering at McClarin Plastics Inc., a thermoformer in Hanover, Pa. that provided some funding for Penn College's new lab, was among those attending the inaugural events.
In a speech April 6, Kipp, a member of the executive committee of the Society of Plastics Engineers Thermoforming Division, praised the school for expanding its teaching reach beyond current offerings in compounding, injection molding, blow molding, extrusion, rotational molding, design, testing and analysis.
The growth and future success of the plastics industry is directly connected to the creative development, communication [and] application of new technology. These new technologies are going to involve all the aspects of our industry, he said.
The [PMC] implements [industry's] alliance with education. It takes the education the academic side mixes it with some government input, and brings all that together with industry to create this alliance that facilitates technology and processing advancements throughout the plastics industry, Kipp said.
Timothy Weston, head of the plastics and polymer education technology department at Penn College, echoed those comments during a tour of the classrooms.
We hope [the thermoforming center] is just the first step in what will be a long and healthy relationship, he said. It's all about building partnerships. It's great for the students, it keeps our faculty current and it's real, industry-based, hands-on education.
Penn College has about $2 million in industrial-scale plastic processing equipment and material testing labs. It awards associate degrees in plastics and polymer technology and bachelor of science degrees in plastics and polymer engineering technology.
Recent industry-related projects involving students have included one to improving clarity, strength and processability of polylactic acid in blow molding applications, White said.
More than 100 students are enrolled in plastic-related degree programs at the college, and graduates commonly earn starting salaries of $40,000 to $60,000, officials said.
The plastics program is accredited by the Technology Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology Inc. in Baltimore. According to ABET, only a handful of institutions are similarly accredited: Penn College; Penn State's Behrend College in Erie, Pa.; Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kan.; and Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash.
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