Penn State Erie officials are positioning the school's new medical center as a place for students to hone industrial skills and for medical manufacturers to do research and development.
The centerpiece of the center — a Class 100,000 clean room equipped with a 55-ton Arburg injection press — molded liquid silicone rubber parts during the college's Injection Molding Con- ference focusing on innovation and emerging technologies, held June 13-15.
The center also has a SteerAmerica twin-screw compounding extruder with a 20-millimeter screw diameter, located outside the clean room area. Other processing machinery will be available.
The medical facility is located in the Burke Center, home to Penn State Erie's plastics laboratory. The college won a $150,000 grant from Pennsylvania's Keystone Innovation Starter Kit program.
Jason Williams, who heads the center, said Erie is a central location, and the Plastics Engineering Technology program has expertise from talented students and faculty.
“Within the Buffalo-Pittsburgh-Cleveland triangle, Erie's the epicenter of that. So it really puts us in a good position to really help all three of those regions,” he said. “And that's really what led to this. We're starting to see a really big push for the device manufacturers in the Pittsburgh area, alone.”
The medical plastics industry is projected to grow 5-8 percent per year through 2015, Williams said.
He said Pennsylvania has 22,000 jobs directly from medical-device manufacturers. A total of 100,000 jobs are related to the medical-device sector.
Williams is a lecturer in the Plastics Engineering Technology program and a graduate of Penn State Erie. His background is in product design.
It makes sense to have an LSR molding machine at the medical training center, he said: “First of all, LSR is one of the largest growth areas within the molding segment. And also there's a large shortage of research in that area.”
The center will follow an “open laboratory” model to collaborate with industry. That includes a flexible policy regarding the ownership of intellectual property, Williams said.
“It can be anywhere from early-stage development, even just a basic process piece. So if they're seeing some odd molding phenomena and they want to do just pure research, we can be involved in something like that,” he said. “Or it could be all the way through having space available for a pilot production run. It can be a sequestered space.”
Companies doing work at the center will get office facilities and computer access.
Once a firm contacts the center, officials will meet with Williams to outline their research goals. Williams will identify students and faculty members for that specific research.
“They would set the direction of the research and the students could carry on that research and conduct experiments, under the supervision of faculty,” he said. “The goal of having the students involved is that now, a researcher wouldn't necessarily have to be here full time.”
Ownership of intellectual property can be a stumbling block for private industry working with academia. But Williams said the center will offer three ways to handle IP — worked out in advance. The first option is, the school could own it and the company would pay to license it. Under a second option, the company would use the technology royalty-free. If any competitors wanted to license the technology, royalties would be split evenly between the school and its partner company. In the third option, a company would retain all IP.
Of course, the center will play a key role with medical-related curriculum for Penn State Erie. Undergraduates can get a certificate in medical plastics. Courses cover regulatory issues, product development, materials, manufacturing methods, the human body and microbiology.
Local plastics companies can send their employees to the Plastics Training Academy, where medical classes include LSR, medical-product development, materials and process validation.
The plastics department is leading the way to other medical-related efforts at the Erie school. Ralph Ford, director of Penn State Erie's School of Engineering, said the college is planning to offer a minor in biomedical engineering, after the medical plastics program moves ahead.
The goal is to help companies do applied research, Ford said at the Injection Molding Conference.