ERIE, PA. — John Beaumont understands the importance of education — 10 of the 22 employees at Beaumont Technologies Inc. are graduates of Penn State Erie.
That makes sense, since Penn State Erie plastics engineers are scattered throughout the industry, like salt from a snowplow on Erie's winter streets. Beaumont himself was one of the three founding faculty members of the Plastics Engineering Technology Program. He was the program chair from 1999 to 2012, and taught there for 25 years.
Now Beaumont, 62, is joining the Plastics Hall of Fame. Perhaps fittingly, the Plastics Hall of Fame is housed at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he graduated in 1976 with a degree in plastics technology.
He went on to work on early simulation software for injection molding at Moldflow Inc., moved to academia in Erie, then discovered — first, the problem of shear-induced melt variations in a runner, causing an imbalance in multi-cavity molds — and then the solution, called MeltFlipper.
But he didn't start out in plastics. And he took a side trip as a chimney sweep.
Path to plastics
Raised in a military family, Beaumont moved around a lot. He graduated from high school after his father retired to Holden, Mass.
Beaumont went to Bridgewater State University to study botany.
“It was the ‘60s, early ‘70s, and I wanted to invent the plant of the future to save the world,” he said. “And I got into botany, and I said … nahhh.”
Vegetation engineering's loss was plastics engineering's gain.
After he figured out he really didn't like botany, Beaumont did what all scholars do. He went to library.
“I was looking at an alternative to where I was at, digging around to see what's out there. And really at that time I was starting to think about getting married. I was dating my high school sweetheart, Betty, who was the girl I married, and I started to think: ‘Well, I need to be serious about a job,'” he said.
“I had never thought of engineering,” he said. “As soon as I saw the field of engineering in plastics, it was, wow that sounds neat.”
Beaumont gets excited about things. When he talks, at times he sounds like a mix between Jimmy Olsen and Bill Gates. His students appreciate the enthusiasm.
“In my opinion, his knowledge, passion and devotion to plastics is unparalleled. He was not my adviser at [Penn State] Behrend, but he helped me on my senior project like he was. He always seemed to make time for his students,” wrote Michael Page, who works at Terumo Medical Corp. in Elkton, Md., in a letter of support for the Plastics Hall of Fame.
Shawn Gross, engineering and materials manager at Viking Plastics in Corry, Pa., graduated from the Erie college in 1999.
“His strong relationships, his attitude, his innovative approaches, and his friendly personality make him a good example for all of us,” Gross wrote.
After Beaumont graduated from Lowell, he became a research engineer at General Tire & Rubber Co.'s vinyl products division in Reading, Mass. It was a union shop, chaotic. He did not think it was neat. So he left after a six months.
Beaumont moved on to Rowland Technologies Inc., a custom extrusion house in Connecticut, as project engineer. He and Betty started a side job as chimney sweeps. They bought their first house and wanted some additional heating. So he met a guy who sold and installed coal stoves. Beaumont took a leap of faith and bought the business, making payments. He left Rowland.
“So for two years we did that pretty much 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “I was just working my ass off. I hired a couple of employees. But then the business failed after a couple of years.”
It was devastating. But Beaumont learned he had a strong work ethic. He also knew how to properly start a business, by lining up an accountant, lawyer and other support help — which he did when he started the company turning out MeltFlippers.
From an art to a science
He jumped back into plastics in the mid-80s, getting a job as engineering manager at American Optical Corp.'s safety products molding plant in Southbridge, Mass. He oversaw 25 injection molding machines, but quickly saw that the company needed new molding technology to turn out its hard hats and safety goggles.
On his own, Beaumont researched all the major brands of injection presses. His office was peppered with charts. He developed an investment plan, cost-justifying the investments and figuring out financial details. He took it to his boss, who took it to management. Nothing happened.
Discouraged, Beaumont left American Optical, but right away, another division of the company, the contact lens division in Framingham, Mass., called to offer him a job. This was a high-tech plant that ran newer presses, Arburgs. He began developing plans for a lights-out molding operation. Then Ciba Vision Corp. bought the company. Ciba was consolidating, moving the plant to Atlanta.
They wanted Beaumont to remain as director of engineering. He balked. And in 1986, he joined Moldflow Pty. Ltd., founded just 8 years earlier by Colin Austin in Australia. Moldflow pioneered computer simulation of injection molding — how plastic fills a mold. That was a major advance in advancing molding from an art to a science. For Beaumont, it was a revelation that got him thinking deeply about rheology.
“It was that early-thinking stage, that shark-tank sort of environment. A lot of things were being kicked around,” he said.
It was 15 years before 3-D simulation began to appear, the earliest versions of the simulation software common today. There were no graphics in the mid-80s. Instead of 3-D images on a computer screen, the system gave you a series of numerical outputs. Austin's system used metrics, pressures were measured in megapascals. As technical manager, responsible for training people to use it, Beaumont complained that Moldflow needed to get user-friendly for Americans.
“Colin's attitude was, these programs are for engineers. They can figure it out,” Beaumont recalled, with a hearty laugh.
Beaumont understands that modern 3-D graphics and ease of use have helped simulation penetrate the broad plastics industry. But he thinks they've taken the “brains” out of it. Complex mathematics is behind simulation.
He's glad he was at Moldflow in the 80s.
“It was important for starting a new thought process. And really, dissecting how things mold, and breaking things down. On molding. On shrinkage and warpage and stresses and all that stuff,” Beaumont said. “And even today, the technology is very prevalent, it's everywhere. But people don't think anymore. It's just pictures now. Back then … you had to be more creative in your thought and how to use that information.”
Penn State Erie program