As an applications development engineer at Hexion Inc. in Detroit, Ian Swentek is recognized as an expert in the fast-developing automotive composites sector.
Swentek has a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Western Ontario in composite materials. His first real plastics industry job was as a research engineer at the Fraunhofer Project Center in London, Ontario.
"Having freshly completed my dissertation, I set to applying this theory in an industrial setting with primary focus on automotive applications for new composite materials in structural applications.
"What fascinated me with this industry was that taking two relatively different and intrinsically unsuitable materials such as a brittle glass fiber and a weak polymer matrix could create a new and capable material tougher than the sum of its parts. Opportunities for new discoveries abound in this fledgling industry."
Biggest failure and what it taught you?: I would say my biggest failure was a disastrous customer demonstration of a new composite processing technology and material. What this taught me was that no matter how well-prepared you are for anything, Murphy's law is always present. In hindsight, I think the lesson here is to be flexible and to understand that there are always uncertainties and risks associated with cutting-edge technology.
What is your current challenge at work?: I have two current challenges at work. The first is trying to find continuous learning opportunities that align to my work and fit with my schedule. The second challenge is in regards to getting honest feedback from an end user of our products and processes.
What emerging technology or market most interests you?: Phenolic materials are very interesting. Though they are old materials in terms of their age, they are finding a new resurgance in the automotive world due to their rapid processing, fire resistance, and overall mechanical performance.
What about the plastics industry surprises you?: I am surprised that plastics are not more prevalent in society given their cost and availability, ease of processing and properties.
What is the best advice you have ever received?: Never burn a bridge. Your network is your lifeblood. At the end of the day, it is all about how we can help each other to achieve success, not some convoluted corporate battleground.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?: I would advise any newcomer to find their passion. A job that you enjoy and is fulfilling will in itself be rewarding and present numerous opportunities for personal success.
What job do you really want to have in the future?: Chief technology officer. I think this would be the natural conclusion to a well-rounded career. A position whereby I would be able to oversee portfolios of technology and be able to direct their deployment.
What do you do to relax?: I enjoy a variety of pastimes including woodworking, long-distance running, board games and enjoying an occasional piece of pie.