Prior to joining the plastics industry, Kate Olinger served active duty as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and left as a captain. She has a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota and joined Uponor North America in 2002 as a process engineer.
"When I came out of the military, I wanted to use my chemical engineering degree after working so hard on it in college and not having had a chance to use it yet. Uponor seemed like a great company, and plastics has always been a great fit for chemical engineers," she said.
After six years, she moved up to a supervisor role, then worked in marketing, where she was involved with project management and new product development. She was promoted to the director of industry and regulatory affairs for the plastic pipe manufacturer, where she handles regulatory compliance, proactive changes and partnerships with industry associations to further the use of plastics and make industrywide improvements.
"I made the change because I enjoy my work with industry associations, and it is so closely tied to regulatory it just made sense," she said.
Olinger's greatest achievement has been "transforming a leak detection device created by a technology company, with great software and intelligence, into something that could be compatible with the plumbing industry, easy to install and use by plumbers and homeowners."
Olinger is a member of the Plastics Pipe Institute, Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association, Plumbing Manufacturers International, International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, and International Code Council.
"I want to continue to grow my areas of responsibility and leadership skills," Olinger said, "and work in a job that I know has a positive impact on the earth and humanity."
Q: What's an accomplishment of yours that most people don't know about, either for work or in your personal life?
Olinger: I was a test engineer for the B-2 bomber when I was stationed at Whiteman (Missouri) Air Force Base. This was the early days of the B-2's service, and we were really writing the playbook of how the B-2 would effectively be used by the U.S. Air Force.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Olinger: It always surprises me what a small world it is. There are so many wonderful things happening, and the people tend to stick around and be part of the future. Even if they decide to leave the industry, it always seems they find their way back into plastics.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Olinger: The providing of clean water has always interested me. Now the next phase that will be filled with challenges and excitement is the focus on how to deal with water scarcity and the increasing challenges around water quality. But these things also create opportunities for creativity and new products as we move into a circular economy.