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June 7, 2001

6 Min Read
An ivy league molding education


At last count, the alumni roster of UMass Lowell's Department of Plastics Engineering listed 3500 names. Fifty percent of its students go into careers in injection molding.

Lowell, MA is an old mill town with a rich history. In the early 19th century, its water-powered mills and the Lowell Textile Institute helped launch the U.S. Industrial Revolution. And in the mid-20th century, 1954 to be more precise, Lowell helped launch a new type of industrial revolution. 

That was the year the Department of Plastics Engineering was formed at the school known today as the University of Massachusetts Lowell, or UMass Lowell, or just Lowell, as its graduates like to call it. The growing global plastics industry the school helped launch calls it a treasure trove. Each semester Nick R. Schott, department head, and Stephen A. Orroth, executive officer, lead an illustrious staff of instructors to produce professionals trained in every aspect of plastics engineering. 

Lowell runs a first-of-its-kind, fully accredited undergraduate program in plastics engineering. Masters and doctoral degree programs also are offered. Degree-credit courses for molders, suppliers, and end users are conducted. Seminars and workshops on materials, manufacturing, design, and quality control are offered in this program. 

Lowell offers onsite training modules covering topics that include SPC, injection molding, molding hydraulics, and mold design/maintenance. It also provides R&D and analytical testing services. Though its activities involve all the plastics processes, we're only interested in one. Let's tour. 


State funding has been cut, so now Lowell must rely on alumni and industry support more than ever. Last year, Moldflow came through with a $5 million CAE classroom.

The Funding Challenge 
Before we begin, Schott and Orroth chat with us in their offices, which are on the second floor of Ball Hall, about the financial challenges facing state universities in Massachusetts. The state once was the main source of funding, but the funding has been cut. UMass Lowell is now considered "state assisted," whereas 10 years ago it was "state supported." Today, state funding accounts for only one-third of the university's expenses. To take up the slack, the plastics engineering department solicits help for upgrading its laboratories, operations, and scholarships through cash, equipment, resin, and software donations from alumni and industry. 

More than $7 million was raised in the past three years. In addition, the faculty does about $1 million in funded research and $500,000 in industrial seminars each year to further fund its labs, grad students, and operations. Still, Schott's simple message to industry is, "Send money." Fortunately, many have already heard his call, as is evidenced right down the hall. 

That's where we find a new CAE lab. Moldflow came through with a multimillion dollar investment last year. It has equipped the room with 15 stations running all of its latest process simulation software, including MPA, MPF, and MPX. Development work on the latter was done at the school. 


Ferromatik Milacron North America funded the complete rehabilitation of a room in Ball Hall and supplied three machines on consignment in June 1999, including an all-electric.

Down Payments on the Future 
On our way downstairs to the process engineering labs, Orroth tells us that safety lectures are a mandatory part of the department's curriculum. From the sophomore grade on, each course begins with safety. "We have a voluntary job co-op program and we send our students all over the place to work in production plants. They have to be prepared." 

Our first stop is the highlight of our tour. Lowell calls it the Milacron Room. A standard late-model toggle, a tiebar-free Prowler, and a Milacron all-electric are here for the students. A sonic welder, hot stamper, and tensile tester also are here. Utilities are from overhead, and the floor is epoxy coated. The molding labs have about 35 active molds. 

Milacron plans further upgrades. After all, its latest Xtreem machine control system can communicate directly with the Moldflow systems upstairs. Meanwhile, Freudenberg-NOK has agreed to help support the development of an elastomers lab. Schott says he already has commitments for a couple of molding machines, but admits he could use more industry support for this project and many others. 

The main molding lab could use some help, too. It's too small. Lowell runs up to 12,000 lb of materials each year, but it's running out of room to store it. The oldest press here is an early '80s model. "The knobs are good for teaching. They're easier to set," Orroth jokes. 

Plastics Engineering Dept., UMass Lowell, Lowell, MA 

Square footage: 12,000 (lab)
Funding: Alumni- and industry-sponsored donations, grants, and scholarships; state funding
Full-time faculty: 16
Current full-time enrollment: 190 BS, 170 MS, 40 Engineering/PhD
Key courses: Engineering mechanics, polymer chemistry, polymer materials, process engineering, part dynamics, thermodynamics, fluid flow, heat transfer, mold engineering, process control, part design
Lab sessions: Approximately three weeks per experiment, 2 hours each, in groups of three to four students
Number of molding machines: 12, 20 to 100 tons, Milacron, HPM, Battenfeld, Arburg, Newbury, and others
Testing capacity: Universal testing machines, instrumented impact testers, static impact, creep test stations, environmental chambers, DSC, DMA, and more
Software capacity: Moldflow, AutoCAD, Cadkey, Pro/Engineer, SolidWorks
Secondaries: Welding, decorating
Internal moldmaking: Yes
Accreditation: ABET (Accreditation Board of Engineering & Technology) 

The Beat Goes On 
"Long range, we want an entirely new engineering building," says Schott. "One with high bays, centralized pneumatic feeding, underground utilities—the works!" Orroth adds. Schott continues, "Plastics is a great field, and we have had great support from the industry over the years. But we can't rest on our laurels. The technology is changing." 

Evidence of change is reflected in some of the research projects going on in the labs. New types of heater bands are in development, and Lowell is researching next-generation ISO test molds, the new global standard. Sequential valve gating, new screw designs, and gas assist are among other active projects. 

The plastics engineering department celebrates its 50th birthday in 2004. Faculty members have confidence that, with continued support, they can continue to turn out people who will help grow the molding business for the next 50 years. People like David Pierick of Trexel, licensers of MuCell microcellular foaming technology, who was a Lowell grad, as was Paul A. Nazzaro, president of Injectronics, the first MuCell molding licensee. 

Contact information
UMass Lowell,
Dept. of Plastics Engineering
Lowell, MA
Nick R. Schott
Phone: (978) 934-3420
Fax: (978) 458-4141
Web: www.eng.uml.edu/dept/plastics/

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