Penn State Erie Offers First-Ever Undergraduate Certificate in Medical Plastics

October 24, 2011

Penn State Erie, The Behrend College is establishing a Medical Plastics Center (MPC) in Erie, Pennsylvania, in response to growing demand for plastics engineers in the healthcare field.

Software demonstration
Jason Williams, head of the Medical Plastics Center of Excellence at Penn State Behrend, notes features of SigmaSoft 3D software to MEDRAD's Sam Dedola, director of engineering (r) and Mark Hitchins, senior principal engineer (c).

The purpose of the new center is to provide specialty education for plastics engineering technology students and to conduct research in the medical plastics field with industry partners, Ralph Ford, director of the School of Engineering, said in an interview with

The MPC will house a dedicated medical plastics lab that features an ISO Class 8 cleanroom, a 55-ton liquid silicone injection molder, a materials compounding extruder, autoclave sterilization, and injection molding machines with up to 200 tons of clamping force. The center can accommodate impact, moisture, creep and melt index testing along with circuit board prototyping and fabrication

Starting this year, students can receive a Medical Plastics Certificate, which is part of the Plastics Engineering Technology baccalaureate degree. There are more than 1,200 students enrolled in the School of Engineering at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.

Courses in the curriculum include:

Medical Plastics Industry Overview. Topics include an introduction to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), device levels, quality control methods, and current events relating to plastics in medical devices will be covered.

Plastics Product Development. This course covers the product/business development process including researching user needs, writing specifications, testing requirements, concept creation and selection, working with industrial design, marketing, and finance.

Medical Product Development. In this course, students learn specific documentation and design requirements for plastic medical devices.   

Advanced Materials in Medical Applications. Focus is on the properties that are important to medical devices such as chemical resistance, sterilization and bio-compatibility.

Medical Manufacturing Methods. The course includes both manufacturing and regulatory requirements.

"We graduate 35 plastics engineering students a year, and we would expect about one-third will be interested in the medical plastics certificate," Dr. Ford said.

Corporate sponsors include Harmac Medical Products, SIGMA Plastics Services, and Philips Respironics. Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, has invested more than $4 million into creating the Medical Plastics Center of Excellence.

"Our mission is to partner with companies to maximize medical device performance and lower the cost of healthcare," says Jason Williams, head of the MPC. SIGMA Plastic Services donated polymer process simulation software to the program.

Penn State Erie became one of a handful of US schools to develop plastics engineering programs when local plastics companies said they needed more engineers trained in plastics in order to grow.

The former CEO of one of those companies, P. C. "Hoop" Roche of Erie Plastics, is now a lecturer in the Sam and Irene Black School of Business at Penn State Erie.

Establishment of the MPC comes at a time of rapid growth in demand for medical plastics. The market for medical plastics in the United States is expected to reach 4.4 billion pounds by the end of 2015, up from 3.4 billion pounds in 2010, according to a report from BCC Research.

Penn State Erie's medical plastics certificate or degree program is believed to be only one offered at the undergraduate level in the United States.








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