WMU News

First part of engineering complex opens, boosts industry research

Oct. 11, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- A building dedication and open house Oct. 11 gave paper industry executives and the general public their first look inside a Western Michigan University engineering complex that's been drawing admiring glances and sparking industry queries for months.

WMU's Paper Coating Pilot Plant, the first element of an engineering complex on the University's new Parkview Campus was unveiled in a ceremony that attracted University and city officials, paper industry professionals, alumni of WMU's paper and printing programs, and members of the community. The Parkview Campus also is home to WMU's Business Technology and Research Park, which is a Michigan SmartZone and a rapidly growing site for University/industry collaboration. The decision to build the campus was made early in 1999 and ground was broken late that year.

The new 50,000-square-foot Paper Coating Pilot Plant houses a modern, high-speed paper coater acquired from Boise Cascade Corp.'s Portland, Ore., facility. The coater will be the only such equipment in North America that is not affiliated with a private company. The plant will offer industry clients a place to conduct research and also will provide hands-on learning experiences for WMU students as well as research opportunities for both faculty and students. The pilot plant is part of a complex that will include a 343,000-square-foot building that will be the new home to the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

"It is such a pleasure to see the first completed element of a project that we began working toward nearly four years ago," said WMU President Elson S. Floyd. "This new campus will give our students and faculty a wonderful new learning environment. Each new building we open represents the completion of much-needed campus facilities. But the whole development also is emblematic of our University's commitment to its home community and that community's return commitment to the goals of this institution and to the promise of economic development that our partnership will bring."

The building opening was attended by a number of paper industry executives who were in town for a meeting of WMU's Paper Technology Foundation. Representatives of more than 20 supply and equipment firms that helped in the installation of the coater were on hand for the opening and to offer information on their companies' products. Representatives of government agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service/Forest Products Laboratory, also attended. In addition, some who came to Kalamazoo earlier in the week to attend a Barrier Coating Symposium put on by faculty and staff of WMU's Department of Paper and Printing Science and Engineering stayed on to attend the pilot plant event. The department has established a strong reputation in the area of coated papers and began offering the seminars in 2001 to industry professionals from across the nation.

"Installation of this new coater really demonstrates the University's commitment to continue its role as an institution that does pioneering work in coating," says Dr. Said AbuBakr, chairperson of the Department of Paper and Printing Science and Engineering. "It's a development that should really solidify our reputation in the field."

AbuBakr notes that WMU is already the only university in the world with both paper and printing pilot plants available for research, and coating is the common denominator between the two fields. Industry clients will be able to take their research projects from coating through production printing. The new facility also will position WMU to take advantage of the growth in the specialty coated paper market.

The first trials for industry clients will be run on the new coater in December, and the plant is already attracting attention from paper industry trade press. Jan Walters is director of WMU's pilot plants, which also include paper and print pilot plants located on the main Kalamazoo campus. Her office, she says, is fielding an increasing number of national and international calls from those in the industry who want to conduct coating research.

"Since this coater will provide access to those in industry who need to do coating research but can't invest in this type of equipment, we're hearing from people who are just waiting for this facility to come on line," Walter says. "Paper mills, chemical suppliers and equipment suppliers are calling to find out when it will be available and what its capabilities are."

The coater also is expected to open up a number of opportunities for WMU students and faculty members. Students will have an opportunity to meet and interact with paper industry clients who use the coater for research and they also will have a chance to design projects for their own undergraduate and graduate research efforts.

In addition, says AbuBakr, the University hopes to launch collaborative efforts with other universities and research organizations, including the Institute of Paper Science and Technology at Georgia Tech and North Carolina State University.

WMU has offered paper and printing programs for more than 50 years. The paper program has its roots in a paper technology program that was established at the behest of industry and became the second of its kind in the nation. When the two disciplines combined, they became one of the University's first interdisciplinary programs, merging the fields of chemistry, paper technology, chemical engineering and applied sciences. Today, University pilot plants do more than $1 million in industry research each year.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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