College of Science & Engineering

Plastics & Composites Engineering

Plastics & Composites Industry Sponsored Research 

Similar to the Manufacturing program, students within the Plastics & Composites program are responsible for completing a senior project upon graduation. Students are presented with numerous projects to choose from (that vary depending on the projects offered by industry).  The majority of the PCE projects are: process design, process investigation, product design, machine design, software applications, material investigation, or tool design.  Each project has a specific problem that needs to be solved and must contain a significant design component.  Students will then define the problem, develop specifications, investigate and present multiple solutions, select the best solution and develop an implementation plan including timeline and budget. During this time, all projects start in the Fall and are implemented in the Spring. 

Benefits to sponsors:

Opportunity to leverage in house engineering talent to solve a given design problem
Potential for new innovative and creative concepts and ideas to solve real problems unencumbered by company tradition or status quo
Multi-person engineering design team and talent at a minimum cost
Interdisciplinary options with other Engineering & Design students
Opportunity to evaluate design team member(s) as potential future employees and assess their abilities and relative fit for your company

Benefits to students:

Real world application of their academic studies
The opportunity to work in the industries of personal interest
Opportunity to cite specific design accomplishments as part of a portfolio and resume
Professional and technical feedback on their ideas
Firsthand real world exposure to business practices and communications

Benefits to the Engineering & Design Department:

Exposure to industry ensures the Plastics & Composites program stays relevant to current workforce needs
Project sponsorship ensure labs and curriculum stay current and relevant to industry needs

How do I get involved? 

Complete this form: PDF icon PCE Senior Project Proposal .pdf


Nicole Hoekstra  Email
Plastics & Composites Engineering Professor


Plastics and Composites Engineering: Aerospace Research Projects. Safer Materials for Aircraft Interior Composites. WWU has been developing new materials for aircraft interiors to improve safety for manufacturing personnel. Current material (phenolic resin) off gasses formaldehyde during processing. WWU has successfully shown replacement materials meet FAA's stringent flammability requirements, while removing formaldehyde hazards and improving composite mechanical performance. Industry partner: Safran Cabin/Zodiac aerospace. High Performance 3D Printing Materials for Space Applications. WWU and Tethers Unlimited are developing high-performance materials for additive manufacturing of components for satellites, navigation, high power microwave amplifiers and other space applications. These materials are intended to function under extreme conditions (high temperature, strong electric fields, ultra high vacuum) while maintaining performance of traditionally manufactured parts. Industry partner: Tethers Unlimited. Reducing Aerospace Composite Waste. WWU is working with Hexcel to develop new composite materials that have longer shelf-lives in order to reduce waste in the aerospace industry. The aerospace industry currently landfills approximately 500,000 lbs per year of expired materials. Commercially available require expensive freezer storage, WWU-Hexcel developed materials will be storage stable at room temperature. Industry Partner: Hexcel Corporation

Plastics and Composites Engineering: Sustainable Materials Research: North American Ocean Plastics Recycling. The WWU and OSU Engineering departments have partnered with the non-profit Island Trials Network to develop methods for recycling plastics that have been collected from the ocean. The goal of this project is to create information for the plastics industry to use to incorporate ocean plastics into commercial products rather than sending collected materials to the landfill. Partner: Island Trails Network, Oregon State University. Reversible Thermosets for Recyclable Composites. Composite materials, such as those used in the aerospace and automotive industries, are currently recyclable due to their chemical nature. This presents challenges when composites reach their end of life as reuse is near impossible. WWU is currently working on designing new types of composites that are chemically reversible in order to enable composite recycling and reclamation of carbon fiber from composite waste. Principle Researcher: Dr. John Misasi. Compostable Plastics Degradation in the Environment. The WWU Engineering & Design, Biology, and Environmental Sciences departments are working to understand how "biodegradable" and "compostable" plastics break down in agricultural environments. Although these materials have been marketed as improvements over conventional materials, the rates and by-products of degradation are not well understood, and a multi-disciplinary approach is needed. Partner: WWU Biology and Environmental Sciences departments.