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About the Consortium

The Need and the Opportunity

As a result of dramatic economic and technological changes across a range of industrial sectors, particularly the globalization and outsourcing of some portion of nearly all value-added products, packaging science and technology has become – more than ever - a key to business success. There are also new demands on the packaging industry to improve its environmental footprint, reduce energy consumption, enhance recycling and contribute positively to global sustainability. For all of these reasons, packaging is now approximately a $600 billion industry worldwide that is growing at a healthy rate – and one that needs to maintain and enhance its core technologies

Over the past decade the Packaging and Postharvest Programs at Cal Poly have significantly increased their national reputations as centers of packaging research and education. By most assessments, the Cal Poly Packaging Program is considered among the top five university-based programs in the US, despite its modest size.  A number of prominent companies now support R & D projects at Cal Poly, and in parallel there has emerged a growing portfolio of research projects funded by government and third party organizations.

In 2008, Cal Poly organized a Cooperative Research Consortium in Packaging Technology with the goal of recruiting member companies from the packaging industry – both providers of packaging products and technology and major users of packaging products and technology.

How Is the Consortium at Cal Poly Structured?

Over the past 25 years there has been a tremendous growth of “organized research units” (ORU’s) at US universities. Generally, these are called centers or institutes, and involve groups of faculty members and graduate students working on several projects concurrently. The projects are often on interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary topics, and have an applied orientation that is particularly attuned to industry interests and priorities.

Some of the key features of this model as it has been implemented at Cal Poly include:

  • Support for and guidance of the Consortium by member companies that have business interests –such as packaging - in a relevant area of science and technology;
  • A high “leverage ratio” for any company’s investment.  A member contributes $16.5 K in annual dues to the Consortium but since this is combined with the dues from other member companies to support projects, the return on investment in research and information is currently 14:1;
  • A research agenda that is led by Cal Poly faculty, with graduate students in key performing roles, but where the industry members of the consortium have a major say in which projects are funded;
  • A range of projects, currently spanning packaging design to heavy-metal content of recycled plastics, in terms of size, focus and cost;
  • A Cal Poly sanctioned agreement on intellectual property that includes both non-exclusive licenses for member companies, as well as exclusive agreements when in the interest of consortium members.

How Does the Consortium at Cal Poly Work?

  • Industry Participation and Decision-making. Each member company is represented by 1-3 individuals of their choosing. The primary roles of industry participants include: (1) selecting – with faculty members – projects that will be implemented; (2) providing input and feedback to project teams; and (3) ensuring that project results will be disseminated or otherwise used in their company. 
  • University Participation and Roles. University participants include faculty members, post-docs and graduate students. Administrative participation is minimized. One faculty member has been designated as the Director of the Consortium. 
  • Membership Meetings. These will be held twice a year – in early winter and during late-summer. The primary agenda item for the late-summer meeting is review of project results and selection of a research agenda for the coming year. The winter meeting discusses progress to date on projects selected during summer. Intellectual property issues and patenting may be topics as well at either meeting. 
  • Project Selection. A major benefit of the Cooperative Consortium model for companies is that they steer the R & D agenda in collaboration with faculty. At the beginning of each program year, i.e., for the summer meeting, Cal Poly researchers (faculty, staff and graduate students in Packaging) will develop and circulate to members short (1-2 page) Project Proposals. Roughly 12-20 “candidate” projects will be reviewed, leading to the selection of 3-5 that will be implemented for the coming year.
  • Newsletters. Brief newsletters are sent to Consortium members on a bimonthly basis to indicate progress with current projects. 
  • Project Advising/Mentoring. Typically, industry representatives become focused on those projects most aligned with their company’s business interests. This naturally leads to input on project execution, advice to graduate students and a rich working relationship. This will be encouraged; it helps everyone.

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