SPE to honor Ford’s Whitens with Lifetime Achievement Award

TROY—The Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) will bestow its 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award to Michael J. Whitens, who retired in 2018 from Ford Motor Co. as global director of vehicle and enterprise sciences at the Ford Research and Innovation Center.

He will be honored for his lifetime of industry expertise and innovation, contributing to the advancement of the automotive plastics industry, at the 49th annual Automotive Innovation Awards Gala on Wednesday, Nov. 6 at Burton Manor, 27777 Schoolcraft Road in Livonia.

Michael Whitens. Photo courtesy SPE.

In his last role with Ford, Whitens led the development of technology strategy and implementation in support of emerging areas, including plastics, polymers, advanced plastics processing technologies, composites, and material formulations. He had responsibility for more than 500 researchers at three Ford global centers.

His expertise includes several advanced plastics processes, including micro-cellular foaming, long-fiber thermoplastic (D-LFT) composites, natural fiber composites, carbon fiber composites, nano-additive based composites, metal-plastics hybrid molding, co-injection molding, twin screw extrusion compounding, polyurethane foams, and more. His work includes the development of several innovations for numerous automotive plastics applications, ranging from interiors and exteriors to under the hood and safety—including instrument panels, door panels, door modules, molded-in-color, seating, NVH foams, fuel systems components and more.

An automotive industry veteran with more than 30 years of experience, Whitens has spent the majority of his career at Ford in body engineering roles.  He also spent three years as the Mustang PVT (Platform Vehicle Team) manager, bringing the second-generation Bullitt and Mach 1 Mustangs to life.

He is a recognized leader in the development of innovative technologies in the automotive field, with 35 patents in many areas of component innovation, new material development, safety, body interior, exterior, and vehicle execution. He is the winner of numerous SPE and Automotive News PACE awards, and was named a distinguished alumnus of Michigan Technological University. He also has served on numerous industry and nonprofit boards and committees, including SPE and Michigan Tech.

“I am very grateful to be recognized with this esteemed SPE Automotive Division award for lifetime achievement, and especially grateful to the talented teams of people I have had the honor to work with who have made this possible,” Whitens said. “This award would not be possible without the challenging work experience that I enjoyed, the innovative support from my associates at Ford and their supplier base, participation in SPE and other professional trade associations and education.”

Alper Kiziltas, a research scientist at Ford, added: “Mike is known industry-wide as one of the best problem solvers and innovators in the field of plastics and composites. He has a rare combination of expertise that is hard to find in the industry, including an understanding of the total system—an interaction between polymeric materials and chemistry, plastic processes, plastics part design, CAE, characterization, and tooling.”

And Cynthia Flanigan, chief engineer for vehicle research and technology at Ford, said of Whitens: “Mike has a unique combination of global cross-functional leadership and refined people skills, giving him the ability to handle any business challenge. He’s a great leader who is very well-liked and respected in the industry, and most deserving of this award.”

Whitens began his automotive career at General Motors in 1985 and joined Ford in 1987.

First given in 2001, the SPE Automotive Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes the technical achievements of individuals whose work in research, design, or engineering has led to significant integration of polymeric materials on passenger vehicles.

The Nov. 6 event begins with a VIP cocktail reception at 4 p.m. At 4:30 p.m. the main exhibit area opens for general admission, and guests can review this year’s Automotive Innovation Awards nominations and enjoy the vehicles on display. Dinner will begin at 6:15 p.m. and the awards program will last from 7 to 9 p.m. There is also an Afterglow event for continued networking from 9 to 11 p.m.

SPE’s Automotive Innovation Awards program is the oldest and largest competition of its kind in the world. Dozens of teams made up of OEMs, tier suppliers, and polymer producers submit nominations describing their part, system, or complete vehicle and why it merits the claim as the year’s most innovative use of plastics. This annual event typically draws over 800 automotive engineers, automotive and plastics industry executives, and media. Funds raised from this event are used to support SPE educational efforts and technical seminars, which help educate and secure the role of plastics in the advancement of the automobile.

For more information about the SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Competition and Gala see www.speautomotive.com. For more information on the Society of Plastics Engineers, see www.4spe.org.

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