02. Mar 2021

Prof. Georg Menges dies at the age of 97

A widely known expert and pioneer in plastics technology, who, however, began his career "in metal"...

Georg Menges was born in Gernsbach in Baden, Germany. After serving in military service and spending several years as a prisoner of war, he enrolled in 1949 at the then Stuttgart Technical University, where he studied mechanical engineering. He earned a doctorate in engineering in 1955 with a thesis on the brittle fracture behaviour of metals. Although he initially found employment in the iron and steel industry, he soon turned to the emerging plastics industry. In 1965, Menges was appointed to the newly established chair of plastics processing at the TH Aachen, which he held until his retirement in 1989. At the same time, he was appointed head of the Institute for Plastics Processing at RWTH Aachen University. With Prof. Menges, RWTH Aachen University and the IKV lose a committed pioneer and a special friend. Professor Georg Menges will be remembered with great respect.

A creative initiator and dynamic manager of the then rapidly growing institute, Menges was extremely successful in engaging securing the support of numerous companies in the still young plastics industry, as cooperation partners and members of the IKV support association. Very early on, he recognised the benefits of linking science and business and this soon became the guiding principle and brand essence of the IKV. Meanwhile, the demand for plastics applications grew rapidly. In front of this trend, plastics technology also developed as a scientific discipline. It is due to the efforts of Georg Menges that the IKV over the years has emerged as a leading research and training institute, dedicated to the complete spectrum of plastics science, from materials technology and construction technology to the processing methods used in plastics.

In the process, he became aware of new developments and methods from neighbouring disciplines that he saw as relevant to plastics technology. In engine research, for example, he came across a pressure sensor that he developed into a mould cavity pressure sensor in cooperation with the industry. Menges can therefore justifiably be called a pioneer of automation, who made Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CAM), as a precursor to Industry 4.0, significantly accessible to plastics technology - despite the initial ridicule with which his efforts were received, as the IKV notes. After all, controlling injection moulding processes with the room-sized computers of the  time  seemed impractical and far-fetched. At the same time, Menges recognised early on the opportunities offered by numerical simulation methods with regard to the calculation of heat and mass transfer in plastics processing. That is why he developed corresponding programmes at the IKV. After retiring from active service, the enterprising plastics expert was particularly concerned with the recycling of plastics. To this end, he initiated numerous projects, worked on patents and wrote books.

Menges contributed to the industry in another way as well. The increasing demand for qualified plastics engineers prompted him to set up a separate course of study for this discipline. It became the first Plastics Engineering course to be offered at a university and has been taught at RWTH Aachen since 1970. Unconventional teaching methods - an injection moulding machine sometimes had to be brought into the lecture hall for demonstration purposes - a practice-oriented education and his special charisma led to a large number of students. At the end of his active career, his way of teaching influenced more than 1000 graduate engineers and more than 200 doctorates. Besides a good technical education, it was important to him to develop personalities who could take on responsibility in industry and science. With this aspiration and a great commitment as a mentor and advisor, numerous graduates of the IKV attained central management positions in the plastics industry and research. Spin-offs were particularly important and worthy of Menges' support. He also accompanied graduates and doctoral students on their way to self-employment.

He has received numerous high national and international awards for his services to plastics technology. Particularly noteworthy, because it reflects the breadth and depth of the appreciation of his work, is the award of the Cross of Merit 1st Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was also awarded the Craftsman's Badge in Gold. His induction into the Plastics Hall of Fame of the Plastics Academy (USA) and the award of an honorary doctorate from the University of Leoben round off the honours.

And he was my teacher as well. I remember that I was impressed, that despite having taught so many, many other students before I arrived in the late 1980s, he always remembered my name (as well as those of so many others) when I would run into him the IKV. He taught me that “plastic is borrowed energy”, meaning that the energy stored in petroleum can better be exploited AFTER a long life as a plastic product. And I have since turned this by analogy into “bioplastic is borrowed sunlight” – or solar energy, that can similarly be exploited as renewable energy after a long life as a bioplastic product.

Michael Thielen

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