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SPE Automotive Div. Announces 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

Michael J.Whitens, retired former global director for vehicle & enterprise sciences at Ford’s Research & Innovation Center to be honored at SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Gala.


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The Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Automotive Division has named Michael J. Whitens, retired former global director for Ford’s Vehicle and Enterprise Sciences Research and Innovation Center the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award winner. An automotive industry veteran with over 30 years of experience, Whitens has spent the majority of his career at Ford Motor Company in various body engineering disciplines. 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 Nov. 6, 2019 at Burton Manor in Livonia, Mich.

In his most recent role at Ford (2014 – 2018), 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 with responsibility for over 500 researchers at three Ford Motor Company global facilities.

His expertise on several advanced plastics processes include micro-cellular foaming, long-fiber thermoplastic  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. 

Whitens 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. Said Ford industry expert Alper Kiziltas, “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.”

Noted Cynthia Flanigan, Ford chief engineer, vehicle research & technology, “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 contribution to Innovations and Intellectual Properties/Technical Speakers in Automotive Plastics include:

 ▪  35 IP (Intellectual Properties) – U.S. and worldwide patents related to plastics materials processes and automotive applications

 ▪  Whitens’ patents range from plastics process innovations, material formulations, to product innovations (interiors, safety, seating, exterior and under-the-hood) and tooling

 ▪  Invited Keynote Speaker at prestigious conferences and exhibitions, both nationally and internationally, such as SPE ACCE, SPE TPO, SPE Antec, SAE, and more. Invited reviewer as a subject matter expert.  Invited committee member for SPE Innovation Awards Competition.

 ▪  Several citations in prestigious magazines, such as Plastics Engineering, Plastics Technology, Modern Plastics, Ward’s AutoWorld, Injection Molding, Automotive Engineering, Automotive Interiors International, Plastics World, Plastics Design Forum, Design News and other Automotive & Transportation Interiors publications

Said Whitens, “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. 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.”