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What does Jell-O pudding have to do with the UW?

On a sunny March morning, a group of forty UW alumni gathered in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, for something few people ever get to experience: a tour of Placon, one of the world’s most sophisticated packaging-materials manufacturers.

Matt Rogge
April 30, 2015

WAA’s Made in Wisconsin tour of Placon answers the question

On a sunny, March morning, a group of 40 UW alumni gathered in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, for something few people ever get to experience: a tour of Placon, one of the world’s most sophisticated packaging-materials manufacturers.

The tour was part of WAA’s Made in Wisconsin series. Every Made in Wisconsin tour takes alumni behind the scenes of a company with strong ties to the UW. Placon founder Tom Mohs ’62 and CEO Dan Mohs ’91, EMBA’98 are both proud Badgers.

“My father was a medical researcher and clinician at the UW,” said Tom, “so I grew up with the UW campus being part of my family’s life.”

Tom’s deep connection to the university is perhaps what convinced him to allow Badger alumni to tour his plant. The alumni simply signed a confidentiality agreement and were allowed to see machines and processes that few people outside the company have ever set eyes on. In the highly competitive plastics industry, trade secrets are the key to a company’s success — Placon has had remarkable success, turning a profit every year since its founding in 1966.

The tour did not disappoint. It quickly became clear that the core value of the company is sustainability. For example, Placon’s sustainable plastics program recycles PET (from plastic soda and water bottles) and transforms into rolls of materials for new packaging, all on the Placon property.

An astonishing example of sustainability can be found in Placon’s polypropylene production area, where each year the company produces enough Jell-O pudding cups for every man, woman, and child in America. In this section of the plant, you’ll find ports in the shop floor where waste plastic is sent to the basement to be made back into sheets that are fed onto the same production line. Next time you tear the top off a pudding cup, think about the fact that the little plastic cup comes from one of the most sustainable industrial operations on the planet.

After the tour, the alumni had lunch and listened to a fascinating talk by UW professor Tim Osswald, the K. K. and Cindy Wang Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. His presentation was equal parts science and history. Professor Osswald spoke about the UW’s pioneering work in the field of plastics and where polymer research and the university are headed.

Tom personally knew nearly every UW innovator mentioned in Osswald’s presentation. The company founder continues to keep an eye on what’s happening at the university.

“Having watched the campus for more than a half century,” says Tom, “I’m delighted with how it continues to grow and improve.”

Placon is an example of how UW-Madison helps to power the state’s economy. The Mohs are committed to their employees, community, and the environment. They are an inspiring example of the Wisconsin Idea in action. As far as Badger success stories go, there isn’t a better one than Placon.

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