Grants Help Kettering Add Thermoformer To Its Plastics Lab
By Patrick Hayes, Kettering University

The Kettering University Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department has a new thermoformer for its students thanks to $40,000 in grants from three organizations.

Claudia Deschaine, grants manager for the Dart Foundation, was on campus in April to present a $20,000 grant to purchase the machine. Kettering also received a $10,000 matching grant from the Society of Plastics Engineers’ SPE Foundation and $10,000 from MAAC Machinery.

The machine, used to form a variety of plastics products, replaces a thermoformer that Kettering had since the 1960s that was no longer operational. The process includes loading sheet plastic into the machine, which is sent into an oven. A form is then pushed into the plastic and a vacuum draws the sheet into the form, creating the product.

“Thermoforming is a common technology, used across a variety of industries, especially packaging,” said Mark Richardson, Manufacturing Engineering lecturer at Kettering.

The thermoformer will be used in IME 100 classes, as well as two plastics processing courses, IME 401 and 402. Specifically, graduate and undergraduate students will be using the machine for an advanced thermoset ceramic tooling project, the results of which will be published in Thermoforming Quarterly.

“All of our freshman engineering students will get to use the machine in IME 100 and get a basic understanding of how it works,” Richardson said. “The students in our plastics courses will get a core understanding and strong functional knowledge about the technology.”

Funding for the thermoformer was aided by alumni connections. Eric Short, who is a class of 1996 graduate, and Brian Winton, whose father is a Kettering graduate, are both members of the Society of Plastics Engineers Thermoforming Division and helped Kettering with the grant. Tyler DeLong ‘94 of Dart Container Corp. and Paul Ryan of MAAC were also influential in helping Kettering obtain the necessary funds to get the thermoformer.

Grant to help students see manufacturing as opportunity

SUTTON, MA — Harrison Greene, vice president of growth and development at Mayfield Plastics in Sutton, is scared. It’s not that the custom thermoforming manufacturer’s business is down — in fact, it’s held strong through the recession and its workforce of 48 employees has grown 5 percent since last year.

But as Mr. Greene looks ahead three or four years, he sees a number of his company’s aging staff members retiring and no one coming up the pipeline to replace them.

It doesn’t require a college degree to make the custom plastic parts Mayfield sells to the medical, aerospace, transportation and electronics industries. Skill training is required, though, for the detailed work with the computers that control manufacturing processes.

Mr. Greene said today’s high school students and their parents have outdated views of manufacturing and shy away from what is a solid and growing sector of the economy. He is one of a handful of local manufacturers working with the Blackstone Valley Education Foundation on a recent grant from Mass Development, through the Central Massachusetts Workforce Investment Board.

The “AMP It Up!” grant will introduce science, technology, engineering and math teachers for Grades 7-12 in 10 Blackstone Valley districts to career options in advanced manufacturing. The goal is to bolster the prospective employee base for these skilled jobs by raising awareness among adults who influence teens’ lives.

The foundation is a nonprofit organization that aims to help schools prepare students for the future workforce.

According to Paul Lynskey, executive director of the Blackstone Valley Education Foundation, the $10,000 grant will include visits to manufacturers by middle and high school teachers and counselors; a local conference to hear from business leaders about employment opportunities in manufacturing and required skills; weeklong summer externships with stipends for teachers and counselors at local manufacturers; and outreach at participating schools to provide information to other faculty, students and families about manufacturing careers.

Mr. Greene said Mayfield Plastics recruits employees through referrals from current workers or classified ads. But it’s hard to get young workers.

“Mom and Dad typically think that manufacturing is working in some grease pit some where,” he said. “They think if you don’t go to school and get a bachelor’s degree, you’re nothing. That’s a myth. A degree is not a career.”

Mr. Lynskey said 70 to 80 percent of graduating high school students go on to college. He wants to reach the roughly 30 percent who don’t. Their main options, he said, include retail, service jobs or manufacturing.

“That’s where my competition is. It’s not convincing parents they’re not sending their kid to college,” he said. “The connection we need to make is with the local manufacturers and businesses and define the skills they need.”

Entry-level pay in manufacturing is typically higher than in retail and service sectors, starting at $14 to $18 per hour and moving up to $22 to $25 per hour. A highly skilled position like tool designer pays upward of $50,000 or more, Mr. Greene said. His company also provides health and retirement benefits.

Genie Stack, director of guidance at Douglas High School, said, “I think students don’t know what careers in manufacturing are. There needs to be more education in the types of jobs there.”

Douglas High School offers science technology, drafting and manufacturing classes in which students learn about drawing and computer-aided design, but the courses don’t go very far.

Mrs. Stack said, “The jobs are there, the kids are here, and there’s a disconnect.”

Jeffrey T. Turgeon, executive director of the Central Massachusetts Workforce Investment Board, which oversees the grant regionally, said, “We’re helping bridge that gap between education and careers. Teachers will bring hands-on experiences and the changing nature of manufacturing… to the classroom.”

Mr. Turgeon said that, according to a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, manufacturing is the third-largest employment sector in Central Massachusetts, with more than 11 percent of the workforce. Statewide, 8 percent of the workforce is in manufacturing.

“Manufacturing is an important industry in Massachusetts and particularly in regions of the state that are outside of Boston,” said Nancy L. Snyder, president of Commonwealth Corporation, a quasi-public workforce development organization. “It’s an industry that’s doing a lot of hiring right now.”

Ms. Snyder attributed the industry’s workforce demand to the need to replace retiring workers and a shift to “re-shoring,” a reversal of the off-shoring trend of the past decade. She said businesses are returning to the local labor market because wages in China, where many jobs went, are no longer much lower than in the United States. Add in shipping and energy expenses, and off-shoring doesn’t have such a cost advantage.

Also, she said, firms want to make sure there’s a lot of quality assurance going into the manufactured parts they purchase, which has returned their interest in domestic manufacturers.

Mr. Greene said, “This business is all about quality.”

Not only do his customers demand quality production, but they also want on-time delivery and outstanding customer service.

“Businesses and industries that buy from us are buying American,” Mr. Greene said. “The threat is they won’t be able to continue to buy American because we can’t find skilled labor.”

Ms. Snyder said manufacturing is a good career path for smart students who are not heading to college, who like computers and like to work with their hands.

“The industry itself is very different from the one people picture in their minds,” she said. “It’s very clean, it’s high-tech, and it’s focused on teamwork.”

Ms. Snyder said: “It’s a highly skilled industry, but not one where you need a lot of education based in the classroom. It tends to be hands-on.”

And unlike the old Lucille Ball television comedy in which assembly line workers wrapped pieces of candy on a relentless conveyor belt, modern manufacturing involves diverse technical skills.

“You’re doing a lot of critical thinking and problem-solving on the job,” Ms. Snyder said. Mr. Greene said high schools and colleges need to move away from focusing largely on “preparing the elite for a classical education.”

He added, “The whole educational system needs to be revamped to provide meaningful education.”

Reprinted with permission

Grant Recipient: UCLA Architecture and Urban Design
Letter from Juliet Oehler Goff, President/CEO, Kal Plastics

I recently had the pleasure of visiting UCLA Architecture and Urban Design to meet the thermoforming team who are currently using a MAAC thermoformer made possible by the SPE Thermoforming Division matching grant program. The machine was installed in the summer of 2008.

They are actively using the machine a great deal and they expressed their gratitude for the SPE grant program. I saw photos of some of the work generated and encouraged them to submit parts for the competition at the next conference. I also asked to get annual updates on the output by the students and copies of student reports and/or any technical papers that could be published in Thermoforming Quarterly and possibly presented at future conferences. I will re-connect with the teaching faculty on these points once school resumes in the fall.

I learned there is a real need for assistance on procuring sheet plastic. They would appreciate help with getting materials donated and/or at a discount. I let them know that our group may very well be able to help. All in all, it was a great meeting and hopefully it will be a start to establishing regular contact. Shown are some photos I took during the visit.

Grant Recipient: Gettysburg School District, Gettysburg, PA
Letter from Larry R. Redding, 
Assistant Superintendent, Gettysburg Schools

Enclosed you will find several photos of students at Gettysburg Area High School utilizing the Thermoforming equipment the Society of Plastics Engineers Foundation helped purchase through their grant program.  We are extremely thankful for your generous support!  As you will note from these photos, our students have begun hands-on, real-life projects to explore and discover the dynamic plastic materials industry.

Since the machine arrived in late summer, our high school technology education teachers have spent numerous hours revising curriculum, attending professional development programs, working with a local representative (McClarin Plastics, Hanover, PA) and working independently to make the most of this valuable teaching resource.  Again, your financial support was instrumental in making this educational opportunity a reality.

Our work to upgrade and improve our educational opportunities in the Technology Education Department is ongoing.  Our teachers are committed to giving our students the best possible learning experience, so we continue to make improvements to our Materials Processing, Independent Research in Materials Processing and Computer Aided Drafting and Design curricula to fully incorporate this resource into our program of studies.

Again, the Gettysburg Area School District greatly appreciates your support.

Thermoforming Center of Excellence at Penn College

The SPE Thermoforming Division has been instrumental in forming and supporting the Thermoforming Center of Excellence at Penn College of Technology. The 1,800 square foot facility is dedicated to serve the education, training, and research and development needs of thermoformers, sheet extruders, resin suppliers, mold builders, and equipment manufacturers.

The Center is operated by the Plastics Manufacturing Center (PMC), one of the top plastics-technology centers in the country. The PMC offers industry access to extensive material-testing laboratories, industrial-scale process equipment, world-class training facilities, and highly skilled consulting staff.

The Center offers both credit and noncredit courses to prepare new workers entering the workforce or to advance the knowledge and skills of the current workforce within the thermoforming industry. In addition, it will develop and deliver general and customized noncredit courses and seminars to meet the needs of industry members and client companies.