INDUSTRIAL TRAINING PROGRAMS FOR PLASTICS MANUFACTURING
Presented at Antec '04

by
Nick R. Schott, Director of Education, Training & Research, Plastics Institute of America, 333 Aiken Street, Lowell, MA 01854

and
Martin K. Pottle, APR, Martin Thomas, Inc., 334 Country Road, Barrington, RI 02806-2410

Introduction

The Plastics Institute of America has a long history of training in the polymer/plastics field. Over the past twenty years this training has focused on the shop floor employees and new professionals as compared to research and management types. Successful long term training has been conducted with leading consumer, medical, and electronic manufacturers. The training is offered in a wide range of traditional and cutting-edge areas to help companies and their employees keep pace with the rapid rate of change that has become the cornerstone of today's economy.

About The Plastics Institute of America

The Plastics institute of America was founded in 1963 as a not-for-profit education organization to serve the Plastics Industry and education of professionals as well as the general work force. The Institute also serves as an information resource and "hot line" not only to the plastics industry but also to other manufacturing industries in need of knowledge and advice on plastics materials, plastics processing, design and manufacturing in general. The 40+ year old PIA bills itself as a research organization with designs on becoming a pre-eminent resource for the plastics industry in addition to offering educational services through training. The organization is quick to point out that it has no intension of duplicating the work of other groups, private, public, for profit, or not-for-profit. "Rather'," says Plastics Institute of America Chairman, Martin K. Pottle, "our goals and our role and intent are to either complement what other groups or organizations are doing, or undertake activities where there are voids in the plastics industry. Our 20+ members of the Board of Trustees from industry, the media and professional associations are seeking liaisons worldwide to make the PIA a major resource for professionals and companies". One of the most successful programs to accomplish this is on-site training of the workforce.

On-site Training (in-plant) Works and is Cost Effective

Employee training is expensive; it's difficult to measure the impact or value; and it takes up valuable time. Still, it is needed, but which is more cost-effective at the plant, or off-site? And, can money be saved by doing it at one location or the other, and if so, are the results compromised?

The experience of the Plastics Institute of America has shown that in-plant training is the way to go. A recent and ongoing experience - one of the world's largest and most widely recognized consumer product manufacturers - saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by taking this route.

The cost benefit of conducting the classes in house versus off-site is significant. These costs would be the per individual class charge and additional paid hours off-site and travel from the plant to training site. Table 1 lists a breakdown of cost factors and basic assumptions

The calculations are based on a five year span during which nearly 1,500 participants were trained in 126 plastics technical education classes involving 12 different modules, resulting in a savings of $750,000 over other more traditional i.e. off-site venues. The savings alone for money saved on transportation costs would entitle a company to add several more hourly employees at approximately $28/hr. (savings for car mileage alone totaled $72,000.)

In addition to the cost benefits, the follow-up study showed a marked increase in the knowledge gained by personnel - It nearly doubled in the 12 modules as shown in Table 2 and Figure 1.

The Target Audience

The PIA workforce training is technical in nature and intends to upgrade the skills of the shop floor workforce. In the case of an injection molding or extrusion operation the target audience may consist of the following personnel:

New Mechanics
Experienced Mechanics
Die/Mold Maintainers
Supervisors, inspectors, clerks

Most Mechanics range in age form late 20s to mid 50s. This target audience can be grouped into three categories:

  1. Active Learner: Bright and interested in learning new information and technologies. Good ability to understand technical information. Interested in their own development, possibly pursuing more formal education. Mostly limited experience around the new technology.
  2. Average Learner: Technically competent. Some difficulties absorbing conceptual information. Some interest in learning but needs a very practical approach to understand how concepts apply to his/her job.
  3. Passive Learner: This student would not have chosen to be in the class on his/her own and is bored by the experience. He/she tends to be an employee with significant time at the company. The passive learner is "put to sleep" when complex or conceptual information is put on the board.

Instructors and Course Materials

Short courses, seminars and conferences for professionals have been a staple of the PIA for over 40 years. They were traditionally held off-site. However, over the years as the technology became more complex it was realized that it was, the shop floor workforce that needed the most upgrading. University of Massachusetts Lowell and its faculty in the Department of Plastics Engineering have a 30+ years experience in offering off site courses, i.e. at the university. What is being done at the University of Massachusetts Lowell is primarily for the professional segment of the industry. Many of these same instructors as well as faculty from other engineering departments have developed the course modules of the PIA training for the shop floor personnel. These instructors had to adapt their teaching styles to the new audience - the shop floor personnel.

Counterpart to these shop floor modules is that students are given a pre and post assessment test to establish their knowledgebase before and after the training. The pre & post-assessment test is geared to the audience. The following points have been determined from experience:

  1. Give only multiple choice questions
  2. Omit essay and true or false questions.
  3. Only ask questions relevant to course objectives.
  4. Give the same test before and after the training to measure effectiveness.

Specifically instructors are trained to have concise lectures with handouts. Students are asked to participate in class exercises and teamwork to stimulate the learning experience. The training may take place at various times of day after a shift ends and it is up to the instructor to keep up the interest of the class since many people are tired or bored. In many cases a hands on approach with instruments, calculators, or training aids makes the class more applied and informative. The feedback form is shown as Figure 2.

For each course a set of course objectives are crafted by the instructor based on input form the company's human resources group and the immediate supervisors of the trainees. In most cases the instructor visits the company to conduct this familiarization tour and view the facilities, the classroom space, and the shop floor to get a feel for the objectives. Training materials, textbooks and class handouts are discussed and mutually agreed on. Training aids, textbooks, etc. are ordered by the companies Human resources. These include hydraulic simulators, pneumatic simulators, electrical controls, gages, and instruments. Suitable textbooks must be of the appropriate level, up to date, moderately priced and mathematics must be kept to a minimum.

Company Investment

Training is vital for American manufacturing to survive and it is also beneficial for ISO certifications. It is a substantial investment on the part of the company. This investment consists of classroom and other training facilities, textbooks and supplies, training kits, cost of the training, and cost of the employees' hourly wages. The typical training cost for a 20 hour module is $5400. This charge includes a module customization, a module delivery, administrative charges. In addition to a $75 (estimated) book and material charge per employee per module. In case the instructor is required to travel out of the state of Massachusetts, the client company will pay the travel expenses.

Obviously this investment in its employees raises some concerns:

  1. What if the employee leaves? (Investment of the employee is lost?)
  2. Is the training effective?
  3. Is the training skills based and task specific?
  4. And most importantly, are the course objectives met?

Franchising/Partnerships

The PIA model of in-plant training has been proven over a six year period that included a half a dozen major New England companies or government agencies. Most of the companies were larger companies with the resources to carry out this training. The plans are to use this model and partner with other organizations and educational institutions to cover a larger territory.

A Challenge for US Manufacturing

The plastics industry needs to continuously improve production efficiency to remain competitive. A worldwide economy and its inherent competition force ever increasing demands for higher quality products at lower costs. In order for the U.S. Manufacturing sector to stay competitive it must lower costs via automation. Gaining an edge in manufacturing requires reaching beyond ordinary or incremental improvements to quality and production. "Lights out" production has been a goal for the last twenty years. A commitment to this concept requires both the investment in automation as well as a trained workforce to keep this automated factory running. It should be realized that "lights out" does not mean zero labor, but reduced labor on most shifts and extensive routine maintenance and set-ups on one shift to allow the other shifts to run lean. "Lights out" plastics processing must be more heavily utilized, and perhaps it should become the norm, if America is to maintain a significant plastics manufacuring industry. The potential exists to increase the productivity by several hundred percent but the industry must invest in a highly trained workforce to make this a reality.

Table 1. Cost Benefits Study of In-house Classes

Specifics of the training and technical education cost benefits include and were reached based on the following data:

If the training were done off the company site, est. an hour drive from the company, Lowell with an average class time - 4 hours, with each course averaging 5 sessions.

  • Estimated hourly rate of each employee (pay w/o benefits) - $28.
  • Round trip travel from plant to off-site where classes held - 2 hours; for 126 employees, this could have amounted to as much as $35,000.
  • Travel @ $0.34/mile est. at $25 per employee per class session again, for 126 employees, this could have cost as much as $36,000.
  • Lost work time at either location (at plant or at University) - same, either way.
  • Other 'travel' expenses to include hotels, meals, other and travel time.

Off-Site Total Extra Costs Saved = $750,000+

Click here to see the following link containing Table 2 and Figure 1 and Figure2:

the link above includes:
Table 2. Technical Education Program Summary
Figure 1. Technical Education Program Summary
Figure 2. Participant Feedback Form Technical Education Program

Click here to download the actual word document featuring the entire antec paper

 

“From Inplant Training for Workers on the Shop Floor.. to Seminars for the Corner Office Executives”

Photo Courtesy of GLS Corporation