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Career: Plastics Manufacturer

A Day in the life of a Plastics Manufacturer

"You'll never get rich doing this," wrote the supervisor of one injection-molding floor, "but you're sure as hell going to have fun." Satisfaction levels were high among most respondents in this industry, who cited the regular work schedule, the production of a useful (and often recyclable) product, and the camaraderie between machine operators and supervisors. Even those who supervise workers must understand the nuances of their precise machinery, so many supervisors have been known to take a shift themselves at various stages of the process. Without this fluid line between boss and employee that supports many departments through work crunches and technical crises, plastics manufacturing would be just another hard production job. The two main types of plastics manufacturing are injection molding and blow molding. Injection molding equipment is used for precision parts, such as appliance parts; blow molding equipment is used to make circular, volume-oriented items such as two-liter soda bottles and shampoo containers. The original press of a mold is critical to future replicas, so supervisors have to take exquisite care in the preparation and casting of that initial mold. Production pressures can be intense, but manufacturers are usually responsible only for their own shifts, from the melting of the powdered plastic (or pellet plastic) to the cooling and testing of the final product. Manufacturers may dash from production area to production area "putting out fires before they begin" and making certain that their shifts run smoothly. According to many respondents, the most unexpected part of being a plastics manufacturer is the socializing and friendships between bosses and employees. The production work can be difficult--working with molten plastic, handling equipment at temperatures that can reach two thousand degrees or more, testing plastic for tensile strength--and this shared stress seems to encourage mutual respect. "The workers are good people who work hard. You take care of them and they'll take care of you," said one manufacturer. Plastics manufacturing is a busy, friendly world where one's reward isn't necessarily determined by the size of one's paycheck.

Paying Your Dues

A college degree isn't required in the plastics manufacturing profession. Many manufacturing executives are chosen from manufacturing operator pools, which make long periods of job-specific education unnecessary. Many do attend college and some come into the profession with no relevant experience, but employers look for other qualities--scientific skills, leadership abilities, and manufacturing experience--from those candidates. All applicants should be familiar with math, basic science, and communication skills, and be able to take direction. Successful candidates seem to have one other quality that can't be learned: They inspire respect in the people around them.

Associated Careers

The plastics manufacturing profession boasts one of the lowest attrition rates--less than eight percent per year. High levels of satisfaction contribute to this phenomenon. Many go back to school for materials engineering classes, mechanical design, and blueprint reading. Those who leave the profession from there usually take industrial engineering positions.

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