Chapter II: TA Marks the Spot
At this point in time Iíve just reached the midway point of my co-op at Teknor Apex (TA). My first day was June 1st.
The first couple of days consisted of becoming acquainted with fellow co-workers, learning the lay-out of the facility, and how TA goes about its day-to-day operations. TA runs 24 hours, 5 days a week. There are three shifts throughout the work day, and from what I have seen during these changeovers, the plant doesnít skip a beat. The blueprint of the TA facility consists of a main office area, conference room, break room, 2 laboratories and the manufacturing floor.
The manufacturing floor is where the action is, divided into several sections all with a unique purpose; Shipping/Receiving, storage of raw materials, storage of finished goods, staging areas, maintenance area, holding area and an area for packaging supplies.
Then, amidst all of that is the 2 floor production area, the central nervous system of TA, consisting of three twin screw extrusion lines and three small injection molding machines. The main product of this facility is TPEís (Thermoplastic Elastomers). Below is a brief overview of the process.
- Extruder is turned on and zones are allowed to heat to processing temperatures.
- Raw materials are gathered in the staging area, then fork-lifted or pumped across the plant from various tanks, upstairs.
- Raw materials are added to the mixer and blended.
- Gravity feeds the raw material blend down into the hopper and into the co-rotating twin screw extruder.
- As the extrudant exits the die, it is pelletized, dried and packed.
- Once the package is full it is weighed, sealed, labeled and moved to the finish goods area, where it will wait to be shipped.
- After the production run is complete, all areas of the line are cleaned and checked thoroughly to make sure everything is in good working order for the next production run.
Production runs typically last an hour. During these production runs, finished pellets are taken, inspected for quality and injection molded to make hardness plaques, tensile bars and flexural bars, to check and confirm physical properties of the material. Hardness, specific gravity and melt flow rate are several of the properties tested periodically during the production run.
The plant is populated with about 20 to 25 people at any given time, each with a specific purpose. There is a plant manager, a plant technical manager (my boss), a chemist, scheduling, shipping, shift leaders, operators, mixersÖand me. If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the flow chartÖand then turn the page you will find me.
They set me up a nice corner office with a lovely view that I walk RIGHT PAST on my way into the lab every morning. Itís in the lab that I establish base each day. I have my own computer and work space, along with access to most anything I need throughout the plant. I was fitted with standard TA team uniforms to wear out on the floor, team boots, and just to add to the list of swag, a team hat (the answer is yes, TA paid for it all, Iíll be a free agent next season, so TA is looking to keep my moral high incase they decide to offer me a contract extension). So now you might ask, what have I done so far?
- Research and Development
- Formally report findings
- Writing Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)
- Quality testing
- Tensile, shore A hardness, compression, moisture and MFR (melt flow rate)
- Flat film extrusion
- Injection molding machines
- Writing PM (Preventative Maintenance) Guides
- Gage R & R (Repeatability and Reproductability) test
- Process Validation Reports
- IQ (Installation Qualification)
- OQ (Operational Qualification)
- PQ (Performance Qualification)
THAT, is what Iíve done, and that is the abridged version. At the end of the day, if what Iíve done has helped something, someone, somewhere, then I consider it a success. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, and NOTHING is so simple that you canít mess it up. During my co-op experience, I plan to learn and understand how all the different aspects of TA work individually and together to create the successful company it is.
And the beat goes onÖ