Peraner, Jared L: August 2011 Archives

Epi-blog

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I pretty much decided when I was 14 years old I wanted to be an engineer, I liked building things and was constantly inquiring about how things worked. I had always been placed in higher level math classes through elementary school, but in 8th grade I met my match with Algebra, I struggled. My teacher informed my mother that I should probably not pursue a career in math or sciences. A little harsh for a 14 year old wouldn’t you agree?

 

Well I took her advice and didn’t pursue a career in math OR sciences. I pursued a career in math AND sciences.

 

Fast forward to today.

 

When the clock strikes 4:00PM on this Cinderella story I’ll have completed my first Co-Op, with a multi-million dollar organization to boot. Next week I’ll be entering my senior year of college and assuming I don’t hit any speed bumps, receive a Bachelors Degree in Plastics Engineering next spring. Last time I checked that involved a strong knowledge of math and sciences.

 

“Shout out to my haters, sorry that you couldn’t phase me.”

 

I guess that was all the motivation I needed. Some middle school algebra teacher telling me I couldn’t do it. Well I’m doing it, doing it well and doing it right now!

 

“Victory!”

 

Days like today are bittersweet. To think about all the hard work I’ve put in to reach what I believe is the pinnacle point thus far in my life. It’s also a little sad though; I’ve spent the past 3 months here and have become acclimated. I enjoy working at Teknor Apex. I enjoy my co-workers and of course, I enjoy that weekly paycheck.

 

I’ve learned more than just plastics. I’ve learned about the ideals of corporate culture, employee to employer relations, the need for continuous improvement, methods of problem solving and that time really is money.

 

But this blog is all for naught without you, the readers. Hopefully I’ve provided you with a unique perspective on this experience and of course a few laughs. So my many thanks to all of you!

 

And last but not least “clap for the heavy weight champ, ME!” This truly was an experience and even with all the heart ache last spring about whether or not I was going to even find a job, I could not be more pleased with how everything turned out.

  

The summer wouldn’t be complete though without one more Switchback paired perfectly with a sunset over Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains.

 

 

Switchback_Sunset.jpg 

“So Long, I’m goin', goin' home…”

This is it.

 

One more week. One more week waking up at 6:45AM. One more week commuting 60 miles. One more week cooking my own meals. One more week living in Burlington. One more week with no homework. One more week with a steady pay check. One more week of summer.

 

One. More. Week.

 

Then it’s back to reality. Back to waking up at one time Monday/Wednesday/Friday and another Tuesday/Thursday. Back to walking over the University Ave bridge or catching a bus across campus. Back to eating in the dining hall. Back to living on campus. Back to homework. Back to stretching out the dollar. Back to the cold weather.

 

Back. To. School.

 

I remember talking about transitioning from student to full time employee back in May before the end of school, adjusting to a new found lifestyle. But what about this transition from full time employee back to student. Will it be as easy, will I prefer being a full time student or will I rather be working? Will what I’ve learned this summer have an impact on my academic success this year? Will I have any regrets?

 

Has it all been worth it?

 

The importance of an internship or Co-Op has been highly stressed since I’ve arrived at UML. Gaining real world experience is essential in preparing yourself for a full time job, and especially being hired for one.

 

“Making contacts.”

 

“Building a network.”

 

“Having strong references.”

 

“Recommendations.”

 

“Separating yourself from the competition.”

 

“Constructing a strong resume.”

 

“Being hired upon graduation.”

 

These ideas have been stressed over and over again the past 3 years. This is the big picture and the main goal of the summer co-op. Did I accomplish it? Have a met people I can consider contacts and potential references that will provide strong letters of recommendation. Will I rank higher then my competitors when applying for future jobs? Have a done enough to make my resume strong and make myself look better on paper? Would TA consider me for full time employment?

 

I think that this is what most of my fellow students and faculty members are thinking about as students wrap up their various summer jobs and transition back into “academic mode.”

 

Next week. The epic conclusion to the Co-op Saga!

Chapter V: Know Your Role

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Every morning on the way to work I listen to the “Elvis Duran and the Morning Show” on 96.7 The Planet FM. Fittingly this morning’s topic of discussion was the treatment of interns. Elvis Duran talked about how when you think of an intern you picture a disoriented college student squandering through an office each morning with a stack of coffees to be delivered to each employee. Then of course one of the coffees wasn’t made to order and the intern has to go all the way back down to the café or across the street to pick up another one. Basically, the stereotype is intern = company [profanity].

 

Being the intern means every single employee in the company ranks above me, which means everything they need to do is a “higher priority” than what I need to do (even though it may not be).

 

With TA running 24/5 the extruders and injection molding machines are constantly in use. Typically only 2 of the 3 lines are running at any given time on the manufacturing floor, so when I need to mold parts, a line should be available…right? Wrong! The molds on each line differ, so depending on what I need to mold dictates which line I need to run. If I need to mold on line 2 and it is running then I need to either first check the schedule to see when the line will be down or second talk to the shift leader. The shift leader will either say “no” or send me to the operators on the floor to see if they have a window of time the molding machine won’t be in use.

 

“Serenity Now!”

 

It’s the same story for most anything, at least for the first rodeo. I have to ask if I can use it, be trained on how to use it, and if some one else needs to use it, I’ll step aside.

 

“Patience is a virtue.”

 

I’ll also have situations where a co-worker needs my help, so I’ll then pause what I’m working on and assist them. Once I’m done, its back to my own work. I don’t necessarily have deadlines or someone looking over my shoulder, but I am expected to complete my tasks timely and orderly.

 

Here at TA I am by no means the company [profanity]. I have access to almost anything in the facility, as long as I’ve received proper training, asked for permission when needed, and of course, is available. I don’t push a mail cart, take coffee orders, or stare at a computer screen for 8 hours pushing one key. I’m not taken advantage of, or talked down to; I’m treated equally and with respect.

 

It’s true “all I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten.”

  • Being polite and respectful
  • Sharing
  • Listening
  • Asking for permission
  • Patience
  • Etc.

 

Sticking to those guidelines I think has helped me to become integrated into the TA family. I feel like I belong now and I’m no longer “the new guy.” My co-workers are willing to help each other and myself whenever it’s needed. I think it’s that mind set that has helped make TA the successful company it is.

 

“If I’m not back in 5 minutes…just wait longer!”

“You’re a what?”

“A plastics engineer.”

“What’s plastics engineering?”

“It’s [insert description].”

“So what do you do as a plastics engineer?”

 

I’m sure my fellow classmates can relate to the conversation above. I have had this exact conversation too many times to count. UMass Lowell has the only accredited Plastics Engineering Program in the US. There are thousands of companies in the US alone that are involved with plastic materials, but out of the thousands of universities and colleges in the US only 1 school will provide you with an engineering degree specifically for plastics. So how do these plastics companies come to be and flourish without them?

 

As I explained earlier, the TA facility in St. Albans, VT specializes in producing thermoplastics. There is 1 plastics engineer on site. When I inform my fellow co-workers that I am a plastics engineer we proceed to have the conversation above. Yet, the mixers and operators all know how to operate the extruders, mixers and injection molding machines. They all know how to conduct tests for MFR, tensile, hardness, specific gravity, izod and more. My point is this is exactly what I’m learning in school, but my co-workers didn’t go to school to learn it. So if the common man is able to perform the exact tasks I’m learning in school, does that make my degree…useless?

 

“Seven years of college down the drain.”

 

Not quite, I spoke with my boss this week about this very topic (the value of a plastics engineering degree). Yes the operators and mixers at TA can run the machinery and perform the required tests, but when they take a reading or program a machine it’s all based on a set of directions. They don’t always understand why each heating zone of the extruder has a specific operating temp, the significance of a 65 shore A hardness or a 10g/10min MFR. They just know that if it is within the desired specification, it’s an acceptable product.

 

What happens though when the product is out of spec? Variation is inevitable in any process. While all the machinery in a plant may be built identically to operate identically, they do not. Each machine may run different materials; some materials induce more shear stress than others, ultimately wearing down the screw and barrel, varying the process.

 

Cue Plastics Engineer! The issue of process variation could be solved in two ways.

 

First, trial and error, change different processing parameters or chemical formulations in hopes of producing the desired product. This could be extremely time consuming and costly to a company because hundreds, possibly thousands of pounds of material would need to be extruded to see if the changes actually affect the process.

 

Second, employ a chemist who understands the chemical formulations (most likely develops these same formulations) and a plastics engineer. A plastics engineer has been academically exposed to the theory of plastics processing and the science of the polymer materials in the process themselves. Understanding how the process works, and how the materials being used effect that process puts a company at a serious advantage. Less raw material will be wasted, and less time will be lost reworking the process.

 

Theory will only bring an engineer so far, the operators and mixers here at TA run these machines everyday, they know the machines inside and out. So they may not know why a process varies, but they do know that “if you do ___ then ___ goes wrong.” That’s what makes a successful team, strong communication between the employees. The operator discovers the problem; the engineers work to solve it.

 

Now I’m not saying the operators and mixers are lesser people. I’m simply pointing out how the education is similar to mine, but significantly different. Also this is only a small realm of the plastics engineering world, a degree in plastics could take someone in a wide variety of directions.

 

The professors in the Plastics Engineering Department at UML are extremely passionate about…plastics. They put in a lot of time and effort to construct this one-of-a-kind curriculum because they believe it is both relevant and important to the world.

 

I open this blog up for discussion; the comments section is now activated. I’m interested in both facutly, alumni and student opinions on the value of a Plastics Engineering degree.

 

“To be or not to be [a Plastics Engineer], that is the question.”

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Peraner, Jared L in August 2011.

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