by Andy Routsis, president, Routsis Training

Plastics are not simple. Many interactions and variables complicate the entire process. The best processors have a workforce with an in-depth understanding of many factors, including machinery, tooling, material, documentation, equipment, quality, 5S, housekeeping and processing, as well as industry best practices.

On-the-job learning, at best, provides behavioral training to help maintain the status quo. Your employees need the knowledge, skills and understanding necessary to help bring your company to the next level. To keep your entire workforce up-to-speed and up-to-date, your company needs an efficient training plan that delivers knowledge, skills development and hands-on instruction.

Structured employee development plan

The most successful plastics companies have structured, ongoing, in-house training plans in place to help develop needed talent from within. This development plan also should be used to teach new hires the varied skills needed to keep your company running, as well as the critical information and skills to help it improve into the future.

A structured plan involves the following elements:

  • effective training materials
  • skills-development exercises
  • focused hands-on mentoring
  • relevant testing

The focus in developing a structured training plan is to first determine the knowledge, skills and capabilities needed for each job title and then locate materials that will help you meet these goals over the long term. Determine the long-term goals and objectives for each job title – not only to keep the production floor running, but also with consideration as to what is needed from everyone for your company to get to the next level.

Create a culture of continuous improvement

Continuous improvement is an ongoing process. What worked at your company 10 or 20 years ago will not meet your current customers’ needs. The same will be true five or 10 years into the future. Your workforce must be prepared for the new machinery, equipment, materials, documentation, procedures and technology that will inevitably be introduced in the future. For example, if your employees have a real in-depth understanding of what is actually involved in making good product, then they can effectively leverage a new piece of technology in a way that someone who just knows how to run the machine cannot. The focus should be on your employees developing an evidence portfolio of their knowledge and skills capabilities that grows every year.

Keep the focus on quality assurance

Hundreds of free troubleshooting charts and guides are available online, yet bad product still gets to the customer. The truth is, most plastics processors put too much training emphasis on traditional troubleshooting because they do not actually know what makes good product. Technicians usually spend a large percentage of their time moving from one unreliable process to another, while the quality team tries to stop any bad product from getting to the customer. This is known as quality control. A key aspect of getting better is constantly striving to provide better quality assurance for your customers every day on every production run. If the processor truly understands and properly documents what makes good product, then the goal of production is to repeat those conditions every time. Scientific troubleshooting is just the process of creating a standard – or returning the process back to the standard – by determining what is preventing you from making good product and then fixing the issues.

Monitoring and maintaining your training

A successful in-house training program should develop and increase the knowledge, skills and capabilities of your workforce. This increased capability will improve their ability to perform their job functions and better prepare them to handle future improvements in procedures, documentation, part handling and technology.

Track improvements using metrics, including the following:

  • scrap rate and/or customer returns
  • unscheduled downtime
  • die setting and color change times
  • mold and machinery damage
  • troubleshooting time
  • efficiency and productivity

The key in choosing metrics is to select data that show at least six months of history so the impact of the training initiative can be measured effectively.

Andy Routsis is president of Routsis Training and is a master trainer for Routsis Training. Over the last 30 years, Routsis Training has developed the largest, most up-to-date online plastics training library in the world on scientific molding. The training materials in this library range from beginner to advanced and explain in detail the plastics industry’s best practices. His company specializes in ongoing training systems and on-site training.

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