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Wittmann Battenfeld ribbon cutting

It takes a village to develop the next generation of plastics employees

Trade publications—as well as the mainstream media—are filled with articles about the skills gap and the difficulty companies have in finding trained, or even trainable, employees. Yet the solution to this seemingly ongoing problem lies in the hands of many different entities besides processors and mold manufacturers. Apprenticeships and various training programs are coming back into the manufacturing setting and that’s a good start, but it takes much more.

One reason many community colleges and trade school programs gave up their manufacturing readiness programs is because of the lack of good, up-to-date equipment, which most of these schools just flat can’t afford. How do you prepare young people for a career in manufacturing if you don’t have equipment on which to train them?

That’s where machinery and equipment companies come into play. For the metal working trades, including moldmaking, machine tool manufacturer Haas (Oxnard, CA) has been a huge contributor. For example, Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, MN, has 17 CNC machine tools in its Haas Technical Educational Center. In Dearborn, MI, the Henry Ford Community College (HFCC) has all the latest Haas equipment for student training. The equipment is serviced by a nearby Haas factory outlet, and the machines are upgraded every two years, so that HFCC always has the latest equipment, which makes these students relevant in today’s machine shop environment.

Molding machine suppliers are also active in these programs. Recently, Wittmann Battenfeld Inc. (Torrington, CT) supplied an all-new injection molding machine work cell to the University of Massachusetts – Lowell for use in the university’s plastics engineering lab, which recently received a “significant face-lift,” said Wittmann Battenfeld. The work cell features an EcoPower all-electric molding machine, a W818 robot with telescopic vertical arm, an indexing conveyor, and a Tempro Plus D temperature control unit. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to formally open the newly updated lab on March 23, 2016.

L to R: Jacquie Moloney, Chancellor of UMass Lowell; James Peyser, Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; David Preusse, President of Wittmann Battenfeld and alumnus of UMass Lowell; and Joseph Hartman, Dean of the Francis College of Engineering at UMass Lowell.

David Preusse, President of Wittmann Battenfeld and UMass Lowell alumnus (1985), joined James Peyser, Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Jacquie Monoley, Chancellor of UMass Lowell; and Joseph Hartman, Dean of UMass Lowell’s Francis College of Engineering for the ribbon-cutting. Over 50 current UMass Lowell students and faculty attended the event.

In her opening statements, Chancellor Moloney thanked Wittmann Battenfeld for its support of UMass Lowell’s plastics engineering program and said that the new machinery will “have a transformative effect,” adding that “it’s critical for us to know that we’re educating and graduating students who are ready to immediately make an impact in their field. Wittmann Battenfeld’s generous support of our program with this brand new equipment helps ensure just that.”

The key words in her statement were “brand new equipment.” Over the years, many companies including processors and moldmakers, have been willing to donate older equipment as they upgraded to new CNC machine tools and state-of-the-art molding presses. But while those were okay, students couldn’t get the training they needed to hit the ground running when they graduated and went to work.

David Kazmer, a professor at UMass Lowell who teaches process control, automation and machine integration, will be using the new work cell to teach students how to take injection molding to the next level, such as web integration, controlling data storage and using Industry 4.0. “We feel we have a special program here at UMass Lowell, preparing students for good jobs in the plastics manufacturing industry,” he said. “Having this new Wittmann Battenfeld machinery will help us prepare our students to be familiar with state-of-the-art injection molding best practices as they enter the workforce.”

Wittmann Battenfeld’s Preusse noted that UMass Lowell already had two older Battenfeld molding machines in its labs, originally placed there in the 1990s. Wittmann Battenfeld took one of the older machines back for upgrades and replaced it with the new EcoPower work cell. The second machine is a specialty machine used for liquid silicone rubber (LSR) molding and will continue to be used in the UMass Lowell lab.

These donations of new, state-of-the-art equipment benefit the students, the processors and mold manufacturing companies that hire them, as well as the equipment suppliers. As the machinery and equipment suppliers upgrade the schools’ equipment every few years, like Haas does, these lightly-used and well-maintained pieces of equipment are sold to companies at a discount. It’s a win for everyone involved, but especially the industry, which is getting the next generation of well-trained, skilled employees.

Thank you to Wittmann Battenfeld and all of the machinery and equipment suppliers that step up to the plate and do the right thing to help create a better, stronger plastics processing and mold manufacturing industry.

If you’re a machine tool or molding press supplier supporting education programs, leave a comment below and let the PlasticsToday audience know what you’re doing to help shape the next generation of industry employees.

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