We are seeing more women in manufacturing positions, especially in the production and quality areas. Interviews with these women show that they love their careers in plastics processing and are eager to share their stories with the industry. In an interview with PlasticsToday, Karin Omae, who recently joined the Dynamic Group as Director of Quality and Engineering, told of her successful career in manufacturing.
Based in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, Dynamic Group is a contract manufacturer of precision injection molds for plastics and metals, as well as precision plastic injection molding and assembly. The company has two facilities and 120 employees. Karin brings experience to Dynamic from several world-class companies, where she held various roles in manufacturing operations, quality and engineering. She holds a BS in industrial engineering from North Carolina A&T State University and is close to finishing her MS in industrial engineering and manufacturing systems.
In high school, Omae said she felt “stuck” trying to decide on a career until one day two female engineers came to her math class to talk about careers in that field. “I’d always been around technical people like my father, who was an electronics technican for Western Union,” Omae told PlasticsToday. “When the women engineers came to my class, a bell went off in my head that this is what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know what type of engineering I wanted.”
To help Omae with that decision, her mother enrolled her in two pre-engineering program. One was at the Coast Guard Academy, where she took classes to get a better sense of what a career in engineering would look like. “The day we did industrial engineering, more bells went off,” she said. “Electrical and mechanical engineering were okay, but it was the industrial engineering that really grabbed me.”
She loved the areas involving human factors, such as ergonomics and finding the most efficient ways of doing things. Industrial engineering, she discovered, entails more business and management skills, which Omae really enjoyed. For four years during her undergraduate work, Omae worked at General Motors performing design of experiments, time studies and other industrial engineering jobs. She then was put into the material-handling area of the GM plant, where she managed a fleet of fork-lift trucks in the one million square-foot plant. She also developed a program for a preventive maintenance schedule for that department. One summer, she worked on optimizing robotics to automate welding operations. Her final stint as a co-op student at GM was production supervision.
Omae said she never thought much about being the only woman in the grad school program in industrial engineering, where she focused on the operations and quality side. However, she learned from her student co-op time at GM and other work experiences during the course of her manufacturing career that there are differences.
“The challenges you encounter, the barriers you come up against are not really intentional for the most part, but in an industry typically occupied by men, you have to prove yourself. You have to work harder and learn to keep your wits about you,” Omae said.
Omae explained that she’s been “very fortunate” in that every company she has ever worked at over her 30-year career she has learned something from the challenges and the people she’s worked for, who have helped her navigate the cultural differences.
In her new position at Dynamic Group, Karin will provide management and facilitate the collaboration of Dynamic Group’s quality and engineering departments. Together, they will become central to the company’s organization. Karin is passionate about all manufacturing operations and excited for the opportunity to collaborate with others to help impact the improvements that benefit the company and its customers.
“Here at Dynamic, which is a second-generation ownership, the leadership has been great,” Omae said. “The fact that they would hire a woman in this role says a lot about their progressiveness in business, and that’s partly what drew me to this culture. Their goal is to change the game and take the strong legacy their fathers built and continue to evolve it. That’s something that I want to be a part of.”