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More often than not, a direct correlation exists between the level of employee 
training and a processor’s productivity, efficiency, and the quality of his products. Most of the critical issues in training have to do with new technology in machinery and materials, according to Mike Dalton, director of quality for contract molder MRPC (Molded Rubber & Plastics Corp.; Butler, WI).

Clare Goldsberry

September 15, 2009

7 Min Read
Want good products and processes? Train good employees

More often than not, a direct correlation exists between the level of employee 
training and a processor’s productivity, efficiency, and the quality of his products. Most of the critical issues in training have to do with new technology in machinery and materials, according to Mike Dalton, director of quality for contract molder MRPC (Molded Rubber & Plastics Corp.; Butler, WI).

Change in these necessitates frequent updates of employees’ training, which means MRPC’s training programs are ongoing at many levels. “We constantly need our employees to perform at higher levels of technology,” says Dalton. “Basically, we’re only as good as our worst operator, so we carefully screen employees prior to hiring and then screen them during a 60-day training and orientation period.” MRPC has 90 employees.

MEPC_MRPC.jpg

MRPC is serious about training, and the results are tracked throughout the plant. At a quality training session (left to right) are Lori Wiertzema, customer service; Mike Dalton, director of quality; Tracy Peterson, QA inspector; Chris Peterson, production control manager; Susan Lloyd, quality manager; and Mark Brandstaetter, VP of sales.

Another critical component of the training program is insight into the use of the parts being molded; often the only thing standing between a conforming part and a nonconforming one is the press operator. At MRPC, each operator trains in quality as well as processing. “We use what we call a Production Tracker that goes with the job. It’s a requirement that our operators read this, then learn to translate what’s on the paper to the process, which is key,” says Dalton. “Because our operators are trained in the basics of processing, they use the Production Tracker, which tells them the parameters of the press, criteria of the product, and other information they need to run the job successfully.”

A new employee’s first few days are spent in the classroom, training on topics such as safety, plant operations, and what it means to be ISO certified. “Once they get on the floor, depending on which department they are assigned to, the assigned trainer will give the person more and more responsibility over time as their training progresses,” explains Dalton. “It’s a gradual development of the employee.”

Training companies get busy
As though proof of the awareness that an employee’s training directly affects the success of a company, Andy Routsis, president of A. Routsis Assoc. (Dracut, MA), which designs and administers training programs for plastics processors, says his company is “on track to have our best year ever.” He’s added people to his team, and “demand is all of a sudden being revitalized,” he adds. “[Molders] realize that if they don’t train their employees, they’ll have bigger problems than they already have.”

Routsis reckons that lost knowledge at OEMs—knowledge that left with employees who retired early or were laid off—is the primary reason that molders need and are demanding more highly educated and skilled employees, as more OEMs count on their suppliers to fill their plastics processing knowledge deficit.

When looking for the benefits of trained, skilled employees, management tends to look at the tangibles such as reduced scrap rate. Routsis agrees it is one of the key metrics because it is tangible and can be easily measured. However, he notes, there are also benefits that are less easily quantified, such as reduced tooling and equipment damage. “Every company reports mold repairs, so they can track damage to the mold during setup or troubleshooting,” he adds.

The hands-on training programs developed by RJG Inc. (Traverse City, MI) are well known in the injection molding industry, and a poor economy seems to have increased demand for employee training as a means to reduce overall costs-to-manufacture. Gary Chastain, consulting and training manager for RJG, says, “You have a huge investment in equipment and molds, so it only makes sense that you must invest in the people as well. The only thing that sets you apart is your knowledge and utilization of that knowledge. Everything else—machinery, software, and equipment—your competitors can buy.”

MRPC’s Dalton says his company tracks six key metrics, including nonconforming parts per million (ppm) and scrap. “That’s been dropping dramatically compared to what it was several years ago,” says Dalton. “Three or four years ago, a 5% scrap level was considered normal. Today, it’s less than 1%. We track scrap weekly and at our Tuesday meeting we discuss the scrap rate, and that’s been dropping like a rock.”

MRPC’s nonconforming ppm used to be in the triple digits, which was considered acceptable, notes Dalton. Today, the company’s ppm has also been reduced and the goal is to get it into the two-digit range. Another metric is on-time delivery, which is now at 99%, up from 98%.

Chastain admits some processors question the return on investment of a training event, but Dalton says that for his company, the “ROI has been huge. The reason we spend so much money on training is we know that if employees don’t do their job—don’t know how to do their job—it will ultimately cost us a lot more. Scrap dollars are like free money. Reduced scrap is money in the bank.”

Beyond the tangible benefits
This is hard to quantify for the bean counters, but Routsis says the number one intangible is communication. “This is big, because communicating with everyone as to what the problems are, how they’re being solved, and what needs to happen is critical to the process,” says Routsis. “Morale is better with training because employees understand what their path is, which means accidents and absenteeism are reduced.”

Routsis says there’s a right way for a company to train. “If they do the training the wrong way, it’s a disaster,” he says, noting that some companies give the training responsibility to the “lowest guy on the totem pole. Training has to be from the top down.”

“When you implement a training program, it must take top priority,” RJG’s Chastain agrees. “Training that is successful starts from the top down. You need a champion.”

Dalton sees a huge intangible benefit from MRPC’s viewpoint—“our standing with the customer,” he says. “If you give the customers high-quality components on time, every time, day in and day out, they give you new programs.”

New technology drives training needs
With the advent of scientific molding, it has become more critical that every operator understand the process in order to make optimum use of equipment and the process. “A setup guy sets up the mold, but the operator has to be attuned to slight drifts in the process and the material,” Dalton explains. “They must be on the ball with what they’re producing, because they are responsible for the quality. We have a quality group that supports them, but minute-to-minute, they’re responsible. What’s happening on a shot-to-shot basis is key.”

Training is something that has to be done routinely and regularly. It’s not a one-time three-day seminar and back to business as usual. RJG’s Chastain notes that technology drives ongoing training because so many things change. “Technology changes, materials change, molding machines change,” he points out. “Consequently, there must be a lot of commitment to truly training people on an ongoing basis.”

Dalton agrees. “At MRPC we have a myriad of ongoing training programs in all types of areas, including biohazards, safety, and more. We’re also looking to upgrade to the medical standard from ISO 9000 to ISO 13485, which will require additional training,” he says. “We’re currently trying to get more employees trained in lean, and just had a value-stream mapping session. It’s important because they’re the ones who stand by the press daily.”

Chastain says training is the biggest competitive edge a company can implement. “Education is huge,” he emphasizes. “Low costs come as a result of well-educated employees.” The same, of course, holds true for processors around the globe. —Clare Goldsberry

Funds are being cut in England; a new training program emerges in California; Germans, Austrians, and Swiss emphasize their apprenticeship programs: This article is continued here.

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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