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April 1, 2006

4 Min Read
Sound Off: Attracting our future workforce, Walt Disney style

Are these the future plastics engineers of America? SPI hopes so, and is raising awareness and improving the public’s impression of this industry through Epcot’s Fantastic Plastics Works exhibit. Families apply what they’ve learned about plastics to design and test virtual robots.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve taken over as president and CEO of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI). With roots on the machinery side, I’ve experienced the great breadth and diversity of our industry during my travels to various plant sites and meeting venues. While each industry segment has its own challenges and opportunities, there is one theme that continues to unite us: workforce development.

Friends and colleagues ask me, “How can we attract kids into manufacturing?” Or better yet, “How are we going to convince parents to teach their kids about careers in engineering and chemistry?”

I’ll tell you: We’re going to spend 30 minutes with at least 20,000 adults and kids every month, and we’re going to introduce them to the plastics industry, Walt Disney style.

SPI launched a new initiative in conjunction with Innoventions at Epcot last year that has creatively showcased the magic and innovation of plastics to millions of adults and kids alike.

SPI’s Fantastic Plastics Works exhibit is located in Innoventions at Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, FL. This project is entirely funded by industry supporters. Anchored by SPI members DuPont, GE Plastics, and the American Plastics Council, this exhibit seeks to improve the public’s understanding and appreciation of our industry as well as to encourage parents and kids to consider a career in plastics. Spanning 5000 ft2, Fantastic Plastics Works showcases the full scope of the plastics industry—from chemistry to design to manufacturing. A variety of plastic products also display a healthy nod to human ingenuity and creativity.

Four unique exhibit areas feature chemistry, design, manufacturing, and end products. Epcot “cast members” highlight plastics fun facts and teach guests about the versatility of plastics. Taking on the role of a product designer, families work as teams to design a virtual robot using a variety of plastics properties. Guests test their designs and the properties of their plastic robots by running them through a virtual obstacle course. The manufacturing area of the exhibit features a 110-ton, state-of-the-art injection molding cell complete with hot runner, gantry, and six-axis robotics along with state-of-the art valve gate sequencing. Six color concentrates cycle through the system every 60 minutes. The system is not purged between cycles, so the resulting toy parts represent a wide assortment of interesting colors that the kids love.

Six hoppers are filled with colorful robot parts. The kids mix and match colors as they apply what they’ve learned about plastics, its properties, and its versatility when they collect the parts to assemble their very own multicolored robot—which is the only free toy offered in the park. And SPI’s Fantastic Plastics Works is the only operational manufacturing exhibit “on stage.”

Is this exhibit addressing our industry’s future workforce dilemmas? Yes! Since we have opened SPI’s pavilion at Epcot, more than 15 million people have visited the park and nearly half a million people have dedicated 30 minutes to experience Fantastic Plastics Works at Innoventions. Guest surveys tell us that 81% of visitors to SPI’s Fantastic Plastics Works exhibit report a favorable impression of the plastics industry. By comparison, the American Plastics Council has been tracking the perception of the industry since 1991 and typically gets favorability ratings in the 63-65% range. When asked how the exhibit influenced their impressions of the plastics industry, 62% of Fantastic Plastics Works visitors developed a more positive impression.

While it is initially slated to be open for three years, this can be extended if the SPI receives additional industry support. All of our exhibit supporters receive visible brand recognition in the form of company Web listings, advertising, or signage.

If you have not visited SPI’s Fantastic Plastics Works exhibit at Innoventions at Epcot, be sure to visit booth 4401 at NPE 2006, to be held June 19-23 in Chicago at McCormick Place. The Fantastic Plastics Works booth will feature an operational injection molding cell complete with cold runner, gantry, and six-axis robotics to manufacture parts for SPI’s plastic robot toy—which will be distributed to NPE attendees. Robotics will also assemble the toy robot parts while cast members discuss the magic of plastics.

I hope to see you at this year’s NPE. In the meantime, we need your support to continue exhibiting Fantastic Plastics Works at Innoventions at Epcot. To participate, contact SPI’s Tracy Cullen at [email protected].

Editor’s note: The terms Innoventions, Epcot, and Walt Disney World are registered trademarks of The Walt Disney Co.

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