Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

The FLiP Files: Shannon Stickler

Stickler, ShannonThe FLiP Files is a blog series spotlighting young professionals that are active in SPI’s Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP), a group for plastics professionals under the age of 40. For our second entry, we spoke to FLiP member Shannon Sticker of Printpack.

Where do you work and what’s your title?

Printpack, Market Development Manager

Tell us a little about what your company does.

Printpack is a major converter of flexible and specialty rigid packaging with a history of innovating for more than fifty years with manufacturing plants throughout the United States, Mexico and China.

How did you find yourself working in the plastics industry?

When I graduated from college I came across a job posting at Printpack. The sales position was located in a plant near where I am from. At the time I didn’t know much about the plastics industry. I started out in a training role and before I knew it a decade had passed.

Has anyone in the industry mentored you?

I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of great mentors throughout the years. Being right out of college, it was very helpful to have someone who provided a sounding board as I established myself in the workforce. As my roles have evolved over the years, my mentors’ insights have continued to help me become a stronger leader.

Describe in one sentence what you do on an average day.

On an average day, I plan and organize our marketing and branding activities, help drive cross-divisional opportunities and collaboration, and communicate our initiatives and strategy internally.

What do you like most about working in the plastics industry?

The best part about working in plastics is being a part of an industry that is truly changing the world.

What’s one thing about your personal life that you feel has been changed by having a career in plastics?

I have a better appreciation for what it takes to produce the everyday things that we take for granted – cars, phones, packaged food.

Why do you think someone from your generation should consider a career in plastics?

The plastics industry is full of opportunity. There is always something to learn and you can be a part of an industry that is developing products for the future.

What’s one plastic product you couldn’t live without?

My iPhone. Although surely I could sustain life without it, I would prefer not to test it out.

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Seven Ways You Can Make a Difference on Earth Day

The plastics industry’s best asset is its people; always has been, always will be. The nearly one million plastics professionals in the U.S. aren’t just the fuel of a $427 billion industry. Together they comprise a community of like-minded individuals who believe in the power of plastics to make the world a better, safer, greener place.

That’s why throughout the month of April, SPI is asking every plastics professional to pledge one act of green, using the hashtag #SPIEarthDay, to reduce their environmental impact this Earth Day, April 22, 2016 (4/22/2016). Here are seven small, individual acts of green that can collectively add up to big environmental changes:

Male hand putting plastic bottle in recycling bin1. Reusing and recycling: These are as relevant and important now as they ever have been. Whether it’s taking the bags back to the grocery store or taking your old electronics to a facility where they can have a new life, recycling and reusing plastic materials adds to their value and reduces their overall environmental footprint.

2. Waste avoidance: Composting isn’t just for hipsters and Portland residents anymore. Striving for zero food waste is a lot easier than you’d think, and that’s just the beginning. Paperless banking, double-sided printing and so many other simple steps can be taken to reduce or eliminate excess paper, plastic or any other material for that matter. For plastics professionals specifically, there’s also the Operation Clean Sweep guidelines that, when implemented properly, can eliminate pellet loss in your facilities, keeping those materials out of waterways, and in your machines and products where they belong.

3. Purchasing: The plastics industry promotes the use of recycled plastic content in products as a way to extend the lifecycle of the material. What better way to support and promote the use of recycled plastic than by buying products that use it in your own day-to-day purchasing decisions.

Showerhead4. Water: If you’re looking for a weekend project, try installing a low flow shower head, toilet or faucet, or planting some plants that require less water, installing rain barrels or investing in some drought resistant landscaping. If you’re not looking for a weekend project, do any of the above, and watch your water bills decline as you strike a blow for smarter management of humanity’s most valuable resource.

5. Energy Conservation: Even something as simple as washing your clothes with cold water, or unplugging your phone charger while it’s not in use, can, collectively, save a lot of energy, reduce your own carbon footprint and make a real difference.

BlogPhoto6_Transportation6. Transportation: So much of each individual’s environmental impact is comprised of the way one gets from one place to another. Cutting out one car trip, riding a bike or using public transportation are easy ways to decrease that impact without much hassle.

7. Team Up: Again, the plastics industry isn’t just an industry, but a community of people who believe in the unlimited potential of these materials to change lives, and to change the world. Consider teaming up with others this Earth Day, whether it’s with your fellow plastics professionals, your friends, your family, your neighbors or whoever, to augment the impact of your actions and spread the word that sustainability is everyone’s responsibility.

BlogPhoto7_Team

Monday, March 7th, 2016

The FLiP Files: FLiP Chairman Michael Stark

The FLiP Files is a blog series spotlighting young professionals that are active in SPI’s Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP), a group for plastics professionals under the age of 40.  For this first entry, we spoke to FLiP Chairman Michael Stark, of Wittmann Battenfeld.

Michael Stark, SPI FLiP Chairman

Michael Stark, SPI FLiP Chairman

-Where do you work and what’s your title?

Divisional Manager, Material Handling and Auxiliaries for Wittmann Battenfeld, Inc.

-Tell us a little about what your company does.

The Wittmann Battenfeld Group is one of the largest manufacturers of injection molding machines, robots, automation systems and auxiliaries for the plastics industry worldwide.

-How did you find yourself working in the plastics industry?

It all started with a good paying internship at Ball Corporation when I was in college. They injection molded preforms and stretch blow-molded Pepsi bottles. I was not familiar with the plastics industry prior. I remember getting goosebumps standing in front of some large injection molding machines and I’ve been obsessed with this industry ever since.

-Has anyone in the industry mentored you?

Naturally it’s been my boss, our U.S. President, David Preusse, and our global CEO Michael Wittmann.

-Describe in one sentence what you do on an average day.

One sentence would look like this: “There is no average day.” And that’s what I love most about what I do. There is such a range of things I’m involved in. It keeps me fresh and motivated, all the time. I handle large contract negotiations and staff management of 30-plus people all the way down to getting my hands dirty on top of machinery at a customer’s facility, and everything in between.FLiP_logo-2

-What do you like most about working in the plastics industry?

Hands down it’s the people. This industry has some of the most exciting, diverse, humble and hardworking individuals I’ve ever met. I left the industry for a short clip and ended up coming back for more. Second to that, it’s tangible. I can put my hands on what I’ve done. 

-What’s one thing about your personal life that you feel has been changed by having a career in plastics?

There hasn’t been much of a deep-rooted change in my personal life, I feel; I’ve always been the same Type-A kind of guy. However I will say that I’m a plastics advocate with friends and family as a result. I’m always checking labels on products to see if my company was involved in the equipment or the project.  I’m always preaching about proper recycling at home and wherever I go. I’m always the one picking plastic plates out of the trash at a family BBQ and putting them in the recycling, explaining why and what to look for. Heaven forbid a generalist friend or family member gets me going on plastics being bad!

-What are the major challenges you think are facing the plastics industry today? How do you think the industry can overcome them?

Really big picture is the image of the industry. Forget about increased fuel economy by lightweighting cars with plastics, or saving some lives with a new plastic implantable or device. All of that good is easily outweighed the minute someone Instagrams a picture of plastic litter. I often wonder if they picked the litter up after they took the picture? This image has trickled down into the younger labor force and has aided in creating the skills gap we face in plastics, and all manufacturing in the US. The only way around it is for the industry to collectively stand up and advocate and educate the public, and promote the industry. It helps everyone in the chain, from the molding shop looking to hire some fresh talent, all the way to the consumer of a plastic product. Initiatives like FLiP (Future Leaders in Plastics) are a great start.

-Why do you think someone from your generation should consider a career in plastics?

Michael Stark, addressing student visitors to Wittmann Battenfeld on Manufacturing Day 2015.

Michael Stark, addressing student visitors to Wittmann Battenfeld on Manufacturing Day 2015.

It’s exciting, action packed, fast moving, challenging and rewarding. If you want to be a part of something that touches everyone’s lives, and be on a team of great people, then get involved! If you roll out of bed aspiring to have a dry 8-5 staring at a computer monitor, not making much of an impact, then this might not be for you.

-What’s one plastic product you couldn’t live without?

Tough question! I couldn’t type my response without this plastic keyboard… I just got a phone call from a customer on my plastic phone, crunched some numbers for him on my plastic calculator, and that’s just the last five minutes of my life. On a more personal level, I couldn’t live without my daughter, who wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for plastics being involved in her 8 days of NICU care when she was born.

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Meet Walter Lincoln Hawkins: The African-American Pioneer Who Broke Racial and Scientific Barriers

Growing up in the early 20th century, Walter Lincoln Hawkins faced immeasurable obstacles as an African-American, orphaned at a young age, attempting to gain an education to pursue his passion of math and science. He persevered though, becoming a true pioneer in the world of chemical engineering and polymers, and paving the way for many in the plastics and telecommunications industries, regardless of the color of their skin.

Hawkins received a degree in chemical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1932, and went on to receive a master’s degree in chemistry from Howard University and a doctoral degree from McGill University. All of these were remarkable feats for the time, but his inspirational accomplishments didn’t end at graduation.

During World War II Hawkins helped develop synthetic substitutes for rubber, a vital wartime resource that was largely controlled by Axis powers. Among his numerous technical achievements, he designed a lab test to predict the durability of a plastic surface using spectroscopy. Hawkins also greatly extended the life span of plastic substances by helping to create new techniques for recycling and reusing plastics.

After the war, Hawkins went on to work at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories, becoming the first African-American scientist on staff. Some of his earliest and most notable work at Bell Labs involved, with the help of partner Victor Lanza, creating a polymer coating, now called “plastic cable sheath,” which would protect telephone cables. Previous wire coatings were costly, toxic, or too easily worn down by the weather. Hawkins’ polymer, which was made from plastic with a chemical additive composed of carbon and antioxidants, was cheaper, safer to use, and resistant to extreme weather conditions. This polymer saved billions of dollars, enabled the development of telephone service around the world, and is still in use today to protect fiber optic cables.CableSheathe

Throughout his career Hawkins made enormous contributions as a mentor and educator. He became the first chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Summer Educational Experience for the Economically Disadvantaged (SEED) program. Additionally, he served as a board member at several educational institutions. Having found his passion in science, and making the most of it, Hawkins passed on all that he learned, encouraging young people to pursue careers in science.

Hawkins was a true pioneer of the 20th century. His work led to tremendous breakthroughs in plastics, telecommunications, chemical engineering and beyond. But, perhaps even more importantly, he was a pioneer for young people who were disadvantaged and minorities, striking out a path for them to follow through education and on to a fulfilling career in science and chemistry.

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Four Reasons Why New Duty Drawback Rules Will Benefit U.S. Plastics and Other Manufacturers

The Senate approved a compromise version of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (H.R. 644) today. The bill would make American manufacturers more competitive globally by streamlining trade flows, reducing paperwork burdens for smaller shipments and, notably, making duty drawback more available to companies of all sizes.

ExportingPhotoTrade

Duty drawback is an oft-overlooked portion of U.S. trade law but it’s a powerful tool, defined as the refund, reduction or waiver of customs duties assessed or collected upon importation of an article or materials which are subsequently exported or destroyed. In English, that translates to, “if the U.S. charges a duty on something you import, but you use that imported item to produce an item that’s eventually exported, the U.S. will refund the duty it originally charged you.”

This is an especially powerful tool for plastics companies, but successfully taking advantage of it can often be too burdensome for many smaller organizations. Here are four reasons why that’s about to change, and why the new duty drawback provisions included in H.R. 644 are good for U.S. plastics.

1. The new statute makes drawback more available to companies of all sizes: successfully claiming drawback often means heavy paperwork; officials must be able to draw a clear line from the goods upon which the duty was first imposed to the exported good they eventually were a part of. Rather than tackle that process, many companies will opt to just pay the duty. The new bill, however, simplifies the process, giving more exporters an opportunity to reduce their costs with drawback.

2. It includes improvements to substitution: Part of drawback for manufacturers is the concept of substitution, which stipulates that when merchandise that’s “commercially interchangeable” with imported merchandise upon which a duty, tax or fee is levied is ultimately exported or destroyed, the exporter can claim drawback on those goods they imported. The issue is that qualifying such goods for drawback to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is an extremely onerous, subjective process. The new drawback provisions make the concept of “commercial interchangeability” an objective matter by basing this assessment on where each imported or exported merchandise falls on the globally-accepted Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the U.S., eliminating the need for subjective interpretation on the part of CBP.Bottling Process

3. Shorter time frames: Typically drawback requires rulings and approvals prior to filing claims, but the new statute would eliminate the 6-12 month wait time that usually separates the request for approval for drawback and the date the first claim can be filed. This means companies claiming drawback can get their money quicker.

4. More time to file: Under the new statute, time frames will be simplified so instead of allowing drawback on only imported goods that were exported within three years of importation, companies can expand that time limit to five years. This would take off some of the pressure, and alleviate some of the recordkeeping burden on both CBP and on drawback claimants.

H.R. 644 is a solid bill with lots of pro-export, pro-manufacturing provisions, which is why SPI advocated for it. If the administrative hurdles, confusing time frames and arcane details have kept your company from taking advantage of duty drawback, now might be the time to take a second look.