Exploring this Job
If you are a high school student, you may seek to join the Technology Student Association, which provides students a chance to explore career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, enter academic competitions, and participate in summer exploration programs. Visit https://tsaweb.org for more information.
Your school's career services office or science teacher may be able to arrange a presentation or question-and-answer session with a plastics engineer, or even a tour of a local plastics manufacturer. During these tours, you can observe working conditions and discuss employment possibilities with engineers. You can also join the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) and become a member of a student chapter, which provides opportunities to gain valuable experience and contacts with similarly interested people.
School career services offices may also arrange visits to community colleges, vocational-technical schools, and universities that offer technical programs. Another way to explore this field is through a summer job at a plastics-processing plan, where you will learn the basics and experience the varied areas involved with producing plastics parts.
Plastics engineers perform a wide variety of duties depending on the type of company they work for and the products it produces. Plastics engineers, for example, may develop ways to produce clear, durable plastics to replace glass in areas where glass cannot be used. Others design and manufacture lightweight parts for aircraft and automobiles, or create new plastics to replace metallic or wood parts that have come to be too expensive or hard to obtain. Others may be employed to formulate less-expensive, fire-resistant plastics for use in the construction of houses, offices, and factories. Plastics engineers may also develop new types of biodegradable molecules that are friendly to the environment, reducing pollution and increasing recyclability.
Plastics engineers perform a variety of duties. Some of their specific job titles and duties include: application engineers, who develop new processes and materials in order to create a better finished product; process engineers, who oversee the production of reliable, high-quality, standard materials; and research specialists, who use the basic building blocks of matter to discover and create new materials.
In the course of their day, plastics engineers must solve a wide variety of internal production problems. Duties include making sure the process is consistent to ensure creation of accurate and precise parts and making sure parts are handled and packaged efficiently, properly, and cheaply. Each part is unique in this respect.
Computers are increasingly being used to assist in the production process. Plastics engineers use computers to calculate part weight and cycle times; for monitoring the process on each molding press; for designing parts and molds on a computer-aided design system; for tracking processes and the labor in the mold shop; and to transfer engineering files over the Internet.
Plastics engineers also help customers solve problems that may emerge in part design—finding ways to make a part more moldable or to address possible failures or inconsistencies in the final design. Factors that may make a part difficult to mold include: thin walls, functional or cosmetic factors, sections that are improperly designed that will not allow the part to be processed efficiently, or inappropriate material selection which results in an improperly created part.
Plastics engineers also coordinate mold-building schedules and activities with tool vendors. Mold-building schedules consist of the various phases of constructing a mold, from the development of the tool and buying of materials (and facilitating their timely delivery), to estimating the roughing and finishing operations. Molds differ depending on the size of the tool or product, the complexity of the work orders, and the materials required to build the mold.
Most importantly, plastics engineers must take an application that is difficult to produce and make it (in the short period of time allowed) profitable to their company, while still satisfying the needs of the customer.