SPE's Thermoformer of Year touts education

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Roger Kipp, the 2010 Thermoformer of the Year, said education is the key to keeping U.S. manufacturing strong.

“I'm convinced that education, and an alliance of manufacturing with education, is the true opportunity for growth and progress. I have a true passion for that alliance,” Kipp said as he accepted the Society of Plastics Engineers Thermoforming Division's award. Twelve of his family members attended Kipp's speech at a Sept. 19 dinner in Milwaukee.

Kipp has been a leader of the Thermoforming Division, which is a strong supporter of education through scholarships and equipment donated to colleges.

Kipp called work in the Thermoforming Division “a definite highlight” of his 45 years in manufacturing. Newtown, Conn.-based SPE is “the most prestigious, most go-to place for technical resources in plastics throughout the world,” he said

Kipp is vice president of marketing and engineering at McClarin Plastics Inc. of Hanover, Pa. The company sponsors job fairs, internships and other programs to expose high school students to thermoforming.

He started out in metals, not plastics.

After graduating from Miami University in Ohio, he became assistant plant manager of a small foundry in his hometown of Cincinnati. He saw the opportunity to combine pattern making with foundry work to make tooling for plastics, including injection molding, heavy-gauge sheet thermoforming and rotational molding.

In 1967, Kipp partnered with his father and brother to build their foundry business. He was immersed in metallurgy, mold making and pattern making. But in 1977, he started teaching night classes in manufacturing at Miami U.

Teaching, he said, “opened my eyes and it made me realize the importance of learning about what comes before and what comes after, and not just be totally focused on the task that we have in front of us,” Kipp said.

Standing in front of that classroom marked the beginning of the foundryman's own continuing education. “It inspired me to think beyond my comfort zone. We all have to think beyond our comfort zone if we want to be innovative,” he said.

When he wrapped up a four-year stint, it was 1981 and the country was in a recession, and manufacturers were taking a beating.

“The early 1980s were not good for American manufacturing. But then there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was the Toyota production system,” he said. Toyota, with its focus on eliminating waste and empowering workers, became a model — and once again, highlighted the need for education.

“I quickly learned that we could have more success in our manufacturing if we would create an environment that wasn't built around on working harder to be more productive, but working smarter,” he said.

In 1983, Kipp spun off the plastics tooling division from the family foundry. Then in 1987, he directed the startup of a vacuum forming and rotomolding plant in Sidney, Ohio, his first foray into sales and marketing.

In 1994, he joined McClarin Plastics in his current position. At McClarin, Kipp got involved in strategic initiatives to further the company, and became more active in professional organizations such as SPE. He has been a member of the SPE Thermoforming Division since 1992, serving in several leadership roles, including 1996 conference chairman and treasurer and those same roles with the overall division

Kipp received the division's 2002 Outstanding Achievement Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

Kipp serves on the advisory board of the Plastics Manufacturing Center at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, Pa. Earlier this year, Penn College dedicated a new thermoforming center. It's the first thermoforming center of excellence in the United States, he said, calling Penn College a “wonderful resource,” for a plastics sector that still gets ignored.

Next year, Penn College will offer students six credit hours in thermoforming technology.

“So it's not going to be just injection molding-extrusion-blow molding. It's going to include thermoforming,” he said, to whoops and raucous applause.