Andy Routsis has been in plastics since the late 1970s. In all that time, it seems, workforce issues have been a No. 1 concern of plastics processors.
"The dirty little secret in the plastics industry is that the machines, materials, molds, robotics and auxiliary equipment has significantly improved, but the workforce has not improved," Routsis said.
"This has resulted in companies making significant investments in capital equipment, yet the workforce has no idea on how to get the most from it," he added.
Routsis, 60, is president of Routsis Training Inc. of Dracut, Mass. He spoke about his past visits to NPE and his plans for NPE2018 prior to the show in Orlando, Fla., in May.
Q: How many NPEs and Antecs have you been to?
Routsis: This NPE will be my 14th. I have attended four Antecs.
Q: Any memories of your first NPE?
Routsis: Yes. It was exciting since I could see firsthand, technology that was available from many machine OEMs and auxiliary equipment. The "theme" at the time was automatic mold changes, and many of the machine OEMs had demonstrations.
Also, GE Plastics had an interesting booth because they had an ice skating rink and had 8-year-old kids taking slapshots at the crowd, which was protected from hockey pucks by Lexan polycarbonate.
Q: Do any of the shows stand out in your memory, and why?
Routsis: At the 1982 show, many of the machine OEMs were flaunting their controls. These were their versions of programmable logic controllers (PLCs). This was interesting to me since, in the mid-1970s until the early 1980s, many plants were afraid of the technology. The old joke use to be, "How far away does the service tech live from my plant?" Companies rejected solid state controls and lots of pushback with PLCs. Now everyone was on the PLC train.
Q: What's your main aim in coming to this year's show?
Routsis: To meet with customers and prospects. It is a good venue for our company to explain our system of ongoing training. And they can see firsthand that our products and services can meet the needs of a company regardless of size. Additionally, NPE provides me the opportunity to determine what is new technology or repackaged old technology.
Q: Tell me about the history of Routsis Training.
Routsis: It began in 1982 as I was frustrated with the lack of knowledge that existed in our industry. Companies were throwing away thousands and wasting lots of time. I took many training seminars and looked at every commercial training option (such as videotapes). And I came to the conclusion that our industry needed better information and training materials that were practical and useful.
Initially, I produced videotapes and then moved to the interactive CD-ROM platform. Now internet is the best way to deliver consistent training as it can be accessed from a computer, iPad or smartphone. Utilizing this technology and following up with practical hands on exercises shortens the learning curve and allows a participant to get the most from their equipment.
Q: What are common mistakes that companies make when it comes to training?
Routsis: It is not ongoing or structured. They only train a few. Never a system in place. Many companies make the mistake of having employees shadow another employee. Training metrics are never established to measure tangible results. Most companies do not understand the importance of sharing knowledge. Many companies will only train when grant funding is made available.
Q: How about successful companies, what do they do right in terms of training?
Routsis: They have a training plan for the entire workforce. Metrics are monitored. Training is provided and incorporated in many formats such as interactive online, instructor-led training and hands-on exercises. These companies put a high value on employees. Training is ongoing.
Q: How is your training different from other programs?
Routsis: We are the only plastics training company in our industry that provides a system of ongoing training for an entire production workforce. Additionally, we have the largest library of advanced scientific training. And we cover areas that no other training providers have, such as purging, automation, tooling, automation, robotics, maintenance, 5S, part design, mold design and more.
Q: What do you think will be the main talking points at NPE this year?
Routsis: I think people will be talking about the economy and the amount of work that they have. Everyone will be upbeat, but secretly they are struggling with in-plant issues such as defective parts, customer returns, lack of skilled help, employee turnover and having to use recruiters. They have the business but not enjoying the profit margins. As far as theme, I believe you will see a push of Industry 4.0.
Q: Do you see any trends that are particularly interesting?
Routsis: Many companies will be looking into full system integration — machine, mold, robot, etc. — so you will see many of the machinery OEMs going down this path. You may also see some technology integration, such as a twin- or quad-screw feeding into a shot-pot type machine.
Q: How will you gauge whether this show is successful?
Routsis: By the number of leads that we convert by the end of 2018.