Kyle Staffhorst, 29
Process Engineer, PTI Engineered Plastics Inc.
Molding runs in Kyle Staffhorst's family, "going back as far as my great-grandfather, who came over from Germany in 1931." Staffhorst's father was a molder, as was his father before him.
His first job in the plastics industry was as a press operator at CIE Plastics, followed by a process technician.
"Initially, I had no interest in manufacturing, but as I continued in my career, moving up from an operator to a process technician, I began to really enjoy the processing aspect of injection molding. Each tool I encountered was a new puzzle in need of solving, and my curious mind grew to love the challenge," said Staffhorst, who originally wanted to become a biology teacher.
Staffhorst went on to become a press operator, material handler, dye setter, process technician and now a process engineer at Macomb, Mich.-based customer injection molder PTI Engineered Plastics Inc.
"To advance my career, I have begun taking courses from RJG, a training, technology and consulting company that specializes in the injection molding industry. So far, I've been able to complete the 'Math for Molders,' 'Fundamentals of Systematic Injection Molding' and 'Master Molders I' courses," he said. "In March 2022, I plan to complete my 'Master Molders II' course in Traverse City, Mich."
Staffhorst said he would eventually like to look into training and consulting companies in the injection molding industry.
"As someone with a background in education, I've always been passionate about learning, and I would love to combine my passion for molding and teaching. This way, I could prepare the next generation of molders after me," he said.
What surprises him most about the plastics industry is the sheer amount of different applications for which plastics are used: "No other material has such a large range of practical applications, whether it be in the medical, automotive or defense fields."
He said the industry is not one "where you can just stop learning" and that there will always be new technology to embrace.
"The future of plastic injection molding within the medical industry is what interests me the most," Staffhorst said. "While the automotive industry has a lot of uncertainty attached to it, the medical field does not have this problem. In the future, it is my hope to shift our manufacturing focus away from automotive and defense, and instead focus on medical products."
Q: What is your greatest achievement?
Staffhorst: During the COVID-19 pandemic, I had the opportunity to work in partnership with GM and Ventec Life Systems on the development of a life-saving ventilator component necessary for the treatment of the critically ill. As a further show of support throughout the pandemic, we donated over 150,000 units of personal protective equipment in the form of face shields (designed, molded and assembled in-house) to local health organizations, schools and businesses. It was a very rewarding experience to help those in need.
Q: What should the plastics industry do to expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion?
Staffhorst: Diversity and inclusion lead to a stronger overall workforce, and therefore the plastics industry needs to expand its efforts in getting women and people of color interested in STEM studies. To do this, I think manufacturers and industry experts need to try to get inside of schools and universities to engage young people and show them the potential opportunities available to those in the manufacturing world. A lot of people have an outdated perspective of factory life, not realizing there are a lot of opportunities to become successful outside of a traditional four-year degree.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Staffhorst: My mentor is a process technician named Todd. He may not have any degrees or formal education, but he knows his way around a molding machine, and I'm the molder I am today because of his guidance and patience. In our industry, there are those who do not want to share information or help the next generation, but fortunately, with Todd, I found a mentor who was willing to teach me the basics and let me learn some of the harder lessons on my own. I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him.