As Novolex's vice president of resin sourcing and supply chain, Susan Estes sources resin and adjacent materials to supply facilities with the raw materials they need to make products. This often includes identifying strategic partnerships and tracking expenses.
"The various facilities under Novolex require that I manage the supply chain and ensure that everything gets to where it needs to be at the right time," Estes said. "This has been particularly difficult over the past 18 months as COVID-19 affected our traditional supply chain and even affected our normal backup suppliers."
Supply chain issues are still having an impact on business, so the packaging maker has had to get creative, Estes said.
"This has been going on for over two years now and normally supply chain squeezes only occur during hurricane season. There's a lot of fatigue both on my team and across the industry as we continue to find innovative ways to solve supply chain problems. It's not always easy to stay nimble since there's a new challenge every day," she said.
Depending on the product, the team has either had to ramp up products or stop everything at once. "This can make it really challenging to anticipate raw material demands, forcing us to have some tough conversations," she said.
Estes graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor's degree in packaging engineering. She started her career as a packaging engineer, designing hard goods for L'Oreal and other companies.
"It's really rewarding to see a product you worked on shelves and in advertisements," she said. "What drew me to this field in the first place was the opportunity to make people's lives easier and designing products that people found useful in their lives was a great achievement for me. I actually ended up in resin sourcing because of some projects with Rubbermaid, so my passion ultimately led me to this field and a new professional challenge."
Q: What was your first plastics job and why were you interested in the industry?
Estes: My first job was with Newell-Rubbermaid as a packaging engineer, before eventually moving into an upstream development role to locate suppliers for the company. This work led the head of sourcing for Rubbermaid to recommend that I move into a sourcing role locating resin and other materials necessary for the products. I really enjoyed the challenge of locating the raw materials that made up the products I developed as a packaging engineer. Resin sourcing combines my passions for packaging and plastics, so this field is really ideal for me.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Estes: We are at a really unique time within the polymer space as the separation of virgin and recycled materials continues to grow, as well as the introduction of more biomaterials. Across the industry, people are trying to understand what the market will look like 10 years from now, but with the rapidly changing environment it can be really tough to predict. The reality is that the market will look different not just in 10 years, but five years from now as these new and unique challenges emerge. Customer expectations continue to evolve, and many companies are finding it tough to be the first one to take a step in a new direction.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Estes: I would tell people seeking a career in the plastics industry to seek out every opportunity you can to learn and grow. This can even start before your first job by taking a manufacturing facility tour, listening to industry conferences and finding people that interest you in the field. I have always been surprised by what I can learn just by taking advantage of opportunities like this. I have been in the industry for several years at this point, but still get energy from new learning opportunities.