Jason Merkle, 35, owes his knowledge of and interest in the plastics industry to his father, who has worked in plastics for 40 years. Merkle's first job for a plastics company was in high school, doing administrative work for Uniform Color's customer service team.
Merkle earned a bachelor's degree in plastics engineering technology from Ferris State University and a master's degree in plastics engineering from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. During college, he interned at Uniform Color, Johnson Controls and Chase Plastic Services Inc.
After graduation, he joined Clarkston, Mich.-based resin distributor Chase as an applications development engineer, relocated to the Philadelphia area for field support to the East Coast, then moved to Charlotte, N.C., to support the Southeast area. Merkle then was named automotive business development manager and relocated back to Michigan, focusing on Tier 1 support.
"I was the guinea pig, so to speak, at Chase Plastics for field-based engineering work. I helped to design the expectations and road map for successful application development in collaborations with our molding customers and OEMs alike. The success of this position has now allowed it to be mirrored in other CPS sales regions with future growth expectations on the horizon," said Merkle, who moved to the technical manager role in January 2020.
"I know society and the media can seem like a downward spiral at times, but taking a step back, we have had a lot of innovation and success even in recent years and trajectory forward for technology acceleration will continue to be groundbreaking," he said. "I'm anxious to see what challenges the market will throw our way in the next 10-20 years that will push the expectations of plastic performance to new heights."
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Merkle: While a great deal of our work is reactive to customer needs, we are always looking for new ways to grow business through engineering support to OEMs and tier customers alike. Keeping up with material innovations and conveying that information to our customers is a value that hasn't yet reached its full potential. We're working to increase our account coverage and engineering exposure to key markets and organizations to accelerate bottom line growth in concert with our customers.
Q: What has been the biggest impact/challenge on your career from the coronavirus pandemic?
Merkle: As a materials provider, the pandemic produced a lot of chaos in the market that still is having ripple effects. As engineers, our job is not only to recommend a material that will meet the performance expectations of an application but also to make sure it is a product available in the necessary quantities, competitively priced and ideally with a relatively short lead time. Finding the right balance of performance needs and market constraints has been challenging at times.
Q: How do you feel about the future of the environment/climate?
Merkle: I'd say we are getting better as an industry, but we also have significant room for improvement. As plastics engineers, it's our responsibility to understand the sustainable aspects of our business, and there have been many advancements in materials to help create a more environmentally friendly plastics industry. Educating customers and consumers alike on the options available and their corresponding costs is our most immediate challenge as more material options are innovated regularly. Getting OEMs to adopt more sustainable materials at a higher cost than their traditional alternatives will be an ongoing challenge as well.