If you are a high school student, you may seek to join the Technology Student Association, which provides students a chance to explore career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, enter academic competitions, and participate in summer exploration programs. Visit https://tsaweb.org for more information.
Your school's career services office or your science or shop teacher may be able to arrange a presentation or question-and-answer session with a plastics technician, or even a tour of a local plastics manufacturer. During these tours, you can observe working conditions and discuss employment possibilities with technicians and their managers. Career services offices may also arrange visits to community colleges, vocational-technical schools, and universities that offer technical programs.
Another way to learn the basics and gain experience in the plastics field is through a part-time or summer job at a plastics-processing plant.
The duties of plastics technicians can be grouped into five general categories: research and development, mold and tool making, manufacturing, sales and service, and related technical tasks.
Research and development technicians work in laboratories to create new materials or to improve existing ones. In the laboratory, technicians monitor chemical reactions, test, evaluate test results, keep records, and submit reports. They set up, calibrate, and operate devices to obtain test data for interpretation and comparison. As new product designs are conceived, they work on prototypes, assist in the design and manufacture of specialized tools and machinery, and monitor the manufacturing process.
Mold and tool making technicians are a specialized division of plastics manufacturing. Those with drafting skills are employed as mold and tool designers or as drawing detailers. They may also become involved in product design.
Plastics manufacturing technicians work in molding, laminating, or fabricating. Molding requires the technician to install molds in production machines, establish correct molding cycles, monitor the molding process, maintain production schedules, test incoming raw materials, inspect goods in production, and ensure that the final product meets specifications. Laminating technicians are trained to superimpose materials in a predetermined pattern. This process is used to make aircraft, aerospace and mass-transit vehicles, boats, satellites, surfboards, recreational vehicles, and furniture. Laminating entails bench work for small parts, and teamwork for large parts. A reinforced plastics item the size of a shoe box can be built by one person, while a large motorized vehicle for a Disney World ride requires the work of several technicians. Technicians employed as fabricators work with plastic sheets, rods, and tubes, using equipment similar to that used in woodworking. Aircraft windshields and canopies, solariums, counter displays, computer housings, signs, and furniture are some of the products made by fabricators. Basic machine shop methods combined with heat forming, polishing, and bonding are skills used by technicians in this area.
Sales and service technicians are needed in the sales departments of materials suppliers, machinery manufacturers, molding companies, laminators, and fabricators.
Plastics technicians are also important and valued employees in certain related fields. For example, companies that make computers, appliances, electronic devices, aircraft, and other products that incorporate plastics components rely heavily on plastics technicians to specify, design, purchase, and integrate plastics in the manufacture of the company's major product line.