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Category Archives: Career

What Is A Polymer Engineer?

A reader left a comment yesterday about careers in polymer engineering. Not really sure of what a polymer engineer is I did some digging and found the following at Penn State’s Department Of Chemical Engineering. Perhaps someone in the field might offer an article more specific to the job opportunities in the field.

WHAT DO POLYMER ENGINEERS DO?

Polymers are the most rapidly growing sector of the materials industry. As long ago as 1981, polymer production exceeded 24 million metric tons per year. No wonder–polymers are found in everything from compact discs to high-tech aerospace applications. As polymer production has grown, so has the number of people who work in this field. Today, it’s estimated that 50 percent of the chemical engineers and chemists in the United States work in the polymer industry.

Polymer engineers need to apply the traditional skills of chemical engineers, such as plant design, process design, thermodynamics, and transport phenomena, to various problems involving the production and use of polymers. Many of the engineers currently working in industry trying to solve thes problems have background in either chemical engineering or polymers. The Polymer Engineering Option in Chemical Engineering is designed to produce engineers with both sets of skills.

***POLYMER ENGINEERING EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES

More than half the chemical engineers in the world work with polymers in one form or another. As a graduate of the Polymer Engineering option, your knowledge of polymers can give you an advantage when competing for chemical engineering jobs including:

  • Process engineering in polymer-producing chemical companies
  • Process engineering in polymer processing or fabrication
  • Scale-up of new synthetic chemistry from laboratory development to pilot plant and large-scale production
  • Research and product development in polymer synthesis (current hot topics include biodegradable polymers and compatibilizers for recycling polymers)
  • Research and process development in polymer processing

***CHOOSE THE POLYMER ENGINEERING OPTION TO…

  • Learn the fundamentals of polymer technology from the basics of polymer chemistry, structure, synthesis, and processing to more advanced topics, including structure-property relationships and end-use polymer design
  • Learn about polymer mechanical properties, the applications of polymeric materials, and how to choose the correct polymer for a particular application
  • Learn about polymer rheology and processing–where transport phenomena enter into the polymer field
  • Prepare for internships with polymer companies that have strong ties to the Polymer Science and Engineering program and the Department of Chemical Engineering
  • Receive highly personalized instruction in courses with low student to faculty ratios
  • Participate in the activities of the Polymer Science Club
 
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Posted by on October 17, 2007 in Career, General Knowledge

 

Google Key Word Search: plastics distribution business plan

The Key To Building A Successful Distribution Business

So, I crank up the silicon chips this morning and check out who’s walking the aisles of the blog and, low and behold, I find someone scrounging about for information relating to building a business plan for plastics distribution… now, I’m cranked! This is exciting – someone out there is looking to help people connect with plastic as a solution to their problems. That’s powerful stuff… at least in my head and for those 40 souls working beside me. That’s what we do. What we’re good at. And, having climbed from the bottom rung of Ontario’s fierce competition for $100M in plastic sheet, rod, & tube to the top I think we’ve earned the privilege of sharing some thoughts on the topic.

* * * *

Previously, I’ve talked about the economics of plastics distribution – a very generalized approach to entering the business and generating profits. The business plan for achieving such is far more complicated because the strategy is so simple – find a market segment that has yet to capitalize on the benefits of plastic sheet, rod, tube and/or film, create a desire to consume plastic, and then satisfy that need at a profit.

This is a powerful statement if you get its meaning. Most major markets have a plastics distribution infrastructure in place so, to compete, one might start by stealing business away from someone else – which is a viable and proven strategy. However, suppliers aren’t going to back you if all you’re doing is share-shifting, that is, selling the same amount of stuff to the same people just through a different channel. Your supplier has the same mission as you – growth (sell MORE stuff than what’s currently being sold). If you’re in the business already then you know exactly what I’m talking about, here. Any supplier will have a meeting with you but are they willing to protect you going in on a big order that they’d get any ways from another distributor?

So, where do you start? Acquire the best industrial database you can find. Then, hire the best data minor you can find. What you’re looking to accomplish is segmenting your marketplace into as many applications as possible – and this is going to take time and work. Then, you’re going to cross reference materials to applications and sort it by margin opportunity. Example: I can sell a sheet of acrylic to a display maker for a $1 and make $0.05. Or, I can sell a $1 worth of Meldin to an aerospace contractor for a $1 and make $0.20. That sounds pretty exciting… but, is there enough of a Meldin market to pay off the wife for letting you fantasize about becoming a plastics distribution mogul?

Now, with list in hand, you have to knock on doors and convince perfect strangers that you’re a credible player in the game and this is where customer and supplier relationships play a big part – they’re your credibility when you have none. Plastics distribution is a 3 way dance – customer, distributor, manufacturer. Any of the big boys in the business will tell you that their success is a direct result of great relationships up and down the food chain. At strategic moments in their growth both the customer and the supplier protected their interests to win a major battle that kept them in the war. Your customer needs to know you’re behind them when they’re fighting competition on their front. Your supplier needs to know that not only can you steal the ball from the competition but that you can complete the touch down.

There has to be trust on all sides especially when you don’t have the personal capital to finance the inventory, technical or production component of a career-breaking deal and you need your suppliers, or other customers, to back you. Do you have the juice to make it all come together? It’s all about trust. Trust IS the cornerstone of any distribution business.

So, as you start following the business school templates plugging in facts, figures, and forecasts, remember to engineer a system that produces trust – because without, it just ain’t going to work out like ya thought.

 

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2007 in Career, The Business

 

The Economics Of Plastic Distribution

Follow-up August 7th, 2007: Mel Ettenson @ The Global Plastic Newsletter suggested that I’d missed discussing WHY larger companies are happy to live on 3-5% – because of VOLUME! As your firm grows it will begin to enter into large blanket agreements for thousands, if not, tens of thousands of pounds of material over the course of the year. Consider a major manufacturer like Generous Motors who starts to use Lexan sheet for their car bodies. Makers of plastic, as a rule, avoid selling direct to the customers – they sell through distribution So, the manufacturer may spec their material with a large car maker but the actual sale will go through a distributor, which could be you. Large blankets may sound exciting but they’re not for the feint of heart. Consider that on a $1M deal you could be carrying $300,000 of that in receivables at any one time – are you prepared to risk your house as a security to wheel and deal with a mega-account who is truly in control of when and how much you’re going to get paid? The greater payoff is that you might be buying 20% cheaper than usual on that one customer and only making 4% but, because of the volume, you can make an additional 20% on all the OTHER business you do for that product. (Thanks, Mel)


The information here is offered as a generalization of the industry, as a whole, and does not reflect on the practices or polices of Warehoused Plastics Sales Inc. or its affiliates.

* * * ORIGINAL ARTICLE * * * 

Plastics distribution exists within the factor marketplace supplying unfinished, semi-finished, finished, and accessories to producers of manufactured and fabricated goods. That said, a lumber store supplies to the business of making/upgrading houses as much as to the business of homeowners desiring to maintain/upgrading their own homes. Similarly, Plastics distribution supplies to both consumer and industrial customer alike. Plastic compete to replace wood, metal, paper (insulation applications) and glass. It is a compliment to many end-products such as machinery making in the way of guards and wear plates, and architectural & marine projects in the way of accent pieces, fixtures, and furniture. After market potential is good in that most plastic parts eventually need to be replaced (and why they compete with metal and wood is that they usually last longer), especially in high wear applications such as pulp & paper and mining. Complimentary products beyond plastic sheet, rod, tube & film include cements, solvents, cleaners, fabrication accessories, and tools. Complimentary services can include cut-to-size, cut-to-shape, thermal forming, engineering & design, technical consultation, warehousing & logistics of finished parts, and installation.

The role of any distribution business is warehousing material in a larger geographic market and developing sub-distributors, or resellers, in smaller, localized markets. Distribution’s function is technical application expertise and, like a bank, it provides financing to sub-sellers so they can reclaim costs and maximize profits while minimizing up-front investments – very similar to buying futures on the stock market without paying for them at the time of the order where you’re hoping the price goes up before the close of the sale. That said, if you want to be taken as a serious player you’ve got to have a reserve of available credit/or cash to carry upwards of 25% or more of your sales for 60 to 120 days. For those who think they can establish a more disciplined approach to receivables then please research GE’s venture into distribution – they applied a corporate policy of 30 days or you get cut off. Coincidently, we doubled our sales at just about that time. This is still a business living in the days of the wild west where the guy with the fastest draw often wins, and in many cases its the customer. Power shifts back and forth from manufacturer to distributor to customer on an hourly basis. At the end of the day, the customer signs your paycheck so he’s the one with the juice.

Entry to the business is easy. You can buy plastic from any local supplier, turn it into a semi-finished or finished product and resell it to either a producer of a product or an end user. For example, you might have a lathe in your garage that you turn acetal into a roller which you resell to producer of conveyors. Similarly, you could buy acrylic sheet and turn it into a memoriabilia display and sell it to either the end user, such as a parent wanting to show off their kid’s winning baseball, or to a trophy store retailing it to a larger marketplace. To compete for the business of just sheet, rod, & tube you need be able to buy at the lowest price and, in most marketplaces, there are established distributors with exclusive manufacturer pricing relationships. You have to begin your venture competing on value other than price – and, when you get to the point where you’re moving more product then the supplier you’re buying from then suddenly you become a blip on the radar of the supplier they’re buying from – then you have leverage.

Investment can be minimized in the beginning by finding customers in advance and buying only what you need. Eventually you’ll need to keep an inventory of materials. Cash may be king but volume makes you a deity. As a casual piece-by-piece reseller/fabricator you’ll probably save 10-15% off retail. When you start buying skids or cases then you’ll probably be given a line of credit and have an inside account manger assigned to your needs. Once you reach 10k to 15k a year you’ll be assigned an account executive who will provide on-site technical support.
As demand for cut-to-size and cut-to-shape increases you’ll need to acquire a good CNC panel saw ($75k-$150k) and a CNC router ($50k to $125k). Don’t go cheap – reputations are built and lost on an out-of-square piece or missed order. And, of course, you’re going to need space – and making best use of it (up & down, side-to-side) is what can make or break you; Racking – thousands of dollars in racking. At the end of the year a small operator can make 10-20% including their salary. For a larger $5M+ operation plan on 10-12% net after taxes but be happy with 4-8% – there’s a reason a marketplace evolves to eventual oligopoly.

Market Segments include just about every business from oil refineries to the restaurant next door with acrylic table tops. The big segments include point-of-purchase-displays, plastic fabrication, store fixtures, machine shops, and the sign industry. Margins are higher on projects rather then simple product transactions – as volume goes up margins go down. Like most raw materials such as glass, wood, & metal, it comes down to what you can do for the customer that saves them more time and money then those offering similar products. Do you offer terms? Do you cut to size or shape? Do you provide semi-finished or finished pieces? Would you guarantee a fixed price if they commit to a a certain volume of products over a specific period of time?

Growth depends 100% on exclusivity. You want a product that even other distributors have to come to you for – usually small volume, high margin specialty products such as engineered plastics like Meldin, Rulon, & phenolics. Larger volume products can be exclusive too – manufacturers want to maximize their margins so there’s no use spreading out the product to every distributor because that would create opportunities for competitive situations amongst political allies and that never makes money for anyone. As you get bigger you’re going to have to compete on value beyond pricing because your margins will shrink – the big boys live on 5-8%.

Your ability to secure larger margins will depend on the strength of your relationships with your suppliers AND your customers where, because of your reputation and financial resources, you can go after large (huge?!!?) projects. Large projects allow you to coordinate the manufacturing of a product to a unique specification and then have it finished and installed by members of your customer base. Everyone wins and, most of all, when you do get into a very competitive situation in the future those manufacturers and customers you’ve fed in the past will protect you.

There’s no secret to the game. The strategy is simple – be at a level of curiosity and innovation that parallels that of your preferred customer. If you’re not thinking in the direction they are looking to solve the problems they have then they have no use for you. Network, network, network. Join the International Association Of Plastics Distributors and meet people achieving what you want to achieve – you’ll learn there’s a lot of heart ache, sweat, and anxiety but the excitement of discovering a new application and being the person who invents a solution is the rush that makes it all worth while. Membership also gives you direct access to the best suppliers too – they want to help out the new guy, the person with a true passion for the product. We all do.

In the beginning your customer chooses you. What you’re working towards is the day you can choose your customer and when you knock, they’ll open the door.

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2007 in Career, The Business

 

Why I Spent $20.54 For A $1 Bill

It’s Never About The Price

Recently I purchased a Rhodesian dollar bill from ebay. There were three bids on the item with two days to go and I NEEDED that dollar bill so I set the max to $20. Low and behold a bidding war escalated and the price jumped up the ladder right to where I was waiting for it. My co-workers couldn’t understand why I spent what I spent.

Beyond the fact that Rhodesia doesn’t exist anymore and that the currency is truly a collectors item, I had a need and it had nothing to do with a bank note. Another co-worker brought in a brown bag of treats filled with Rhodesian militaria. I envisioned a display box showing off these wonderful pieces of history and to bring a little colour and timeliness to the presentation I thought a dated piece of Rhodesian currency would top it off nice – and price really wasn’t a concern here – much like finishing off one’s living room or dining room.


Acrylic Shadow Boxes

HAND THEM THE DREAM

Now, I can’t say that I’m an outstanding salesperson – I’ve never brought in $3Million in new business or carved a new market out of nothing. But, I am an effective salesperson – not because I know the 72 standard responses to objections, but because I’m a great interviewer and listener. My mastery of the art is in asking questions that dig fast and furiously through the superfluous dust of the prospect’s mundane day-to-day towards the pay-dirt. Then, I just sit back and let the well purge itself spilling out the real reason why they want what I have to offer. No one ever wants a hunk of plastic – they want to to spend more time enjoying their deck, even when it rains; they want protection for their cherished possessions in their cottage when they’re not there; they want to display their kid’s first home-run baseball so they can re-live the joyful experience each time they explain it to a passer by.


Acrylic Display Box

  • You can make your own displays with the tools laying around your workshop. You will need to buy a jig saw/table saw blade rated for Acrylic and a drill bit for plastic too (so it doesn’t crack the piece when it breaks out the backside)… these, as well as the cements, polishes, and little accessories from acrylic locks to hinges can be acquired in a Warehoused Plastic Sales store.

Notice that none of these reasons for buying plastic has anything to do with the plastic – it’s all about the emotional payoff of satisfying a void that plastic can fill. And that, my friends, is where a lot of people in this business are missing the real opportunity.

We don’t sell plastic.

We fill a void.

The challenge and the fun of this game we call plastics distribution is finding one that has never been found before.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2007 in Acrylic, Career

 

You’re Not Your Customer – So Ask

A few articles ago I wrote of “relevancy” being a required building block of any career destined for financial security. But, again it’s one thing to be relevant and it’s another for those around you to know it and frame it in their own belief system as something useful and valuable.Offering a product or service to to the marketplace is no different. Just as your value to your employer diminishes as others are perceived to offer similar expertise, knowledge, or skill sets your value to your customer diminishes as other distributors offer similar products and services. We all just become commodities as does everything in our catalogues. Revenue and margins start falling and funny enough, the first thing that usually happens then is a reduction in relationship investments – available sales staff, literature, samples, and one-on-one contact.

Don’t kid yourself – no one wants to hang around losers. It’s in our nature, as humans, to want to associate with winners. So do your customers. They want to be proud of their associations and their business partners. They want the confidence that not only are they getting the best deal but that their best interests are being looked after. And, when they realize one of their suppliers is in scavenger mode, they know it’s about self-preservation and not customer service. Once you’ve been pegged as a threat, that message travels like a virus throughout your entire revenue supply chain (usually with the help of your competitors) and it could take more resources then you have to reposition yourself.

The solution to this is simple – survey your customers on a regular schedule to evaluate your perceived threat level. Don’t interpret your customers having a back-up supplier as a low opinion of your abilities – that’s just good business practice on their part. But, you should know what percentage of what ever they’re buying comes from your warehouse. Don’t ask for specifics because they won’t tell you. Segment your questions: 0-25%, 25-50%, 50-75%, 75%+.

Deep personal relationships with customers aren’t always useful here. They don’t want to hurt your feelings any more than you want to let them down. So, anonymous surveys are probably the better solution. SurveyMonkey.com offers a very useful service – you go in, create your survey, email out a request to your survey pool, and when it’s all over the results are summarized.

Word of advice – invest in a professional communications company to develop your surveys. There’s an art to this if you truly want insight into customer attitudes. Surveys don’t have to be long, nor do they have to be complex. Some companies spend so much time developing the questions they never get to asking them. JUST GET STARTED – five to ten questions offered to a 100 customers. You’re going to make mistakes – everything is a test. JUST DO IT!

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2007 in Career, The Business

 

Fastracking Your Career With Plastic

I’m at that wonderful time in a father’s life when he gets to sit down with his offspring after graduating from middle school and point them someplace beyond the nest towards a career and domestic domicile of their own. Of course, they argue that they still have four years to decide what they want to be. But, I counter, it all begins now. What ever choices they make in the next 48 months will affect every facet of their life – from their ability to attract a suitable spouse to their ability to afford a reasonable lifestyle and a comfortable retirement. I remember my own father sitting me down when I was about 11 years old – and, at that time our discussions positioned my interests towards the field of aerospace engineering or marine biology. Regardless of what I wanted to be he was adamant that I get a post secondary education. Today, I share my father’s beliefs in buying an education as the foundation of any long term, financially stable career. Of course, people have achieved great success without it, but, let’s face it, a good education makes starting out a lot easier. But, beyond that, what do you with it? Personally, I think the optimum choice for anyone with a plan for achieving financial security and leaving a legacy of accomplishment behind them needs to pursue a sales-oriented career path. It challenges all of your faculties and forces you to be technically savvy in your chosen field of expertise. But, most of all, it forces you to stay relevent.

“Relevant” will be the new career buzz word. Our world is changing so quickly – entire new industries evolve inside of six months now and old ones die even quicker. Communications technology allows us to explore our individual talents selling them to a variety of employers rather than just one – and therein lies the problem. The corporate world is shifting to an outside-in way of developing new products and market places (check out this Harvard Business Review article) – they are using social networking to connect with experts who may work for other firms to contract on a project-by-project basis. There will be two job functions: the knowledge worker and the knowledge entrepreneur – and the latter is the group that will make the real money. To gain access to this club, you have to understand the pyschology of the marketplace and implement plans, systems, and procedures to convert desire into action. Considering a Wallmart has about 30 thousand items and the new hypermarket platforms are going to carry 60,000 items, the marketplace will be saturated with stuff and most of it will be low margin commodity items. Businesses want people who can develop and deliver non-commodity goods and services and this, my friends, is the role of a salesperson.

The days of the snake oil salesman are gone – well, they still might flourish in the used car and renovation business, but the fact is most people are incredibly savvy when it comes to information about what they want to buy now. In many cases, the consumer is as knowledgeable as the salesperson about a product. The role of sales today is making sure the customer has the ability and knowledge to get the most out of the product whether it be plastic, cars, or industrial components. They’re value to the process is their innovative approach to getting more out of the product then the consumer thought possible. This requires talents and skills beyond fast talk and slight of hand. It is a highly evolved profession aching for apprentices with a curious mind and a sincere desire to change the world one customer at a time.

If you’re interested in pursuing a sales oriented profession and would consider the business of plastic sheet, rod, & tube then I want to hear from you. I have contacts all over North America looking for the next great sales leader… could it be you?

Shawn Chambers
Warehoused Plastic Sales

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2007 in Career

 

What Makes Plastic Distribution An Interesting Career

I have yet to meet someone who actually chose plastics distribution as a career path. From my experience most people were invited in – someone already in the business said, “hey, you gotta check this out”. And I can imagine the response, “Plastic? What, like cups and spoons and stuff?”

My favourite part of the job is the moment I take someone into our warehouse for the first time and show them what 20,000 square feet of plastic looks like… and then they see 200 skids of material packed floor to ceiling. There’s this moment in their eyes… it’s like they just discovered a secret that know one else knows about…

The business of plastic has only been around for about 60 years. It’s still the wild, wild west in many respects where someone – anyone — can still stake out a claim in sales, craft, or design. In fact, most of the people who started the industry are still in it.

But, it’s not about the plastic. It’s never been about the plastic. It’s always about the people who use that plastic that makes this an interesting career choice. I’ve met some of the most brilliant yet whacky inventors one will ever come across. One came into the store all excited about a video game you play between your hands – there’s no screen but you can see the game right there. He claimed to be able to manipulate photons in such a way as to create a game space in thin air. And there’s hundreds of stories out there like that one. I’ve met 20–something neuro surgeons who are developing their own surgical tools – on the other extreme there’s the guy who wanted to build a better ice tray. We deal with thousands of businesses, many who develop the most awesome mechanical devices – from rock crushers to full-size flight simulators for helicopters and jet aircraft. Then, there’s the people who use plastic in the process of making other things such as meat processors – or, how about the people that make the buns for Macdonald’s hamburgers.

These people don’t come to you for plastic. They come to you for a solution to a problem. For example, someone has a business bottling hot sauces where the liquid flows through the plumbing at 180 degrees F and the current solution requires that the lines to be shut down for 3 hours every 12 so they can be flushed and cleaned due to the staining and residue left when they need to change the type of sauce. We work with them to find a plastic that can be used to reduce the down time – it could be in the transport tubing or it could be in the manifold device that controls the flow of the sauce into the bottles.

This is a career built on curiosity – someone who wants to touch things and then take things apart in their mind to find better ways to put it back together.

It’s creative. It’s intense. It’s interesting.

There ain’t many other jobs out there like it.

I encourage anyone with a curiousity for life – the consumate tinkerer – to ponder plastic distribution as a career choice. There’s plenty left to make your own mark.

Check us out.

Shawn Chambers, Warehoused Plastic Sales

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2007 in Career, The Business

 
 
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