Floored! A Manufacturing Environment

By Meryl Stark '12

blog-clipturf.jpg
Here
I am inspecting some turf and preparing to clip threads if they are too tall.
After inspection, the turf gets rolled up and shipped out.

Greetings from Dalton, GA, also known as the Carpet Capital
of the World!

In January, I started working as a Process/Quality Engineer
for Shaw Industries, which is a leading manufacturer of floor coverings,
including carpet, hard surfaces, and a host of other products. Some people say
that textiles are a dy(e)ing art (yes, bad pun), but the carpet/flooring
industry is still alive, well, and a fun place to work.

More specifically, I work in Shaw's Urethane plant. We make
foam carpet pad and apply a coating of urethane onto artificial turf--both for
sports fields and landscaping turf. Fun fact--the Baltimore Ravens' field was
processed at our plant! I majored in Materials
Science
, so the foam is right up my alley.
Plus, making foam is a chemical reaction, so I'm quickly learning how to be a chemical
engineer as well. Olin taught me well how to jump in and make an impact with
little to no background knowledge.

blog-foamcup.jpg

Checking
the gel time and temperature profile of the urethane foam reaction on the pad
line. As the foam reacts, it expands over the top of the cup. 


My primary role as a process engineer is to keep the production line running while also improving it. We're always striving to make higher-quality product more efficiently and at a lower cost. Sometimes this means a few tweaks here and there, but it also involves larger-scale projects that take creative thinking and careful planning to carry out. I'm a trainee, so I'm working alongside another process engineer. He is very good at what he does, and I learn from him every single day.

I also work on projects outside of my plant. My division,
Specialty Markets, is a small niche in a huge company. This division
encompasses most of Shaw's products that aren't traditional flooring, including
our pad and turf, but also boat carpet and acoustic insulation for the wheel
wells of cars, among other things. Many of these products are unique, so there
is plenty of space for innovation. These products are also designed for
specific customers, so the different business areas (manufacturing, R&D,
marketing, and upper management) have a very close relationship with each
other. I see this in action every week when I participate in a development
meeting where representatives from each of these areas get together and discuss
goals and plans for new products.

Recently, I've been asked to work on a study that's been a
joint effort between corporate quality, marketing, and R&D. Even though I
spend most of my time in the plant, I enjoy getting exposure to and learning
about the other parts of the organization that give manufacturing a reason to
exist.

blog-bluefield.jpg

Not
all the turf we make is green; it comes in a variety of colors, including this
blue field that's running through our inspection area. 

I absolutely love my job! Manufacturing is interesting and provides a variety of challenges. The work is incredibly hands-on, and no two days are the same. This is because I'm not only working with the machines on our production line, but the people that run them as well. Both engineering and people skills are vital for success in a plant environment. I spend about a third of my time on the plant floor observing the process and interacting with the operators who run the line. Sometimes I even step in and help run the machines if needed.

This part of process engineering actually reminds me a lot
of our UOCD (User
Oriented Collaborative Design
) class at Olin.
The people who run the line are the users; they are the true experts and will
be able to tell the engineer what's actually going on with the process.
Understanding your users will help you identify areas of opportunity and gain
valuable insights. One of my biggest challenges right now is being able to
think in terms of the process as a whole. It's very easy to get caught up and
focus on a certain area that might not have such a large impact in the long
run. I have to teach myself to constantly step back and evaluate how the
problems I'm choosing to work on relate to the big picture.

I've been at this job for almost 6 months now, and I can't
wait to see what the future has in store, because there is so much more to
learn! Shaw also encourages its employees to move around in the organization
every 18 months to 2 years, so I know that there will be plenty of avenues to
explore as my career progresses.

Posted in: Alumni Speak, Olin Employers