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1/29/2015 | 1 MINUTE READ

When Was Your Plastics Epiphany?

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Michael Engler’s decades in plastics can be traced back to one week in middle school when his woodshop class briefly turned its focus on plastics.

Michael Engler, currently the VP of operations at custom injection molder AMA Plastics, Riverside, Calif., remembers how his woodshop teacher, Mr. Hensler, kept a small thermoformer and compression molding machine in the class and for that week he talked to students about the basics of plastics, from how it melts to its thermoset and thermoplastic variations.


Sitting in AMA’s second-floor conference room, Engler recalls that distant introduction to plastics, and how he used Mr. Hensler’s compression machine to mold a blue screwdriver he still has. While we talk, AMA’s 93 injection molding machines produce thousands of parts (although no screwdrivers), as he reflects on how an adolescent interest became a lifelong career.


Engler was hooked from an early age, and encouraged all along the way in his pursuit of plastics. At Williamsport Area High School, his 10th grade physics teacher, Mr. Boyer, pushed Engler to attend an open house for the polymer program at Penn State’s Pennsylvania College of Technology.


“I knew the math would be hard, but I was so excited about plastics I was able to survive calculus and the rest was history,” Engler recalls.


Once in college, he studied under Tim Weston, who helped start the polymer program for the Williamsport campus, and later became his neighbor. “We still speak to this day,” Engler says.


As a college junior, Engler’s plastics story came full circle, when visited his former middle school, where a thermoformer and compression molding machine piqued his interest in plastics, and spoke to the entire student body about careers in plastics.


As Engler took me on a tour of AMA earlier this month, his enthusiasm for the industry he’s worked his entire career in was evident. It’s not unusual either—apart from machines and pellets, one thing I always find when I tour a processor is people who are passionate about plastics. Engler’s story of how his plastics career started got me thinking about how others were bit by the plastics bug.


Last year Plastics Technology addressed the issue of workforce development and the need to introduce kids to plastics in middle school or younger was stressed by processors and educators. When did you get hooked on plastics? Do today’s kids have the same opportunity?