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School Subjects: Mathematics; Technical/shop
Personal Skills: Mechanical/manipulative Technical/scientific
Work Environment: Primarily indoors; Primarily multiple locations
Minimum Education Level: High school diploma
Salary Range: $13,710 to $46,976 to $70,000
Certification or Licensing: Voluntary
Outlook: Faster than the average
Packaging machinery technicians work with automated machinery that pack ages products into bottles, cans, bags, boxes, cartons, & other containers. The machines perform various operations, such as forming, filling, closing, labeling, & marking. The systems & technologies that packaging machinery technicians work with are diverse. Depending on the job, packaging machinery technicians may work with electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, or pneumatic systems. They also may work with computerized controllers, fiber-optic transmitters, robotic units ,and vision systems.
Packaging has been used since ancient times, when people first wrapped food in materials to protect it or devised special carriers to transport items over long distances. One of the oldest packaging materials, glass, was used by Egyptians as early as 3000 B.C. Packaging as we know it, though, has its origins in the industrial revolution. Machinery was used for mass production of items, & manufacturers needed some way to package products & protect them during transport. Packages & containers were developed that not only kept goods from damage during shipment, but also helped to increase the shelf life of perishable items.
Initially, packaging was done by hand. Workers at manufacturing plants hand-packed products into paper boxes, steel cans, glass jars, or other containers as they were produced. As manufacturing processes & methods improved, equipment & machines were developed to provide quicker & less expensive ways to package products. Automated machinery was in use by the 19th century & was used not only to package products but also to create packaging materials. The first containers produced through automated machinery were glass containers created by Michael Owens in Toledo, Ohio, in 1903.
A packaging machinery technician does tasks such as adjusting a conveyor belt so that it runs at the proper speed for the bottles to be completely filled.
The use of new packaging materials, such as cellophane in the 1920s & aluminum cans in the early 1960s, required updated machinery to handle the new materials & to provide faster, more efficient production. Semiautomatic machines & eventually high-speed, fully automated machines were created to handle a wide variety of products, materials, & packaging operations. Today, packaging engineers, packaging machinery technicians, & other engineering professionals work to develop new equipment & techniques that are more efficient in terms of time, material, & cost. Advanced technologies, such as robotics, are allowing for the creation of increasingly sophisticated packaging machinery.
Packaging machinery technicians work in packaging plants of various industries or in the plants of packaging machinery manufacturers. Their jobs involve building machines, installing & setting up equipment, training operators to use the equipment, maintaining equipment, troubleshooting, & repairing machines. Many of the machines today are computer controlled & may include robotic or vision-guided applications.
Machinery builders, also called assemblers, assist engineers in the development & modification of new & existing machinery designs. They build different types of packaging machinery following engineering blueprints, wiring schematics, pneumatic diagrams, & plant layouts. Beginning with a machine frame that has been welded in another department, they assemble electrical circuitry, mechanical components, & fabricated items that they may have made themselves in the plant’s machine shop. They may also be responsible for bolting on additional elements of the machine to the frame. After the machinery is assembled, they perform a test run to make sure it's performing according to specifications.
Field service technicians, also called field service representatives, are employed by packaging machinery manufacturers. They do most of their work at the plants where the packaging machinery is being used. In some companies, assemblers may serve as field service technicians; in others, the field service representative is a technician other than the assembler. In either case, they install new machinery at customers’ plants & train in-plant machine operators & maintenance personnel on its operation & maintenance.
When a new machine is delivered, the field service technicians level it & anchor it to the plant floor. Then, following engineering drawings, wiring plans, & plant layouts, they install the system’s electrical & electromechanical components. They also regulate the controls & setup for the size, thickness, & type of material to be processed & ensure the correct sequence of processing stages. After installation, the technicians test-run the machinery & make any necessary adjustments. Then they teach machine operators the proper operating & maintenance procedures for that piece of equipment. The entire installation process, which may take a week, is carefully documented. Field service representatives may also help the plant’s in-house mechanics troubleshoot equipment already in operation, including modifying equipment for greater efficiency & safety.
Automated packaging machine mechanics, also called maintenance technicians, perform scheduled preventive maintenance as well as diagnose machinery problems & make repairs. Preventive maintenance is done on a regular basis following the manufacturer’s guide lines in the service manual. During routine maintenance, technicians change filters in vacuum pumps, grease fittings, change oil in gear- boxes, & replace worn bushings, chains, & belts. When machines do break down, maintenance technicians must work quickly to fix them so that production can resume as soon as possible. The technician might be responsible for all the machinery in the plant, one or more packaging lines, or a single machine. In a small plant, a single technician may be responsible for all the duties required to keep a packaging line running, while in a large plant a team of technicians may divide the duties.
Although a high school diploma is not required, it's preferred by most employers who hire packaging or engineering technicians. In high school, you should take geometry & vocational classes such as electrical shop, machine shop, & mechanical drawing. Computer classes, including computer-aided design (CAD), are also helpful. In addition to developing mechanical & electrical abilities, you should develop communication skills through English & writing classes.
Many employers prefer to hire technicians who have completed a two-year technical training program. Completing a machinery training program or packaging machinery program can provide you with the necessary knowledge & technical skills for this type of work. Machinery training programs are available at community colleges, trade schools, & technical institutes throughout the country, but there are only a few technical colleges specializing in packaging machinery programs. These programs award either a degree or certificate in automated packaging machinery systems. You may get a list of these technical colleges by contacting the Packaging Education Forum.
Packaging machinery programs generally last two years & include extensive hands-on training as well as classroom study. You will learn to use simple hand tools, such as hacksaws, drill presses, lathes, mills, & grinders. Other technical courses cover sheet metal & welding work, power transmission, electrical & mechanical systems, maintenance operations, industrial safety, & hazardous materials handling.
Classes in packaging operations include bag making, loading, & closing; case loading; blister packaging; palletizing, conveying, & accumulating; & labeling & bar coding. There are also classes in form fill, seal wrap, & carton machines as well as packaging quality control & package design & testing. Courses especially critical in an industry where technology is increasingly sophisticated are PLC (programmable logic control), CAD/CAM (computer-aided design & manufacturing), fiber optics, robotics, & servo controls.
Certification or Licensing
Although employers may not require it, certification can provide a competitive advantage when seeking employment. A voluntary certification program is available for engineering technicians through the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET). Certification is available at various levels & in different specialty fields. Most programs require passing a written exam & possessing a certain amount of work experience. The Institute of Packaging Professionals offers the following voluntary certifications:
certified professional in training (professionals with less than six years of experience in packaging) & certified packaging professional (professionals with at least six years of experience in packaging).
Union membership may be a requirement for some jobs, depending on union activity at a particular company. Unions are more likely found in large-scale national & international corporations. Field service technicians are usually not unionized. Maintenance technicians & assemblers may be organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters or the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers. In addition, some technicians may be represented by the International Longshoremen’s & Warehousemen’s Union.
If you are interested in this field, you should have mechanical & electrical aptitudes, manual dexterity, & the ability to work under time pressure. In addition, you should have analytical & problem- solving skills. The ability to communicate effectively with people from varying backgrounds is especially important since packaging machinery technicians work closely with engineers, plant managers, customers, & machinery operators. You need to be able to listen to workers’ problems as well as to explain things clearly. Packaging machinery technicians frequently have to provide written reports, so good writing skills are beneficial.
You can test your interest in this type of work by engaging in activities that require mechanical & electrical skills, such as building a short-wave radio, taking appliances apart, & working on cars, motorcycles, & bicycles. Participating in science clubs & contests can also provide opportunities for working with electrical & mechanical equipment & building & repairing things. Taking vocational shop classes can also help you explore your interests & acquire useful skills.
Consider visiting a plant or manufacturing company to observe packaging operations & see packaging machinery technicians at work. Many plants provide school tours, & you may be able to arrange a visit through a school counselor or teacher. Reading trade publications can also familiarize you with the industry.
Packaging machinery technicians are usually employed by companies that manufacture packaging machinery or by companies who package the products they produce. Packaging is one of the largest industries in the United States, so jobs are plentiful across the country. Opportunities in the packaging field can be found in almost any company that produces & packages a product. Food, chemicals, cosmetics, electronics, pharmaceuticals, automotive parts, hardware, plastics, & almost any products you can think of need to be packaged before reaching the consumer market. Because of this diversity, jobs are not restricted to any product, geographic location, or plant size.
If you are enrolled in a technical program you may find job leads through your school’s job placement service. Many jobs in packaging are unadvertised—you can only find out about them through contacts with professionals in the industry. You can also learn about openings from teachers, school administrators, & industry contacts acquired during training.
You can apply directly to machinery manufacturing companies or companies with manufacturing departments. Local employment offices may list job openings. Sometimes companies hire part-time or summer help in other departments, such as the warehouse or ship ping. These jobs may provide an opportunity to move into other areas
of the company.
Technicians usually begin in entry-level positions & work as part of an engineering team. They may advance from a maintenance technician to an assembler, & then move up to a supervisory position in production operations or packaging machinery. They can also become project managers & field service managers.
Workers who show an interest in their work, who learn quickly, & have good technical skills can gradually take on more responsibilities & advance to higher positions. The ability to work as part of a team & communicate well with others, plus self-motivation & the ability to work well without a lot of supervision, are all helpful traits for advancement. People who have skills as a packaging machinery technician can usually transfer those skills to engineering technician positions in other industries.
Some packaging machinery technicians pursue additional education to qualify as an engineer & move into electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, packaging engineering, or industrial engineering positions. Other technicians pursue business, economics, & finance degrees & use these credentials to obtain positions in other areas of the manufacturing process, in business development, or in areas such as importing or exporting.
Earnings vary by geographical area, the employee’s skill level, & specific duties & job responsibilities. Other variables that may affect salary include the size of the company & the type of industry, such as the food & beverage industry or the electronics industry. Technicians who work at companies with unions generally, but not always, earn higher salaries.
In general, technicians earn approximately $20,000 a year to start & with experience can increase their salaries to approximately $33,000. Seasoned workers with two-year degrees who work for large companies may earn between $50,000 & $70,000 a year, particularly those in field service jobs or in supervisory positions.
According to Abbott-Langer Associates, packaging equipment operators in the food industry earned an average of $28,288 a year in 2000. Machine repairers earned an average of $30,472. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that median annual earnings for all workers in packaging machinery were $46,976 in 2000. Packaging machine operators & tenders earned an annual median of $20,760 in 2001, with salaries ranging from $13,710 to $34,960 or more.
Packaging machinery technicians who are certified by the Institute of Packaging Professionals earn higher salaries than technicians who are not certified. According to an IoPP survey, certified packaging professionals earned between 8 percent & 52 percent more than non-certified workers.
Benefits vary & depend upon company policy but generally include paid holidays, vacations, sick days, & medical & dental insurance. Some companies also offer tuition assistance programs, pension plans, profit sharing, & 401-K plans.
Packaging machinery technicians work in a variety of environments. They may work for a machinery manufacturer or in the manufacturing department of a plant or factory. Most plants are clean & well ventilated, although actual conditions vary based on the type of product manufactured & packaged. Certain types of industries & manufacturing methods can pose special problems. For example, plants involved in paperboard & paper manufacturing may have dust created from paper fibers. Workers in food plants may be exposed to strong smells from the food being processed, although most workers usually get accustomed to this. Pharmaceutical & electronic component manufacturers may require special conditions to ensure that the manufacturing environments are free from dirt, contamination, & static. Clean-air environments may be special rooms that are temperature- & moisture-controlled, & technicians may be required to wear special clothing or equipment when working in these rooms.
In general, most plants have no unusual hazards, although safety practices need to be followed when working on machinery & using tools. The work is generally not strenuous, although it does involve carrying small components & hand tools, & some bending & stretching.
Most workers work 40 hours a week, although overtime may be required, especially during the installation of new machinery or when equipment malfunctions. Some technicians may be called in during the evening or on weekends to repair machinery that has shut down production operations. Installation & testing periods of new equipment can also be very time-intensive & stressful when problems develop. Troubleshooting, diagnosing problems, & repairing equipment may involve considerable time as well as trial-and-error testing until the correct solution is determined.
Technicians who work for machinery manufacturers may be required to travel to customers’ plants to install new machinery or to service or maintain existing equipment. This may require overnight stays or travel to foreign locations.
Packaging machinery technicians are in high demand both by companies that manufacture packaging machinery & by companies that use packaging machinery. With the growth of the packaging industry, which grosses more than $100 billion a year, a nationwide shortage of trained packaging technicians has developed over the last 20 years. There are far more openings than there are qualified applicants.
The packaging machinery industry is expected to continue its growth in the 21st century. American-made packaging machinery has earned a worldwide reputation for high quality & is known for its outstanding control systems & electronics. Continued success in global competition will remain important to the packaging machinery industry’s prosperity & employment outlook.
The introduction of computers, robotics, fiber optics, & vision systems into the industry has added new skill requirements & job opportunities for packaging machinery technicians. There is already widespread application of computer-aided design & computer-aided manufacturing. The use of computers in packaging machinery will continue to increase, with computers communicating with other computers on the status of operations & providing diagnostic maintenance information & production statistics. The role of robotics, fiber optics, & electronics will also continue to expand. To be pre pared for the jobs of the future, packaging machinery students should seek training in the newest technologies.
With packaging one of the largest industries in the United States, jobs can be found in small towns & large cities, in small companies or multi-plant international corporations. The jobs are not restricted to any one industry or geographical location.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For information on certification & the packaging industry, contact
Institute of Packaging Professionals
1601 North Bond Street, Suite 101
Naperville, IL 60563
For information on certification, contact
National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies
1420 King Street
Alexandria, VA 223 14-2794
For information on educational programs, contact
National Institute of Packaging, Handling, & Logistic Engineers
6902 Lyle Street
Lanham, MD 20706-3454
For information on educational programs & companies that hire packaging professionals, contact
Packaging Education Forum
4350 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 600
Arlington, VA 22203
For general information on the packaging industry, contact
Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute
4350 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 600
Arlington, VA 22203