Canadian Plastics

Training for the captive audience

The number and types of interactive software packages for training machinery operators and set-up technicians has grown considerably in the last few years. These new tools have also expanded the optio...

July 1, 1999   By Michael LeGault, editor



The number and types of interactive software packages for training machinery operators and set-up technicians has grown considerably in the last few years. These new tools have also expanded the options processors have at their disposal to train employees. In light of these options, managers must ask themselves several specific questions before investing in a particular software training package. Among these are:

Who will use the software?

What kinds of topics will be covered by the software and in what depth?

What are the learning objectives?

What new skills will the employees have upon

completion of the program and how does this

match your needs?

How long does it take to complete the

software program?

What level of reading skill does the

software require?

The Canadian Plastics Training Centre (Etobicoke, Ont.) has been developing an eight-hour interactive training software package for injection molding operators and set-up technicians (82). The software has been beta tested with a group of industry operators and set-up technicians and a final version is expected to be in use by the end of the year. CPTC general manager David Alcock says beta testing demonstrated that using the software for teaching basic machine operation could reduce the amount of time people spent on the machine for hands-on training by 40 percent while providing the same level of skill and confidence to pursue higher level training. When the final version of the software is complete, the CPTC plans to use it in conjunction with the Centre’s certification programs.

“The issue with interactive software has always been how it fits in to an entire suite of training products, from books to short courses to videos, to get the best results,” says Alcock. “Interactive tends to be better for theory rather than practical. No software package, no matter how well designed, can build practical skill by itself.”

A. Routsis Associates (Dracut, MA) offers a wide-range of interactive software packages for plastics injection molding, extrusion, blow molding and part design (83). The injection molding series includes modules on Troubleshooting Defects, Processing for Profit, Establishing an Injection Molding Process, Understanding Plastics, Injection Mold Set-up, as well as an Advanced Processing Series and Maintenance Series. Each module consists of one to three interactive CD-ROMs which require approximately one to two hours per CD to complete.

The ITX Interactive Training Extrusion program, developed by Rauwendaal Extrusion Engineering, is a seven-disc series covering extrusion machinery, instrumentation and control, how an extruder works, how to run an extruder, plastic properties and troubleshooting (84). An animated simulation package allows the user to input extrusion data such as screw diameter, channel depth, melt viscosity and other factors and make process-related calculations.

The interactive training program is structured to deliver about two minutes of instruction followed by three to four questions to test the comprehension of the material covered. The program does not continue until the question is answered correctly. A tracking module is included to track how many employees have taken the course, how much of it was finished, how long it took to finish, how well each student scored on the test questions, and more. The ITX Extrusion program is distributed by both A. Routsis Associates and Hanser Gardner Publications (90).

The interactive blow molding training series offered by A. Routsis consists of five discs and covers extrusion blow molding basics, blow molding resin control, understanding blow molded container quality and calibration.

According to Andy Routsis, interactive training is one of the most effective methods to learn. Routsis claims that studies have shown people retain 20 percent of what they read after 24 hours, compared to a 40 percent retention rate for a video; whereas a person using interactive training retains 60 percent after 24 hours. The additional retention is a result of the involvement of the trainee with the software lessons. The only thing that surpasses the effectiveness of interactive training, says Routsis, is actual floor experience.

“We prescribe shop floor training to compliment interactive training,” notes Routsis. “The only downside to that is it’s unbelievably expensive to train someone on the shop floor. You’re tying up your equipment, personnel and using valuable raw material.”

Routsis says 10 hours of interactive training is effectively equal to ten times the amount of training on the shop floor.

“If I take a novice who doesn’t know a thing and put him on an interactive training program, in a couple of weeks he’ll know more than most people who’ve been on the floor for ten years,” says Routsis. “The reason is that interactive allows you to target certain things in a concentrated fashion.”

Routsis is also distributing a plastics processing simulator software developed by the British Polymer Training Association (85). The software comes in separate packages that simulate injection molding, blow molding and pipe and profile extrusion processes. Other North American distributors of British Polymer’s simulation software include Hanser Gardner Publications and Injection Molding Magazine’s Book Club (91).

VISUALIZE TO UNDERSTAND

David Waters, business director at Polymer Training Resources (Des Moines, IA) says the company’s interactive training products are designed to teach employees or students how to apply and transfer the technical information learned in the classroom. The company’s seven-lesson overview of the injection molding process is geared for new as well as current employees in the positions of operator, set-up personnel, materials handling, maintenance and management (87). The program package includes CD-ROM instructor presentation, CD-ROM color animation of machine function and comprehensive student manuals. Lessons cover machine parts and function, machine safety, machine cycle and operating controls, mold components, material and part handling and part defect identification. Each lesson includes hands-on exercises and self-tests.

The animation feature of the software allows workers to visualize what’s happening inside the machine. For example, in one part of the program workers see a close-up of the screw tip as it functions inside the barrel. This makes it easier to understand how the check ring presses against the seat to stop the melt from returning up the screw flights. Polymer Training Resources also offers a two-day Train the Trainer seminar designed to teach a facility’s designated training leader how to most effectively implement a in-house training program.

D-M-E’s Mold Technology Series (92) training program is offered through Ferris State University in Big Rapids, MI. According to D-M-E marketing manager Bob Starr the program consists of eight CD-ROM based modules that provide a comprehensive overview of mold base and injection molding technology. The user works at his or her own pace and before advancing to the next module must correctly complete a test covering the material. Companies can purchase a network version from Ferris State University.

DESKTOP MOLDING

While Paulson Training Programs Inc. (Chester, CT) offers a comprehensive array of interactive training programs for plastics processing operations and many other industrial- and safety-related topics, it has gained considerable notice most recently for its injection molding machine simulator, SimTech (88). SimTech is generally recommended for employees with some molding experience.

Paulson’s vice president of sales Jack Coulter describes SimTech as an algorithm-driven software program which is able to predict plastic behavior under pre-defined conditions, such that the user, after setting machine conditions, can “run” a cycle and verify if the settings produced a good or bad part. The user selects one of eight predefined parts and one of five generic resins (PP, PS, PE, ABS or polycarbonate). If incorrect settings have been used the simulator will prod
uce parts with one or more problems. These include burn marks, sink marks, voids, flash, gate defects, short shots, dimensional variations and others. The simulator comes as Windows 95 software on CD-ROM. It requires a PC with 120-MHz Pentium processor, amplified sound system, and 50 MB hard-disk space.

This month Paulson is introducing a new training program called Skill Builder that incorporates SimTech into different modules of Paulson’s injection molding interactive software. Coulter says the objective of Skill Builder is to apply the theory learned in the interactive course to real molding scenarios and conditions in the simulator. The interactive software uses spoken words, as well as written text, to minimize problems with reading skill deficiencies.

Coulter says the beauty of using SimTech within a structured course such as Skill Builder is that it allows the trainees to reinforce what they’ve learned in the classroom without tying up valuable production machinery.

“A lot of people tend to teach plastics processing according to rules of thumb–in this situation do this, in this other situation do that,” notes Coulter. “We think a better way is to first get a fundamental understanding of plastic behavior and the effect of the four variables–heat, pressure, flow and cooling–on plastic behavior.”

DIFFERENT STROKES

CPTC’s Alcock says the important thing to remember in any type of training is that different people learn in different ways.

“In order to use any of the interactive or self-paced learning tools, people have to be motivated to use them,” Alcock says. “For those people who are motivated it can be an excellent product. For those who aren’t, they require a different type of learning. This is an issue that has to be faced.”

Andy Routsis says employers should be wary of new Internet-based training and other low-cost training software packages that are mainly just written text.

“When you are training someone it has to be fun and interesting to be most effective,” Routsis observes. “Interactive programs that have narration, animation and video have a much better chance of engaging the user’s interest.” CPL


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