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Plastics Technology - Overview


Plastics technology programs prepare people to help engineers who develop plastics and polymers. Students learn to design and test plastics. They also learn to maintain and repair equipment.

Plastics are all around us. They're in the computer mouse you may be holding right now. They're probably in the buttons of your clothing. They may be in the fabric of your clothes, too. Are you wearing sneakers? A band-aid? Carrying a cell phone? You get the picture.

Every one of these products is created by sophisticated machinery. The plastics are extruded like spaghetti or injected into molds. So a plastics technology program prepares you in two ways: You learn to work both with plastics and with these industrial machines.

To understand plastics, you need a good background in chemistry. You also study math, since you can't do science without it. You learn the special properties of the molecules called polymers. You learn how to test samples of plastic. In a four-year program, you go more deeply into chemistry and also study physics. You learn how to calculate stresses and other forces on materials. You learn how to create a computerized model of the way a liquid flows - such as molten plastic in a molding machine.

The other emphasis of the program is on these machines and the industrial processes that turn plastic into products. You learn how to represent designs on a computer. You study the designs of various kinds of plastic processing machines. In a four-year program, you learn how to break an industrial process down into its individual parts. You learn how to fine-tune each part of the process for greater efficiency and product quality.

About 35 colleges offer associate's degree programs in this field. You can earn this degree with two years of full-time study beyond high school. With this degree, you can work as a technician in a manufacturing setting. You might run tests to make sure of the quality of the plastic being produced. You might tear down and reassemble an extruding machine or supervise a machinist who is making a new mold. If research interests you, you might work as a laboratory technician in research. If you like the business world, you can work in sales.

Only a handful of colleges offer four-year programs leading to a bachelor's degree. With this degree, you can work as an engineering technologist. In this role, you work with engineers and translate their concepts into reality. For example, an engineer might come up with a new design for an injection mold. You might test the design, prove that it works, and implement it on the production floor.

Source: Illinois Career Information System (CIS) brought to you by Illinois Department of Employment Security.
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