In the second of our new series focusing on skills and training, Martyn Bennett of ARTIS discusses the unique needs of the UK’s rubber industry and how as an organisation it has taken a hands-on approach to offer companies the niche training required in this field.
Many people in the polymer industry still refer to rubber manufacturing as a “Black Art”, but like all other aspects of polymers it generally needs a little science applying to it. For those of us fortunate enough to have studied materials or even polymers at undergraduate level we will have had a very small taste of the delights of rubber science and technology, and this is where the problems begin. By the time an undergraduate leaves University they will not have had enough exposure to these materials to form a judgement and become interested in understanding the behaviour of elastomeric materials.
For those that enter the business at the sharp end, the chances are they do not have a good grounding in rubber at all, only an exposure to thermoplastics processing and maybe some property relationships too. Consequently being able to relate what they see on the shop floor or in the lab to what is happening at a fundamental level is extremely difficult. Most of the issues seen in the manufacture of rubber articles relate to the way the material reacts to the process and the history of the material up to the point of manufacture. If we can relate to this then we have a chance of understanding many of the manufacturing issues and designing products and processes appropriately.
There is a clear dearth of training opportunities for this highly niche field, especially at this level and it will not be addressed by the few universities that have the expertise. Rubber training is being addressed to an extent by the ELTAG project from BRPPA and the advent of a new national polymer processing centre, but it is clearly up to the industry to organise and train its recruits to a suitable standard if it wants hands on skills in its workforce. This is going to be a real challenge in a declining market but what is clear to us is that if UK manufacturing is to focus on “high end” markets then it needs well trained staff at all levels who fully understand the technical difficulties of a very special material.
When we formed ARTIS from the R & D group of Avon Rubber we were blessed with an intimate knowledge of the manufacture of most articles that can be made using rubber and we felt that we could instil that knowledge to the wider industry. As a small group we are limited to the number of courses that we could provide and we took the decision to target a very specific audience and offer a unique training experience.
We decided to focus on people involved with the industry on a day-to-day basis, and needing either some basic understanding of the materials they worked with or some additional detail to a bank of experience and knowledge they already possessed. We based the course on our experience teaching engineering and design recruits, and leading shop floor staff in Avon Rubber and we decided that initially we would offer the basic rubber short course; more in depth and specialised courses will follow.
Hands on experience is so important, so training needs to offer the opportunity to mix your own compound, produce some samples and do the testing to show how good the material really is, it may not be black art but there is no substitute for handling the materials yourself. Accreditation too is important in order to ensure that recognition is made of the value of the course, in this case from the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, so that the industry knows what it is getting.
What is clearly required is an understanding of how the materials are manufactured and are likely to behave when subjected to the mixing and shaping processes used in industry, and it is only by understanding that can they get a real understanding of why problems occur and what is the best way to solve them.
The next training date is 17th and 18th May with additional dates available for the duration of 2016.
About the RAPRA Training Programme
Drawing on its experience of providing technical support through a unique network of Preferred Service Providers, RAPRA have launched its comprehensive training programme representing the best of rubber, plastics, composites and related industrial training available in the UK, of which The Polymer Training & Innovation Centre (PTIC) are one of those providers.
RAPRA will continue to identify where the gaps are and will be on the lookout for high quality, relevant training courses to add to the training programme.
The RAPRA Training Programme can be viewed at www.rapra.org/capabilities/training