PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, Reston, Va., wants to ensure that today’s youth holds the skills and know-how to apply for PMMI workforcetomorrow’s manufacturing jobs.

Here’s a rundown of some of their member-run and operated programs that educate and excite students about packaging as a career.

Mechatronics Certificate Program. Educators at Purdue University Calumet, Hammond, Ind., implemented a $2.74 million U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grant, which supports training for displaced workers and requires participants to earn a nationally-recognized credential.

Niaz Latif, Ph.D., dean of the College of Technology, notes the college’s strong connections to leaders in packaging and processing—particularly the industry’s original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). As principal investigator for the TAACCCT grant, Latif sees PMMI’s mechatronics certificate program as the clear choice for a credential.

“PMMI’s certificates in the mechanical, electrical and controls areas are recognized by the USDOL, and are directly related to the occupations of industrial machinery mechanics and mechatronics technicians,” Latif says.

“There is a significant need for this type of training in the light industrial, hybrid manufacturing space," adds Maria Ferrante, vice president, education and workforce development for PMMI. "Purdue University Calumet is taking a leadership role in ensuring the future of the packaging and processing workforce. PMMI’s third-party validated Mechatronics Certificates provide the training required to meet the industry-developed standards that are key to developing the workforce for machinery manufacturers and consumer packaged goods companies.”

Training under the grant will also present new opportunities to the student participants, with information about mechatronics education at other 2- and 4-year programs.

“With this grant, we will provide cutting-edge training to northwest Indiana residents who are eager to fill important jobs and make valuable contributions to our region,” Latif says. “The support provided by this grant validates the important role Purdue University Calumet plays in enhancing northwest Indiana’s economic development.”

The TAACCCT grant and the integration of PMMI’s mechatronics certificate program will support training as mechatronics technicians and industrial machinery mechanics for more than 300 individuals, according to Mohammad Zahraee, Ph.D., PE, assistant dean for graduate studies and a professor of mechanical engineering technology at Purdue University Calumet.

“One of the four Purdue University Calumet strategic goals in the next five years is ‘Community and Business Partnerships,’ which is driven by our dedication to the role of economic development of the region. This timely grant is testimony to our commitment to this strategic goal,” Zahraee says.

Mechatronics is the synergistic application of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, control engineering and computer science in the manufacturing environment. It is a skill and knowledge set used to assure the automation that drives modern manufacturing delivers its potential for higher productivity and output. Based on the Mechatronics Competencies, PMMI’s certificate tests demonstrate education, training and knowledge in key skill areas. They’re used as hiring, on-boarding and advancement tools.

“Working with PMMI’s mechatronics certificates is an important way to make sure the industry, economy and workers are prepared to move forward with a growing 21st century skills set. We hope other TAACCCT schools will follow Purdue’s lead,” Ferrante says.

Robotics Market Assessment. New jobs, greater safety and increased productivity—These are just a few benefits ascribed to robotic technologies by participants in the newest business intelligence study by PMMI, “Trends in Robotics Market Assessment 2014.” PMMI conducted 100 interviews— in-depth conversations with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), integrators, robot suppliers and industry experts—to reveal shifts in robotic use, expected benefits and more.

Robotics got their start in palletizing,” says report author Donna Ritson, president, DDR Communications, LLC, Lindenhurst, Ill. “Now they’re coming up to the front of the line for processing and depalletizing.”

Survey participants anticipate a wide range of advancements in robotics over the next five years. Where the 2008 survey showed respondents were considering their robotics potentially expanding upstream from end-of-line upstream, 2014 respondents anticipate developments that will redefine the role robotics play in manufacturing operations, such as:

• Sanitation improvements will allow for direct contact with food.

• Spatial awareness that keeps workers adjacent to the robot safe.

• Lower costs that will make robotics more pervasive.

• Vision sensors that allow even greater precision and handling—even giving robots the ability to sort by color.

• Faster speeds and heavier lifting capabilities.

These developments result as much from increased usage as they do from advancements in hardware and software, says Paula Feldman, director, business intelligence, PMMI.

“What we heard in our interviews mirrors much of what we’ve been seeing at PACK EXPO,” she adds. “When we studied the robotics marketplace in 2008, only 20% of manufacturers used robots to package their products. Today, 75% of end users use robotics at some point along their manufacturing lines, and the capabilities for food and pharmaceutical processing are game-changers.”

Although robotics are integral in replacing manual labor and reducing operating costs, they’re also creating new job opportunities. The manufacturing worker of tomorrow will need to have a higher level of technical training to design, integrate, operate and maintain robotic technologies.

“Expect to see growth in job functions such as integration services, mechatronics engineering, robotic training and operating and PLC and servo programming,” she says.

JumPPStart. This PMMI University grassroots initiative—new in 2013—provides opportunities for equipment and supplier member companies to network with students in their local areas with the ultimate goal of growing and fortifying the packaging technology workforce.

JumPPstart activities include:

• Students touring factories, speaking with packaging team members and learning about exciting careers in the industry.

• Company reps speaking at school assemblies on Career Day, judging school science fairs and guest presenting in classrooms.

So far, JumPPstart Milwaukee and JumPPstart Minneapolis chapters have been established by PMMI member companies in these regions, and Chicago is now kicking off its first meeting.