Mon September 9, 2019

The FLiP Files: Ryan Erickson

A hockey lover turned tractor designer? That may not be who you would expect to find in a plastics career, but that is how Ryan Erickson found himself in this industry.

Ryan Erickson is a product design engineer at John Deere. He didn’t always know he wanted to work in the plastics industry, but his passion for designing equipment for his favorite sport, hockey, led him to a very specific degree path.

In college, Ryan studied composite materials engineering at Winona State University. This degree would be necessary in order to design hockey sticks and other hockey gear. Nearing the end of his degree, he realized that all hockey manufacturers were located outside of the US and he did not want to live internationally. With his internship and job experience during his undergraduate career, Ryan eventually found a position with John Deere in their plastics engineering development program. His design rotation includes working on the next generation of tractors.

“At the point where I am at in my career, everything is going to be new,” Ryan said. “I have not directly used my sports equipment background in building combines or designing tractors but it is time and experience with plastics that is the important thing.”

During his design rotation, Ryan has been mentored by Jay Olson, materials engineering manager at John Deere. Ryan speaks highly of the hands-on training and learning opportunities Jay has recommended to the design rotation. Though relatively new to the industry, Ryan sees firsthand the opportunities available to him.

“The plastics industry is not the norm. I like being unique and having knowledge on things not everybody knows about. It is a specialized commodity and not many people have the experience. I think that is part of the joy - being able to add value where others normally aren’t able to.”

Through this learning curve, Ryan identified some of the challenges facing the plastics industry. He indicated that informing the general public about the benefits of plastic is a great way to begin to get more people to see the value of the material.

“Coming from a non-plastics background, I had no idea the complexity of the industry… I think the biggest challenge is: how do we bring plastics knowledge to the social consumer? How do we naturally bring value to them and organically educate them? How do we encourage the general public to be curious about the benefits of plastic?”

Ryan looks forward to continuing to learn and navigate his journey through the industry. For those interested in a career with plastics, Ryan advises that the plastics industry “gives you a lot of opportunities in places you might not expect if you are prepared to dig for them.”

The FLiP Files is a blog series spotlighting young professionals who are active in PLASTICS' Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP), a group for plastics professionals under the age of 40. For this FLiP File, we spoke with Ryan Erickson, a product design engineer at John Deere, about his experience working in the plastics industry. Interested in participating? Please contact Katie Hanczaryk at