It seems that plastic is always on Mollie Hoffman’s mind, in one way or another. “At my last job, we primarily made drink cups,” she recalled. “So, whenever we would go out, we’d always check to see if the restaurant was using our cups! It’s become a habit now to analyze the plastic packaging I’m buying to determine how it was made and what company made it.”
A life surrounded by plastics is exactly what Mollie was trained for. “I have a bachelor’s degree in Materials Engineering with a specialization in Polymers and minor in Sustainability from Iowa State University,” she said. “This past spring, I completed a master’s program in Manufacturing Engineering at Western Michigan University. So, you could say I signed myself up from the very start for a career in plastics.”
Today, Mollie is a process engineer with Placon Corporation, maker of thermoforms and injection-molded plastic packaging for the food, retail, and medical industries. The Elkhart, Indiana, plant Mollie works in does thermoform medical packaging. Her focus is on improving the manufacturing process and developing protocols for trialing new product designs.
“I have always been interested in how things are made,” Mollie said. “I love working in a place where I get to see something go from raw material to final product. There are so many innovative ideas out there on how to improve the production and sustainability of plastics.”
Like so many in the plastics industry, Mollie has benefitted from the mentorship of more seasoned pros. “At my first job out of college, one of the engineering managers was my mentor and later my manager. He had been at the company for nearly 20 years and was a great resource,” she said. “He also included me in a number of diverse projects so I could gain experience in not just processing, but also quality, design, new product development, tooling, and maintenance.”
Still having that passion for learning, Mollie is now taking advantage of the professional development opportunities offered by Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP), a committee inside PLASTICS that focuses on the needs of plastics professionals under the age of 40. “I especially love the book club,” she said. “I really enjoy reading leadership books and the club gives me an opportunity to discuss those books and relate them to my career in the plastics industry.”
Mollie sees FLiP as yet another benefit provided by a company she loves working for. “FLiP is an opportunity to build connections with people that I most likely will cross paths with throughout my career in the plastic industry,” she pointed out. “I also believe it is an amazing opportunity to help build the future leadership of the plastics industry by offering mentoring and seminars to young professionals.”
First signing on with FLiP a couple of years, Mollie has only recently become an active participant (finishing her master’s degree opened up some time on her calendar). Not someone to do things in half measures, Mollie has now stepped up to become the chair of FLiP’s Engagement Task Group, where she hopes to spread the word about FLiP, help increase participation in FLiP events, and get more FLiP members interested in attending PLASTICS conferences.
As for young people not yet in the plastics industry and looking for career opportunities, Mollie says, “Plastics are everywhere and can be found in nearly every industry,” she said.” There is just so much potential for innovation—biomedical, automotive, packaging, additive manufacturing, recycling and sustainability. We need more people to work on improving plastics not trying to stop plastics”
Like so many of her generation, Mollie is particularly conscious of a responsibility toward the environment. And she doesn’t see why addressing environmental concerns has to be adversarial. “Plastics offer so many opportunities and benefits. They are not going away anytime soon,” she said. “But plastic pollution also needs to be solved. Innovations in recycling and sustainability needs to be a joint effort between plastic suppliers, processors, consumers, and municipalities.”
When Mollie isn’t seeking new ways to make a difference with plastics, she and her husband, Matthew, love working on their ABS. No, not “abs,” as in core training. “ABS” as in “acrylonitrile butadiene styrene”—the plastic used to make Lego parts.
“We love Lego,” Mollie said. “We have thousands of them, mostly Star Wars and Harry Potter sets!”
PLASTICS and the Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP) Committee are devoted to supporting and encouraging the next generation of plastics leaders who will play a crucial role in the innovation, technology and future of the plastics industry. FLiP’s mission is to provide young professionals under the age of 40 the exposure, education and resources they need to build lifelong careers in plastics. Want to join? Want to get your employees involved? Email: [email protected]