To a layman and HR Department of most organizations, an extruder operator is a person who operates and maintains this rubber machinery. Period!
Is that it?
Depending upon your final product, rubber extrusion could be either a very important or the most critical manufacturing aspect of your operations. Thus the skills required for your extruder operator are paramount.
Extruded rubber products differ from those produced through moulding. In extrusion, parts are forced through a die of the required cross section under pressure of an rubber extruder. The extrusion process begins when you feed the unvulcanized rubber compound into the extruder. The rubber travels over the flutes of the revolving screw into the die, with the pressure and temperature increasing as the compound gets closer to the die. And when it reaches the die, the built up pressure forces the material through the die-opening, where it will consequently swell in various degrees based on your compound and hardness.
Most extruded products are unvulcanized before extrusion. This leaves the the rubber in a soft and pliable state post-extrusion. Hence they need to be vulcanized before they are they are rendered usable. During the vulcanization, the extruded rubber will swell or shrink in both its cross section and its length (again based on the type of rubber compound used).
Hence, the cost of errors or omissions could turn out to be very high when extruding rubber. You need a skilled operator.
Here are the skills required for an rubber extruder operator.
Monitoring and Control Of Operations – The most important skill of your extruder operator should be to have a keen eye for watching gauges, dials, or other indicators in the control panel to make sure the extruder is working properly. Your extruder operator should be able to adjust screw speed, set water flow to the required rate, operate temperature control unit (TCU) or the metal detector in cold feed extruders, observe the extrusion parameters and ensure adherence to SOP (temperature or die swell). He has to ensure that the extruder, dies and its allied downstream equipment are kept clean, safety features are functional, and all accessories are ready.
Quality Control Analysis – Conducting tests and inspections of products, services, or processes to evaluate quality or performance is a desirable basic skill that your operator should have. This could be as critical as preventing wastage (from scorch of your rubber extrudate) to as trivial as sending the sample to lab for testing.
Critical Thinking, Judgement and Decision Making – Operating a rubber extruder requires critical thinking skills because your operator should use logic and reasoning to identify alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems he faces while extruder is in operation. There could be many problems while extruding rubber like die-swell, melt fracture, or poor appearance amongst others. While all of them may not be extrusion related, your operator should be able to judge the gravity of the error and also decide what to do about it – whether to fine tune the extruder operating parameters, or escalate to supervisor or raise a service visit request of the manufacturer’s engineer.
Troubleshooting, Repairing & Maintenance – Your operator is the first point of contact with your extruder in operation. Hence, he should have the experience or knowledge on extruders to determine the causes of any operating errors when they occur. Performing routine maintenance and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed is an important skill that your operator should posses. He should be able to use the required tools to both repair and assist repair of your extruders when needed in the most urgent manner.
Complex Problem Solving – As a addendum to the above skill, your operator should develop skills to identify and solve complex problems when they occur at site and support maintenance department effectively over a period of time. This will reduce the downtime of your extruder and ensure maximum availability at site.
Speaking – Your operator should be able to talk to you (or his supervisor) to convey information effectively be it to report data/problems/incidents as applicable in a timely manner.
Reading Comprehension – Extruders have an operating and maintenance manual supplied by the manufacturer. This is a crucial document that requires a reading by your operator for his safety, training as well as equipment safety. Again your extrusion process would have specific work related instructions or SOP. Your operator should be able to understand written sentences and paragraphs in these documents. Hence, reading skills is very important for a successful operator. It is not necessary (while it is preferred) that they read English, because you could translate these documents to your operator’s local language for ease of reading.
Active Learning – Your operator should display active learning skills. This is because, the sophistication of the rubber extrusion machinery has risen over the years. Automation and new controls might get introduced or new parameters of extrusion could be introduced further too – all of which he might have to learn or get trained in.
Summarizing, your rubber extruder operator needs high level of skills to give you maximum output. Hence, its wise that either you hire a skilled operator or train your operator to upgrade his skills. Your extruder operator must stay up-to-date on current and developing technologies and techniques. He must also have a solid understanding of safety techniques and practices.
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