Conference on developments in desalination technology
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Plastics processing firm AGRU is one of the few Austrian businesses to have enjoyed 70 years of success around the world. With its headquarters in Austria and production facilities in the United States, Germany, Poland and China, AGRU is a true global player, generating more than 90% of its sales volume in foreign markets. The constantly increasing expectations of international customers can only be met by skilled professionals who have been highly trained for the job. AGRU is stepping up to this challenge by opening a state-of-the-art training workshop, a unique chapter in the company’s history to date.
Plant 1 is where the success story began for the plastics business from Bad Hall, Austria. And this year, the same location was used for a new building development featuring an exciting architectural design. While the ground floor provides space for production machinery, the entire 860m² (more than 9,200 sq. ft.) of upper floor space is reserved for AGRU’s training workshop. Behind the corrugated concrete façade, a whole world of high-tech plastics and building engineering awaits. Ten apprentices are set to spend the first two years of their apprenticeship in this designated area. It is only once they reach the third year of their training that each apprentice will decide which production division to move into and apply their individual skills.
To ensure a feel-good factor, the training workshop is illuminated by an abundance of daylight. Both the kitchen and the spacious lounge area are flooded with natural light. The young trainees can head there during breaks to relax, play table football, watch TV or enjoy some refreshments and let their creativity run free. The learning spaces also have floor-to-ceiling windows, providing daylight that helps to increase concentration levels. And those needing a breath of fresh air can wander over to the comfortable outdoor area. Training workshop director Michael Binder personally supports every apprentice throughout the process. As a qualified apprentice trainer, he knows how to impart the knowledge young people need for their vocational training in an interesting and engaging way. Detailed training curricula ensure that the apprentices are well-prepared for the challenges they will face in their professional lives.
At AGRU, understanding and mastering production technology – for extrusion, injection moulding and machining applications – is the name of the game. For this reason, there are six injection moulding machines installed in the training workshop with a maximum clamping force of 200t. The apprentices can also work on a sheet extruder, which can handle sheets up to 650mm wide and 15mm thick. As far as machining goes, the location is home to two lathes, a 3-axis and a 5-axis milling machine, and ergonomic workbenches. Needless to say, there are also computer workstations available for training purposes.
Experience and know-how are the most important assets for a company, as they cannot be copied. And this is where AGRU can draw on its wealth of experience dating back over 70 years. This knowledge will be directly transmitted to the apprentices. The professions in which AGRU trains young people span the entire value chain. Firstly, this includes the jobs directly related to the transformation of raw materials, such as plastic forming specialists, whose work mainly involves processing engineering plastics on injection moulding machines or extrusion lines. Plastics engineers deal with the wide range of possible applications, as well as different customer needs, markets and competitors. In the first year of an apprenticeship, the focus for both career tracks is on acquiring basic skills in materials processing. This will later be followed by more complex tasks such as quality management, mechanics knowledge, electrical engineering, electronics, pneumatics, hydraulics, as well as individual knowledge and skills for the relevant profession.
The machines require special tools made of metal to process the raw material. And anyone looking to build and maintain these tools requires a great deal of know-how. AGRU apprentice trainers are armed with this knowledge, allowing them to train young people as metal technology specialists in the Toolmaking Technology and Machining modules. Moreover, manufacturing materials and machines constantly need to be procured for ongoing production processes. The products are then ultimately sold and delivered to customers based all over the world. AGRU needs highly efficient and fully-trained office and logistics staff for these activities, which can be pursued via the In-House Logistics Services Clerk and Office Assistant apprenticeship pathways.
Alois Gruber Jr., now AGRU’s managing director, is proud of his apprentice training: “Many of our apprentices take advantage of the opportunity to top their apprentice training off with the Matura (Austria’s school-leaving examination). That way, all doors are open to them in their future lives. For this dual vocational training, we partner with the KTLA (Krems Valley Technical Training Academy), which combines apprenticeships with a Matura as part of a technical college course. In addition, the hope is for every apprentice to learn that commitment and performance pay off at AGRU. Not only do we offer a hiring guarantee once vocational training has been completed; we also reward success and naturally take those who achieve it into account when making appointments to key positions in the company later on. Some of our best senior managers started out as AGRU apprentices. We value people who have got to know the company from the ground up and can offer them great opportunities for career development. And to make sure that we do not fall short on the social side, we regularly organise events such as employee appreciation days and ski days.”
The first-class training in AGRU’s ultra-modern apprentice workshop has deep roots. Throughout its history, AGRU has been a technology pioneer and was one of the first companies in Austria to introduce the computer more than 40 years ago. And to this day, The Plastics Experts are innovation leaders who work with the very latest manufacturing technology – a feat AGRU manages to accomplish by reinvesting company profits in its plants. Along with the Bad Hall site, facilities in the United States and China have been expanded in recent years. In 2016, AGRU opened one of Europe’s most advanced cleanroom plants in Bad Hall. In the United States, a completely new location was established near the coastline to enable the manufacture and shipping of the world’s largest fully pressure-resistant HDPE piping systems. For particularly capable AGRU apprentices, the world is their oyster. Outstanding achievements are rewarded with a three-month spell abroad in the USA or China, giving the apprentices intercultural experience enjoyed by few others of their age. Trained and skilled workers will always have the option to seek a new challenge at one of AGRU’s subsidiaries in Germany, Poland, China or the USA. Given these opportunities, young people looking to explore a wide range of experiences are in ideal hands at AGRU.