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Article: Plastics and Polymers


This article covers the following jobs:

  • Plastics Processing Machine Operator
  • Plastics Processing Machine Setter
  • Polymer Technician
  • Polymer Technologist.

The job descriptions are only a brief summary. It is recommended that you do further research on jobs that interest you.

Video: - Various: Plastics and Polymers

Research and development

Research and development involves:

  • Looking for new, cheaper manufacturing methods.
  • Finding ways to improve materials and products that are already made.
  • Finding ways to make completely new products that no other company makes.

Polymer Technologist

Polymers are things such as plastics, rubber and foam. Polymer technologists use their knowledge of them to develop new and improved polymers. Research work is carried out mainly in the laboratory.

Polymer technologists decide which experiments need to be carried out, and supervise the work of laboratory staff. They write reports on the work that is carried out.

When a new or improved polymer has been produced, technologists develop the polymer into a product that their company can sell. This means working out ways in which it can be made on a large scale at a reasonable cost.

When production starts, polymer technologists are responsible for making sure that the product is of a good quality. They may supervise polymer technicians who usually do the actual quality testing.

To become a polymer technologist, you usually need to complete a relevant degree, foundation degree, HND or HNC. Courses linked to materials technology are useful.


After a new or improved product has been developed that can be produced on a large scale at a reasonable price, it goes into production.

Production involves setting up and operating the equipment that will make the product, solving any problems that occur during production, and making sure that the product is of good quality.

Plastics Processing Machine Setter

Machine setters are technicians who specialise in 'condition setting' for plastics processing. This means that they set up the conditions for machines to run efficiently to process plastics for each job.

Setters program the machines using a keyboard and visual display unit (VDU). They set temperatures, quantities, machine speed and specifications for the product. Setters involved in plastics moulding mount the required moulds onto the machines.

Machine setters also ensure the quality of finished products. They identify causes of faults and correct them. They may use a range of measuring equipment and graphs, so that condition settings can be adjusted.

Setters are often responsible for loading machines with raw materials and ensuring the correct blends of colour and additives. In some companies, setters operate the machines.

Employers may prefer candidates to have some GCSEs (or equivalent) at grade C or above. English, Maths and Science are useful subjects.

Some people enter via an Intermediate Level Apprenticeship in Polymer Processing Operations.

Polymer Technician

Polymer technicians work in companies that produce and process polymers (plastics or rubber). Technicians working in the production department supervise the work of machine operators and solve any technical problems that arise on the production line.

They check the quality of the chemicals that are used to make or process the polymer. They also test the quality of the finished product - such as its strength or flexibility - using specialist equipment.

Some polymer technicians are involved in development work under the supervision of polymer technologists. This means that they test new products to see if they can go into production.

To become a polymer technician, you will need some GCSEs (or equivalent) at grade C or above. English, Maths and Science are useful subjects.

Some people come into this career following an Intermediate Level or Advanced Level Apprenticeship in Polymer Processing Operations.

Plastics Processing Machine Operator

Machine operators monitor the specialised machinery that is used to manufacture products within the plastics processing industry.

Operators might be responsible for a number of machines. They keep watch over the processing and may check that the machines are operating according to the machine 'production sheet'. Monitoring can involve checking gauges - for pressure, temperature, speed and so on.

Machine operators check the products for things like cracks or burn marks, and reject faulty items. They may also check the size, weight and colour of products.

Safety checks are an important part of the work. Operators are trained to be able to close down machines safely if an emergency occurs, for example if a pipe comes off the machine.

You do not usually need qualifications to enter this type of work.

Some people enter via an Intermediate Level Apprenticeship in Polymer Processing Operations.

Further Information

Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3)

Address: 1 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5DB

Tel: 020 7451 7300


British Plastics Federation

Address: BPF House, 6 Bath Place, Rivington Street, London EC2A 3JE

Tel: 020 7457 5000



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