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All in the Blue Collar Family: Auto Mechanic

We make the rubber that goes on the tires that get put onto cars. Automotive mechanics are the people responsible for making sure those tires are properly installed and taken care of. But they also do so much more than that. These specialized technicians provide critical services that help us keep our world moving (literally) every single day.

According to Forbes, 91.7% of US households had at least one vehicle in 2022, and a total of 278,870,463 vehicles were registered to drivers. But as critical as cars are for getting to work, school, and other day-to-day tasks, the majority of Americans are not able to fix many issues that may arise with their cars by themselves.

This is where auto mechanics come in. These skilled tradespeople provide the essential service of keeping our vehicles in good condition to stay on the road.

History of Automotive Service

When cars first came onto the market, routine care and repairs were largely left up to the owners since there was not yet an established industry for vehicle service. However, because they were so new, most people did not have the proper knowledge and skills to perform necessary maintenance, and only the wealthy were able to afford finding and hiring car makers and drivers who could do it for them. As more and more of these individuals were able to earn an income for performing vehicle service, it soon morphed into an established and valuable trade.

After several decades, cars became more standardized and less expensive, and therefore more common, leading dealerships and private businesses to offer more accessible and affordable mechanic services. Since then, vehicles have become increasingly complex, now requiring even higher levels of knowledge about new technologies and industry standards.

The Role of Auto Mechanics

Automotive mechanics have advanced knowledge of vehicle parts and operations, as well as how to evaluate, maintain, and repair them. Using a variety of specialized tools and techniques, they perform service tasks on cars, trucks, and other vehicles to fix any issues and keep them in prime operating condition. They may work in a variety of settings, such as independent repair shops, dealerships, or commercial automotive service centers, and specialize in a range of areas to work on different parts and types of vehicles.

What Auto Mechanics Do

The jobs of auto mechanics can vary depending on the kinds of vehicles they work on, as well as the type of shop. Some of their most common responsibilities include:

  1. Inspections: Whether part of routine maintenance or diagnosing an issue when a car comes in for service, mechanics are responsible for looking over the different parts of a car to identify any potential problems. This may include evaluating the condition of the engine and other mechanical components as well as the computer and other electronic systems.
  1. Routine Maintenance: To keep vehicles in optimal condition and stay ahead of any potential issues, mechanics conduct routine maintenance such as rotating tires, changing oil, lubricating parts, filling up fluids, and swapping out filters.
  1. Repairs: When issues arise, mechanics are in charge of fixing vehicle systems as necessary based on their evaluation and developed work plans. This may include replacing or repairing parts such as brake pads, sensors, bearings, hoses, or just about any other components.
  1. Customer Relations: When customers bring their cars in for service, mechanics must be able to effectively explain their findings and suggestions for optimal solutions, including time and cost estimates. They should also keep detailed records of the work that was completed for future reference.
  1. Updates: As the industry continues to develop, mechanics need to stay abreast of new technologies, repair techniques, and safety regulations. They should continue learning throughout their career so they have adequate skills to work with newer vehicles and perform their jobs more efficiently.

Becoming an Auto Mechanic

The first and most important qualification for becoming an auto mechanic is having an interest and at least some background knowledge of cars. The professional learning process then typically involves:

  1. Basic Education: To begin training as an auto mechanic, it is generally required to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Strong math, science, and reasoning skills, as well as previously spending time in auto shops tend to be helpful when starting out.
  1. Trade-Specific Education: Because of the complexity of working with cars, additional coursework is typically required, which can be completed in a variety of settings such as trade schools, community colleges, or even the military. These classes typically teach topics such as mathematics, electronics, and auto repair.
  1. Apprenticeship: In addition to classroom learning, hands-on training is crucial for gaining experience with the necessary tools and techniques under an experienced mechanic. Apprenticeships are often available in connection with educational programs or even dealerships.
  1. Certification: To begin working as a professional mechanic, certification from the National Institution for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is required. Entry-level certification is earned by passing an exam covering eight main areas, including breaks, engine repair, and all major systems.  
  1. Additional Qualifications: After becoming a certified professional, mechanics can go on to earn additional certifications in specialized areas such as air conditioning, diesel engines, or electric vehicles. There are also options to learn and grow into other related jobs such as auto body technician, aircraft mechanic, or heavy machinery mechanic.

With the necessity of automotives to operate in our modern society, mechanics are essential to the maintenance of our entire transportation system. As vehicles continue to become more complex and require advanced knowledge to maintain, the services of these tradespeople will become even more valuable.

To learn about other jobs in the blue-collar family, check out these articles about plumbers, electricians, and welders.

For more articles From the Plant, check out our blog.

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All in the Blue Collar Family: Plasterer

Have you ever stared at your ceiling and thought you saw a silly face or maybe even a lopsided ice cream cone? While those vague images might not have been created intentionally, they were the work of a plasterer. In addition to adding decorative textures to our walls, these skilled tradespeople are responsible for sealing them for proper functionality – features no house or building would be complete without.

The art of plastering has existed as long as humans have needed permanent protective shelters. Early builders used earthen materials like clay, sand, and straw that were applied to walls and hardened by the sun. Today, plasterers use a wide variety of materials and techniques to strengthen and enhance the walls of our homes—a critical job that requires a combination of technical and artistic skills.

History of Plastering

Some of the earliest examples of plastering date back to around 7500 BC, when the walls and floors of dwellings were made from mud and marble. In the centuries following, it is believed that ancient Egyptians began using lime and gypsum to coat their pyramids, palaces, and tombs, which can still be seen today. Then, as Greek and Roman societies further developed the practice, more decorative applications arose, such as creating sculptures and architectural features.

As time went on, plaster continued to prove useful as both an essential building material and an artistic medium. Native American societies utilized dense clay to create structures that were highly energy-efficient and climate-controlled, and many European castles and cathedrals were adorned with ornamental plaster ceilings. Over the past several centuries, plastering has evolved along with science and technology, leading to the creation of advanced tools and machinery that streamline mixing and application processes, as well as new ingredients and formulations that enhance durability and appearance.

The Role of Plasterers

Within the process of constructing new walls and ceilings, plasterers are responsible for adding the finishing touches before painting begins. Generally, they mix and apply a layer of plaster to seal the walls, protecting them from atmospheric effects like moisture and providing added functionality like fire and soundproofing. They are also responsible for creating the final texture of walls, which can have a decorative effect on the finished product.

What Plasterers Do

While their jobs may seem pretty straightforward, being a successful plasterer involves utilizing significant technical expertise and creativity. Their work generally involves:

1. Surface Preparation: Plasterers must meticulously prepare surfaces to ensure they are clean and have the proper texture to receive the plaster. This may include leveling out uneven walls, removing rough particles, or even scratching up ceilings if they are too smooth.

2. Mixing Plaster: Depending on the desired result, plasterers will mix a specific combination of water and a dry powder such as cement, gypsum, or lime to form a spreadable paste. Applying knowledge of different material properties is critical for proper adhesion and texture.

3. Applying Plaster: Plasterers’ main job is to apply plaster to interior walls and ceilings or exterior walls to seal them. They typically use equipment such as trowels, brushes, and sprayers to create a finished look and protect the walls from the elements.

4. Decorative Finishes: While some projects require smooth finishes, adding intricate patterns or textures with plaster can enhance the visual appeal of interiors. Plasterers can create intricate designs, such as crown moldings and cornices using specialized tools and techniques.

5. Repair and Restoration: In addition to new constructions, plasterers may also repair aging and broken plaster walls and fixtures. This may include filling holes or cracks in walls, restoring decorative molding, or adding new finishing coats for protection.

Becoming a Plasterer

The main requirements for becoming a plasterer generally involve basic competencies in reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as physical stamina and artistic skills. Some of the typical steps to becoming a plasterer include:

1. Education: In addition to math and English, taking shop or building-related classes in high school will create a strong foundation for an aspiring plasterer. While not always necessary, earning an associate’s degree in construction or plastering at a college or vocational school can also be beneficial.

2. Apprenticeship: The most critical learnings take place during an apprenticeship, where they work alongside an experienced plasterer and become familiar with crucial skills like mixing plaster, applying plaster, and mounting plasterboard. Apprenticeships typically last two to four years and involve a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on work.

3. Certification: Some locations may require certification to legally practice as a professional plasterer. This generally involves taking a course through an organization such as The National Plastering Industry Association (NPIA) and passing a skills test.

4. Specialization: To diversify their market, plasterers often choose to specialize in areas like solid plastering, drywall finishing, or ornamental detailing. This allows them to use different techniques and materials and work on a greater variety of projects, such as historic restorations and others with special requirements.

5. Continuous Learning: Staying abreast of new materials, techniques, and safety protocols is crucial, especially when it comes to working on new builds. Professional plasterers should continue to develop their knowledge and skills, which may be accomplished by reading trade publications, attending workshops, and networking with others in the industry.

Plastering is a fusion of craftsmanship and tradition that has shaped the architectural landscape for centuries. It has maintained its importance in the construction trade and continues to be reminiscent of its roots, using similar tools, techniques, and materials to protect and decorate the structures we live in every day.

To learn about other jobs in the blue-collar family, check out these articles about plumbers, electricians, and welders.

For more articles From the Plant, check out our blog.


All in the Blue Collar Family: Carpenter

A trade indispensable to the creation of our homes, businesses, and towns, carpentry is a profession that has provided the foundation for our daily living spaces for millennia. Carpenters are skilled craftsmen who frame our houses, make our furniture, and restore our buildings, using their expertise to construct and maintain the essential structures all around us.

The term “carpenter” originates from the Latin “carpentarius”, meaning wagon or carriage-maker – an individual highly skilled at complex woodworking and construction. As we define them today, carpenters build much more than wagons, but the basis of their craft is the same, as they are the experts in creating and repairing structures and objects we use on a daily basis, especially those traditionally made from wood.

History of Carpentry

Seemingly one of the oldest trades in existence, carpentry has been an essential skill since around 8000 BCE, when humans first began establishing communities and needed to build more permanent shelters. Over the next several thousand years, the craft continued to evolve, seeing the introduction of more specialized tools and techniques and the ability to work with additional types of wood. Ancient Egyptian and Greek societies were especially adept at creating precise, complex structures such as ships, pyramids, and temples.

One of the most significant eras of advancement for carpentry started during the Industrial Revolution, when nails and other fasteners started to be mass-produced instead of hand-made, and tools such as saws, planers, and steam engines greatly increased speed and efficiency. Today, carpenters have access to even more sophisticated equipment such as power tools, heavy-duty machines, and computer software that have expanded their capabilities for design and construction using a wide variety of materials.

The Role of Carpenters

The main jobs of carpenters involve constructing, repairing, and installing different kinds of structures that are typically made from wood but sometimes other materials. Carpenters can be involved in a variety of projects during the construction of new buildings and renovations from installing frameworks like walls and floors, performing finishing work like baseboards and varnishes, and fitting interiors like cupboards and doors. They may also perform jobs in other settings, such as transportation infrastructure, film and theatrical sets, and furniture construction.

What Carpenters Do

The tasks undertaken by carpenters effectively combine functionality with artistry. They measure, cut, shape, and assemble wood with precision, transforming it into structures that form the backbone of our infrastructure. Some of their typical jobs include:

  1. Framing: Carpenters are responsible for constructing the skeletal structure of buildings, which often includes laying out flooring, putting up walls, and installing roofing.
  1. Finishing: Once the main structure of a building is complete, carpenters then add the final touches, like trim, staircases, and doors.
  1. Cabinetry: In addition to fitting permanent elements into a home, carpenters sometimes also craft furniture such as tables, chairs, and cabinets, especially when they need to adhere to specific dimensions.
  1. Restoration: Many carpenters not only have knowledge of how to construct structures, but also how to fix them, allowing them to repair items such as broken window frames, crumbling walls, or worn-out flooring, or breathe new life into old, run-down buildings.
  1. Consulting: Carpenters can use their expertise to give advice to clients on how to best complete a construction project, which may involve designing items, interpreting blueprints, or evaluating processes for optimal efficiency.

Becoming a Carpenter

Learning the carpentry trade requires little formal education but involves a strong commitment to hands-on training. Here is a common path taken by aspiring carpenters:

  1. Education: Most apprenticeships require at least a high school diploma or GED. While continued formal education isn’t mandatory, pursuing vocational programs and trade-specific classes teaches important techniques and terminology.
  1. Apprenticeship: The majority of necessary skills are obtained during an apprenticeship, which is typically offered by commercial and industrial employers or construction unions and lasts three to four years. Learning the ropes under the guidance of seasoned carpenters provides practical insights into the craft.
  1. Skill Development: After earning journeyman status following the completion of an apprenticeship, many carpenters continue to gain experience through additional training and education. This may include learning about advanced mathematics, blueprint reading, and framing.
  1. Certification and Licensure: Earning certifications, such as those offered by carpentry associations, can enhance credibility and job prospects. Some states also require contracting licenses to work on larger-scale projects and to become master carpenters.
  1. Specialization: To set themselves apart, some carpenters choose a niche, such as residential, commercial, or industrial carpentry. They may also further refine their expertise in skills such as in renovation, infrastructure, or cabinetry for additional marketability and improved reputation.

The enduring nature of the carpentry trade is a testament to the everlasting value the craft has provided to society as a whole. Over thousands of years, carpenters have, quite literally, built the foundations of our living spaces – from homes and businesses to other critical infrastructure we use everyday. It is a profession that will continue to evolve with the needs of humans and a job that will be essential for the inevitable future.

To learn about other jobs in the blue-collar family, check out these articles about plumbers, electricians, and welders.

For more articles From the Plant, check out our blog.

Rubber Manufacturing

The Role of Rubber Manufacturers in Building a Circular Economy

Rubber, known for its durability and versatility, is a prime candidate for recycling and reuse. Rubber manufacturers actively contribute to a circular economy as end-of-life rubber products are transformed into raw materials for new production cycles. From recycled rubber mulch for playgrounds to eco-friendly flooring solutions, possibilities are expanding as manufacturers find innovative ways to reincorporate rubber into new applications.

As the sustainability of commercial production becomes more of a concern, rubber is stepping into the spotlight as a champion of the circular economy. This is being achieved by improving manufacturing processes and repurposing already-used rubber. These thoughtful approaches ensure that products have a second life, reducing the need for new raw materials and taking a step towards eco-consciousness in the industry.

Transforming Waste

In the not-so-distant past, worn-out rubber products would often find themselves relegated to landfills, further contributing to an overabundance of waste in our society. Today, manufacturers are at the forefront of a revolutionary shift, seeing the inherent value in used rubber and transforming it into a valuable resource through recycling.

To do this, they collaborate with other suppliers, customers, and recycling facilities to give used rubber products a new purpose. Through these partnerships, the industry can foster a more comprehensive and effective approach to closing the loop on rubber production.

Repurposing Rubber

Once considered a major environmental concern, old rubber is now a source of opportunity as rubber manufacturers pioneer recycling programs that reclaim the material from discarded tires and other products. The recycled rubber is used to create a myriad of products, from playground surfaces and athletic tracks to eco-friendly shoes.

Instead of ending up in vast junkyards, manufacturers are repurposing rubber through innovative recycling methods. Here are a few ways it is reused:

Eco-Friendly Footwear

Ever thought your shoes could have already hit the road in a different lifetime? Rubber manufacturers are reshaping the fashion landscape by incorporating recycled rubber from used tires and other products into footwear. Sneakers, sandals, and other shoe varieties crafted from upcycled rubber not only reduce waste but also showcase the versatility and durability of recycled materials, especially rubber.

Long-Lasting Landscapes

Your local playground or garden may have undergone a subtle yet impactful transformation thanks to recycled rubber mulch. Manufacturers are repurposing discarded rubber by shredding it, providing a safe and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional wood mulch. This innovative use both extends the life of rubber materials and provides a long-term, low-maintenance solution.

Durable Construction Materials

Rubber is no stranger to construction sites, but now it’s taking on a greener role. Recycled rubber is finding its way into projects through components such as roofing tiles, sealants, and accessibility ramps, contributing to more sustainable building practices. In these applications, rubber provides ample durability while reducing the demand for using new resources.

Hardy Sports Surfaces

Recycled rubber is hitting the fields and courts, providing surfaces that are not only high-performance but also environmentally-conscious. Whether it’s a rubberized running track or synthetic turf made from recycled materials, these surfaces support the athletic pursuits of communities by providing a heavy-duty playing field.

Consumers can become integral partners in closing the loop and promoting a more sustainable, circular economy by choosing items made from recycled rubber, from rubber-based fashion items to eco-friendly home accessories. Whether through product labeling, educational campaigns, or partnerships with retailers, the industry is empowering consumers to make environmentally conscious choices, further amplifying the impact of sustainability efforts.

Manufacturing Responsibly

To truly understand and enhance the sustainability of their products, rubber manufacturers are conducting comprehensive life-cycle assessments. This involves evaluating the environmental impact at every stage, from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal. By pinpointing areas for improvement, they can refine their processes and contribute to a more circular and sustainable economy.

As a result, rubber manufacturers are increasingly prioritizing sustainable sourcing practices, ensuring that the material they use is obtained in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. This not only safeguards ecosystems but also supports local communities dependent on rubber cultivation.

They are also investing in energy-efficient technologies and processes that minimize waste and reduce the environmental footprint of production. Cutting-edge innovations, such as lean manufacturing and closed-loop systems, enable these companies to optimize resources and increase overall efficiency.

The journey of rubber from discarded to repurposed products showcases the ingenuity of rubber manufacturers in embracing recycling as a cornerstone of a circular economy. As these practices become more widespread, the industry is witnessing a tangible shift towards increased sustainability and eco-consciousness.

For more rubber-related content (our specialty), check out Seven New Uses for Old Tires, Five Quick Facts About the Rubber Manufacturing Industry, and A Guide to Natural vs. Synthetic Rubber.

For more articles From the Plant, check out our blog.


All in the Blue Collar Family: Mason

Many of the world’s oldest structures still in existence have at least one thing in common – they are mostly made from some variation of stone. Masons have been harnessing the strength of this material for millenia, constructing beautiful and durable buildings, monuments, and infrastructure using their unique knowledge and skills.

When you look at iconic structures such as the Egyptian Pyramids, the Colosseum in Rome, the Taj Mahal in India, and the Great Wall of China that were first constructed thousands of years ago, you probably can’t help but wonder how they are possibly still standing strong after all this time.

Their impressive sturdiness is thanks to masonry, which combines the durability of some of nature’s toughest materials and the talents of skilled artisans to create some of the world’s longest-lasting structures.

History of Masonry

Thousands of years ago, as humans began settling into more permanent man-made shelters, they experimented with ways to build residences that were as protective and durable as the rare natural caves they sometimes lived in. Naturally, they first turned to using stone, strategically assembling piles into huts and developing some of the earliest stone masonry techniques. Soonthereafter, they started using clay mixed with straw and grass to create uniformly-shaped bricks that were initially baked in the sun, but eventually shifted to being fired in kilns to improve durability.

As building techniques continued to evolve, the art of masonry experienced a significant development with the invention of concrete by the Romans. By mixing cement made out of volcanic ash with water, lime, and stone fragments, they created a material that was faster and cheaper to make, and provided more flexibility in shapes, such as arches. Ever since, masonry has remained a valuable method of construction, as it offers unique aesthetic appeal with its colors, textures, and patterns, and also functional benefits such as sound control, fire resistance, and temperature regulation.

The Role of Masons

Masonry is generally considered to be the art of building different types of structures such as walls, sidewalks, and chimneys using brick, concrete, stone, or other similar materials. It is a skilled trade that requires knowledge of how to use proper tools and techniques to effectively arrange and bind pieces together for secure assembly.

What Masons Do

While all masons need to know the basics of reading blueprints, mixing and preparing materials, and using the proper tools, there are a variety of types of projects one may work on. A few common jobs masons perform are:

  1. Building Construction: A classic application for masonry work is in the construction of both residential and commercial properties, as most start with a concrete foundation in the walls and floors. Masons may also be tasked with assembling other features such as brick exteriors or stone fireplaces.
  1. Essential Infrastructure: Masons are often responsible for constructing pieces of critical infrastructure such as bridges, tunnels, and retaining walls, which require significant expertise to ensure they can be used safely and will hold up over a long period of time.
  1. Concrete Finishing: Masons that specialize in cement may take on a variety of commercial and residential projects that involve meticulous finishing work. They use specific tools and techniques to pour, level, and create decorative effects on surfaces such as sidewalks, driveways, patios, and other concrete surfaces.
  1. Restoration and Renovation: Older and historic buildings and monuments sometimes need extra care and attention to maintain their appearance and structural integrity. Masons who work on these types of projects must be familiar with older materials, techniques, and architecture and have a strong attention to detail.
  1. Maintenance and Repairs: Over time, structures can begin to deteriorate, and require cleaning and repairs. Masons are often in charge of conducting inspections and performing maintenance such as removing dirt and stains, reinforcing joints and weak spots, and applying sealants and protective coatings.

Becoming a Mason

To learn the masonry trade, it typically takes about three to four years to complete the required training to be eligible to begin working independently. The path to becoming a professional mason often includes:

  1. Education: In general, the only requirements for beginning training are being at least 18 years old and having a high school diploma or equivalent. While no other formal education is usually necessary, a prospective mason may be asked to complete an aptitude test to ensure the trade is a good fit.
  1. Apprenticeship: The most significant step is completing an apprenticeship, which combines classroom instruction and hands-on training with an experienced mason. These programs are typically sponsored by an employer or union and include lessons about topics such as reading blueprints, construction math, and the history of the trade.
  1. Licensing and Certifications: In some states, masons may be required to have a license to work professionally, which might include passing an exam and providing references. More experienced masons sometimes also choose to earn additional certifications to enhance their reputation with customers by providing proof of their high levels of knowledge and experience.
  1. Beginning Work: Once an individual has achieved the necessary qualifications, they can begin working as a journeyman mason. They may sometimes continue with the employer from their apprenticeship or find new jobs through the union and other postings.
  1. Continued Experience: After a few years on the job, a mason can become a master tradesman once they have gained enough experience, allowing them to train apprentices. They may also choose to specialize in a specific type of work or start their own business.

An essential part of the construction trade, masonry has remained a vital component of building durable structures throughout the course of history. Masons use their unique knowledge and skills to build the lasting foundations of our society, and their work will continue to be around for many generations to come.

To learn about other jobs in the blue-collar family, check out these articles about plumbers, electricians, and welders.

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All in the Blue Collar Family: Plumber

The expertise of plumbers extends beyond fixing leaks and unclogging drains. They ensure the seamless flow of water and effectively remove waste from our homes and businesses, bringing comfort and sanitation to our daily lives. From water supply systems to gas lines and sewage disposal, plumbers are valuable guardians of our health and well-being.

The term “plumbing” is derived from the Latin “plumbus,” meaning “lead,” which is what some of the earliest pipes built by ancient Romans were made of. While lead is no longer used, having been replaced by materials such as copper and PVP, the systems of civilizations thousands of years ago remain an excellent representation of the significance the plumbing trade has had on society.

History of Plumbing

Some historians believe that plumbing can be traced back to at least 3000 BC in the Indus Valley and Babylonia, where evidence of wells and drains has been found. However, the most notable evidence of advanced plumbing systems is generally associated with ancient Rome, where intricate aqueducts and sewage systems transported water in and waste out of their cities, emphasizing cleanliness and health consciousness.

Fast forward to the 19th century, urbanization led to the widespread adoption of indoor plumbing in the industrialized world, transforming the plumber’s role into a vital component of modern society and significantly enhancing overall comfort and sanitation. As the industry has developed, new technologies and regulations have continued to improve the operation of fixtures and ensure the safety of the individuals who utilize water and waste systems.

The Role of Plumbers

Plumbers today are responsible for designing, building, and maintaining pipe fixtures, typically in residential and commercial buildings. Their work involves directing water, and sometimes gas, to and from facilities through complex systems, ensuring the proper function of appliances like showers, sinks, and toilets. They are called to install new piping and perform repairs as needed.

What Plumbers Do

Plumbers are crucial in safeguarding public health by ensuring access to clean water and proper waste disposal. Some of their typical responsibilities include:

  1. Installation of Plumbing Systems: Plumbers are responsible for accurately installing and connecting piping systems for water supply, heating, and sewage disposal in residential, commercial, and industrial settings.
  1. Following Blueprints and Specifications: Plumbers must interpret architectural plans and specifications while working closely with architects, contractors, and other construction professionals to ensure that plumbing systems are designed and installed according to the project’s requirements.
  1. Diagnosing and Repairing Plumbing Issues: Plumbers identify and troubleshoot problems such as leaks, clogs, or malfunctions in plumbing systems, employing their expertise to provide effective and lasting solutions.
  1. Ensuring Compliance with Codes and Regulations: Plumbers adhere to local and national plumbing codes and regulations, ensuring that their work meets safety and quality standards set by governing authorities.
  1. Maintenance of Plumbing Systems: Plumbers are responsible for the inspection and maintenance of plumbing systems, including cleaning and adjusting, as well as communicating with clients to offer guidance on proper usage, thus preventing potential issues and extending the lifespan of installations.

Becoming a Plumber

Becoming a plumber is a journey that combines practical skills, technical knowledge, and a commitment to providing excellent service. The process of becoming a plumber generally involves:

  1. Education: Before becoming an apprentice, an aspiring plumber must be 18 and have a high school diploma or equivalent. They must then apply for a plumbing apprentice license, which they typically become eligible for by being accepted into an apprenticeship position.
  1. Apprenticeship: The next step involves learning the ropes under the guidance of experienced mentors, often by watching a journeyman or master plumber. At the same time, they work and perform simple tasks such as cleaning and organizing tools.
  1. Licensing: To practice independently and perform more complicated tasks, plumbers must receive a “journeyman” plumbing license. This commonly requires at least four years of experience in an apprenticeship role and passing a state board exam.
  1. Continuous Learning: Becoming a “master plumber” similarly requires at least two years of experience as a journeyman plumber and passing an exam. Some states may also require proof of knowledge in specific areas of plumbing, such as irrigation or high-rise residential systems. Once a master plumber earns their license, they can open their own plumbing business and hire junior staff.
  1. Specialization: Advanced plumbers may choose to focus on residential, commercial, or industrial projects or specialize in areas such as pipefitting, steamfitting, or even green plumbing, which emphasizes sustainable and eco-friendly practices.

Plumbing is a dynamic and essential profession that has evolved over centuries to meet the ever-changing needs of society and remains integral to our health, safety, and the sustainability of our communities. And, as long as humans continue to use water and produce waste, it will continue to be a valuable trade for the inevitable future.

For more about blue-collar jobs, check out The Beauty Behind Blue Collar Work, All in the Blue Collar Family: Welder, and All in the Blue Collar Family: Electrician.

For more articles From the Plant, check out our blog.


A Guide to Natural vs. Synthetic Rubber

While you probably use products just about every day that include rubber, you might not have realized that different kinds come from different sources. Natural and synthetic rubbers each have their unique properties based on how they are processed and are both useful for different applications.

Rubber, the versatile material that bounces, stretches, and provides grip, is essential to our daily lives. Whether it’s the tires on our cars or the bands that keep things together, rubber plays a crucial role. But did you know that not all rubber is created equally? There are two main types with different characteristics: natural rubber and synthetic rubber.

Natural Rubber

Sourcing and Production

Natural rubber, as the name suggests, is derived from natural sources – rubber trees, primarily the Hevea brasiliensis species. Some of the earliest evidence of its use is from Native Americans thousands of years ago, followed by the first major production efforts beginning in the 18th century. The manufacturing process begins with tapping the trees and collecting the sap, which contains latex.

The latex is then transported to a processing facility, where it is mixed with acid to induce coagulation. Additives such as carbon black and silica may also be included based on the specific properties desired. Once the clumps are formed, they are rolled into a flat sheet and dried. The rubber is then vulcanized, which involves heating the material with chemicals and creating cross-links between the polymer chains, thus improving strength, elasticity, and resistance to heat, chemicals, and wear.

Properties and Advantages

Natural rubber tends to be quite durable and resilient, with a unique set of chemical and physical traits. Some of its main properties include:

  1. Excellent Elasticity: Natural rubber offers exceptional stretchability and rebound. It can stretch many times its length and return to its original shape, making it ideal for applications that require strength and flexibility.
  1. Low Heat Generation: Natural rubber generates less heat during rolling and friction, contributing to better performance and longevity.
  1. Biodegradability: Natural rubber is biodegradable, which means it can break down naturally over time, reducing environmental impact.
  1. Cold Resistant: Natural rubber maintains flexibility in a wide range of temperatures and is resistant to breaking between -58 and 212 degrees F.
  1. High Durability: Natural rubber is impressively strong, and does not easily get cut, chipped, or torn. It is resistant to repeated stress, wear, and abrasion.

Uses and Applications

Natural rubber is widely used in a variety of industries. It’s favored in situations where high resilience and durability are required. A few of its main applications are:

  1. Tire Manufacturing: Because of its excellent elasticity, resilience, and low heat buildup during rolling, natural rubber is a vital component in tire manufacturing. It provides grip, durability, and the ability to absorb shocks, making it ideal for off-road automotive, construction, aerospace, and other applications that require the ability to withstand harsh conditions.
  1. Flooring: Its water and wear resistance make natural rubber an excellent option for flooring and fatigue mats in gyms, animal shelters, and commercial kitchens where padding and anti-slip surfaces are needed.
  1. Clothing: The flexibility, comfort, and waterproof qualities of natural rubber make it a preferred choice for the production of various types of footwear, including sneakers, rain boots, and flip-flops, as well as other types of clothing that require stretch, such as waistbands and wetsuits.
  1. Latex Products: Natural rubber latex can make gloves, balloons, pencil erasers, and paint. Its natural stretchiness and flexibility make it well-suited for products that require a significant amount of elasticity.
  1. Industrial and Mechanical Goods: Natural rubber is used to manufacture conveyor belts, gaskets, seals, hoses, and various industrial goods. Its resilience and durability are valuable in these applications.

Synthetic Rubber

Sourcing and Production

Synthetic rubber is a man-made creation, invented during WWII when the United States was cut off from international natural rubber supply lines and needed an effective alternative to continue manufacturing essential military supplies. It is produced through chemical processes by polymerizing various petrochemical compounds derived from crude oil and natural gas. The compounds undergo a chemical process known as polymerization, where individual molecules (monomers) are chemically bonded to form long chains or networks of polymer molecules.

Various additives, such as antioxidants, accelerators, and curing agents, are mixed with the polymer to enhance specific properties like heat resistance, durability, and curing characteristics. Fillers like carbon black or silica may also be added to improve strength and wear resistance. The rubber is then cured via vulcanization.

Properties and Advantages

The versatility of synthetic rubber lies in the ability to customize its properties. Some are designed for high-temperature resistance, while others prioritize oil resistance, chemical resistance, or flexibility. Some of the main advantages of this type of rubber include:

  1. Versatility: Different types of synthetic rubber can be formulated for particular properties, such as oil resistance, heat resistance, or chemical resistance, making it suitable for a wide range of industrial applications.
  1. Damage Resistance: Synthetic rubber is highly resistant to chemicals, oxidation, and abrasion. This means it does not deteriorate easily and has excellent longevity.
  1. Weather Resistance: Synthetic rubber can withstand extreme temperatures, especially high heat, and is not heavily affected by outdoor conditions such as sunlight, and ozone exposure, making it less susceptible to degradation.
  1. Adhesion: Some synthetic rubbers can bond well with other materials, allowing them to be used as adhesives and sealants to join various components. Varieties with a tacky surface are excellent for applications where grip is essential.
  1. Tear Resistance: Synthetic rubber can be stretched twice its length without deformity. It can handle significant stress and immediately return to its original shape and size without tearing or permanent damage.

Uses and Applications

Synthetic rubber offers a wide range of applications due to its versatility and ability to be tailored for specific purposes. It can have a variety of uses, such as:

  1. Tire Manufacturing: Synthetic rubber is a key component in passenger tire manufacturing. Different synthetic polymers are blended to achieve the desired balance of properties such as tread wear resistance, traction, and impermeability. 
  1. Automotive Components: It is also used in various other automotive components, including engine bearings, clutches, seals, and hoses. Synthetic rubber’s durability and resistance to automotive fluids make it ideal for these applications.
  1. Industrial Products: Synthetic rubber is used in cable installation, belts, gaskets, and rollers in machinery. Its resistance to abrasion, chemicals, and extreme temperatures makes it suitable for industrial use.
  1. Commercial Goods: From wearable items like hair ties, boots, and raincoats to household items such as dishwashing gloves, jar seals, and garden tools, synthetic rubber can be found in many items people use every day due to its impressive versatility.
  1. Medical and Laboratory Equipment: Due to its high durability and resistance to chemicals, synthetic rubber is excellent for lab flask corks, fatigue mats, and prosthetics. 

Outside of their functional properties and applications, one of the biggest deciding factors when choosing between natural and synthetic rubber is typically the cost. The latter often tends to be cheaper, which makes it the best option when price point is critical. However, this is not always the case, as both types are subject to fluctuations in market rates of necessary ingredients, which can change due to a variety of factors.

In the world of rubber manufacturing, natural and synthetic rubber have unique roles and advantages. Natural rubber shines in its eco-friendliness and exceptional elasticity, making it a top choice for tires and various consumer products. On the other hand, synthetic rubber offers versatility, allowing engineers to fine-tune properties for specific needs, whether heat resistance, chemical resistance, or durability. Together, both of these types of rubber keep our world rolling, bouncing, and gripping, meeting many significant industrial and consumer demands.

To learn about rubber mixing and weighing at American Phoenix, visit our services page. And for more rubber-related content (our specialty), check out 5 Quick Facts About the Rubber Manufacturing Industry and Seven New Uses for Old Tires.

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All in the Blue Collar Family: Electrician

Electricians have an incredibly valuable role in modern society, from ensuring our homes are comfortable and safe to bringing power to our industries and businesses. They are responsible for installing and maintaining the electrical systems necessary for the appliances we use each day, such as refrigerators, heaters, lights, and, perhaps most importantly, the outlets that charge our cell phones. Imagine life without all that!

Electricity, the invisible force that powers our modern lives, is a marvel we often take for granted. And behind every light that brightens our homes and every outlet that charges our devices stands a skilled electrician who has mastered the art of controlling electricity.

History of Electricians

Electricity is a natural force that has existed since the dawn of time. However, it wasn’t until the late 18th century that scientists began to study it truly. The efforts to understand the invisible power began when Benjamin Franklin (you know, the guy with the key and the kite) proved that lightning and electricity are the same thing. His experiments inspired other iconic figures such as Luigi Galvani, whose discoveries led to the voltaic pile, Alessandro Volta, the creator of the first electric batteries, and Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb.

Near the end of the 19th century, inventors began taking their electrically powered equipment to show off at significant exhibitions and world fairs, such as the 1889 Paris Exhibition and the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. During these events, electricians were hired to build and operate the inventions, sparking a significant increase in the prevalence of the profession. As electricity has continued to power more homes, cities, appliances, and other machines over the past few centuries, the need for skilled technicians has grown exponentially.

The Role of Electricians

Electricians are the architects of our electrical infrastructure. Their primary responsibility is to design, install, maintain, and repair electrical systems that power our homes and businesses. This encompasses many tasks, from wiring buildings and installing electrical panels to troubleshooting electrical issues and ensuring safety compliance. They have the crucial job of keeping the lights on, the heaters running, and the devices charging, and they are instrumental in nearly every aspect of our daily lives.

What Electricians Do

The role of electricians in society is nothing short of pivotal, and they perform a myriad of essential tasks, such as:

1. Installation: They set up electrical systems in new construction projects, ensuring that power flows safely and reliably throughout a building to areas such as electrical outlets, light fixtures, and ventilation systems.

2. Maintenance: Electricians conduct regular inspections and maintenance of systems to prevent electrical malfunctions and ensure safety.

3. Repair: When electrical systems falter, electricians diagnose the issue and implement the necessary repairs promptly.

4. Upgrades: As technology advances, electricians upgrade systems to meet modern energy efficiency standards and technological requirements.

5. Safety: Electricians are responsible for enforcing electrical safety codes to protect people and property from electrical hazards.

Becoming an Electrician

The journey to becoming a skilled electrician usually involves:

1. Education: Aspiring electricians typically start with a high school diploma and then enter a vocational or technical school to gain foundational knowledge.

2. Apprenticeships: Apprenticeships combine practical learning with on-the-job training under the supervision of experienced electricians.

3. Licensing: Most jurisdictions require electricians to obtain a license, which involves passing an exam to demonstrate their knowledge and competence. New electricians who have completed an apprenticeship and earned their license are called “journeymen.”

4. Continued Learning: To become a “master electrician,” an individual must practice for at least two years and pass an exam. Electricians must also stay updated with changes in electrical codes and emerging technologies through ongoing training and education.

5. Skills Development: Electricians continue developing their skills through real-world experience and may specialize in specific areas such as residential, commercial, or industrial work.

The journey from the experiments of early electrical pioneers to the indispensable professionals of today is a testament to electricians’ profound impact on our society. Their profession empowers us to harness the energy that fuels progress, ensuring that currents flow smoothly and safely through our everyday lives.

For more about blue-collar jobs, check out The Beauty Behind Blue-Collar Work, Top Seven Reasons to Work in Manufacturing, and All in the Blue Collar Family: Welder.

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All in the Blue Collar Family: Welder

Welders, the architects of metal fusion, are indispensable to the modern world. They wield their skills to forge connections that support our daily lives, crafting everything from towering skyscrapers to intricate art pieces. Often perceived as a modern marvel, welding carries a history nearly as old as human civilization itself. 

Welding is an ancient craft with a modern twist that plays a vital role in shaping our world. It’s more than just melting metals together – the alchemy that bonds structures, pipelines, and bridges. Here’s a look into the rich history of welding, how it works, and the indispensable role of welders in society.

History of Welding

Welding, in some form, dates back to about 3000 BC, when ancient Egyptians and Greeks used bronze to create boxes, jewelry, utensils, and weapons via pressure welding. By around 1500 BC, iron smelting became more common, and people in the Middle East began making swords and other tools using heat. Over the next several millennia, metals such as copper, silver, and gold also became popular. Then, in the Middle Ages, blacksmiths entered the scene and introduced a hammering method for forging iron tools.

Modern welding as we know it started taking shape in the 19th century with discoveries such as the ability to produce an arc between two carbon electrodes by Sir Humphry Davy and the hydrocarbon gas acetylene by his cousin, Edmund Davy. In 1881, Russian inventor Nikolai Benardos combined these findings and patented the arc welding process, marking a significant turning point in welding history. Today, there are over 100 welding processes, with more being constantly developed to fit the needs of various projects.

The Role of Welders

Welders are crucial when it comes to construction, infrastructure, and manufacturing. Their primary role is to permanently join metals, creating structures ranging from skyscrapers to pipelines to delicate art pieces. They ensure the strength and integrity of these structures, making the world around us safe and functional.

While there are many welding methods, they nearly all require the same three basic components: an electrical device that produces an arc, a protective shield, and filler material. The process involves generating intense heat to melt the edges of two metal pieces and allowing them to fuse when they cool. Precision and expertise are essential, as welders must meet specific standards and codes to guarantee the safety and quality of their work.

Welding in Various Industries

Welders are undoubtedly the backbone of numerous industries. Here are just a few:

  1. Construction: Residential and office buildings like apartments and skyscrapers, as well as other structures like bridges and tunnels, rely on welders to join steel beams, trusses, columns, and other elements to form solid foundations.
  1. Manufacturing: Welders create machinery, vehicles, and other equipment critical to producing goods.
  1. Infrastructure: Gas and oil pipelines, railways, and power plants depend on welders for maintenance and expansion.
  1. Automotive: Between assembly and repairs, vehicles such as cars, trucks, and motorbikes require thousands of welds to ensure they are put together properly and securely.
  1. Aerospace: Skilled welders are vital to building safe and operational aircraft, such as airplanes and helicopters, and spacecraft, such as rockets and satellites.
  1. Art: Welding can be a medium for artists to express their creativity and craftsmanship; metalwork is often used to create impressive sculptures.

Becoming a Welder

The path to becoming a skilled welder often involves:

  1. Education: At a basic level, most welding jobs require an associate’s degree from an accredited school. Many vocational schools and community colleges offer welding programs that cover techniques, metallurgy, safety procedures, blueprint reading, and other useful skills.
  1. Apprenticeships: Some aspiring welders choose apprenticeships, learning on the job under the guidance of experienced mentors.
  1. Certifications: Achieving industry-recognized certifications, such as those offered by the American Welding Society (AWS), can enhance career prospects.
  1. Experience: Gaining hands-on experience and developing a portfolio of work is crucial for advancement in the field.
  1. Continuous Learning: Welders must stay updated with evolving technologies and techniques to remain competitive in the job market.

Welders are modern-day alchemists, shaping our world through their craft, and their work bridges gaps, connects communities, and supports industries. In a world defined by progress and innovation, welders emerge as architects of connectivity, forging the future with sparks of skill and artistry.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy The Beauty Behind Blue Collar Work.

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Effects of the Industrial Revolution in Kansas

To round out our Industrial Revolution-themed “Tour de API Plants” series, we have Kansas. This centralized major agricultural state became a significant national manufacturing hub during this time via technological innovations, urbanization, and infrastructure development.

The effects of the Industrial Revolution in the United States reached far and wide, including the heartland state of Kansas. This transformative period had a profound impact on the Sunflower State, where agriculture met industry and manufacturing took root in the Great Plains.

Technological Advancements and Industrial Expansion

Known as the “Wheat State” and “Breadbasket of the World,” Kansas has a long history of being a prominent farming state. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, new technologies and machinery, such as steel plows, threshers, and mechanical reapers, allowed Kansas farmers to increase their productivity significantly. This led to the expansion of agriculture and the birth of large-scale commercial farming.

The state’s other abundant natural resources, including coal, lead, zinc, and salt, contributed significantly to its economic development. Mining for these and other mineral deposits became a top industry for the state, and companies began producing commercial products using these materials.

Technological advancements in manufacturing processes at the time quickly revolutionized production, and Kansas cities became hubs for manufacturing products such as stoves, washing machines, and other furniture. Factories began to sprout up, adopting mass-production techniques that made goods more accessible and affordable to consumers. This shift diversified the state’s economy, providing new opportunities for employment and growth beyond just the fields and mines.

Urbanized Transportation and Infrastructure Development

As Kansas became more industrialized, the need for improved infrastructure, including roads, railways, bridges, and utilities, became evident. Government and private investments were made to develop and modernize cities across the state, facilitating economic growth and urban expansion

The state’s strategic location in the country’s center made it a vital transportation hub. The construction of railroads facilitated the movement of goods and people, connecting rural communities to urban centers and linking Kansas to the broader national market.

As industries flourished and railroads crisscrossed the state, Kansas saw the rise of urban centers, and cities like Wichita, Topeka, and Kansas City experienced rapid growth as people flocked to these emerging industrial hubs in search of work and opportunity. Skyscrapers replaced silos, and bustling streets replaced quiet country lanes.

Workforce Growth and Workers’ Rights

As industries boomed, so did the need for a workforce, and the Industrial Revolution created new job opportunities in Kansas, particularly in the manufacturing, mining, and transportation sectors. Factories required a skilled workforce to operate machinery and perform various tasks, increasing labor demand. Jobs such as machinists, textile workers, and railroad employees became prevalent.

However, the growth of industrialization brought challenges for workers, including long hours, low wages, and often unsafe working conditions. In response, labor unions and workers’ rights movements gained momentum in Kansas, which advocated for better pay, fair treatment, and job security. Strikes and collective bargaining efforts became part of the struggle for workers’ rights, shaping the labor landscape for generations to come.

The effects of the Industrial Revolution in Kansas were transformative, forever shaping the state’s economy, society, and landscape. Today, as we look at the thriving manufacturing sector in the state, we can trace its roots back to the era when Kansas embraced industry and became an integral part of the nation’s industrial tapestry.

For more history lessons about the Industrial Revolution, check out these articles on Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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