Jim Hlebovy joined Grand River Rubber & Plastics in 2018 as a Quality Engineer, then the position evolved into a Process Engineer. He has worked in both Quality and Engineering. Jim said that as a child, he wanted to be a mechanic or someone who worked on equipment to fix it.
We are very happy to have Jim on our team and glad he’s doing that here at Grand River Rubber! We also appreciate his willingness to share some of his experiences here.
Please tell us about your education and career path on your way to Grand River Rubber.
I wanted to go into the skilled trades to work as an electrician or HVAC technician, but at the time adequate training facilities were not readily available. So I chose Mechanical Engineering. After receiving my BSAS in Mechanical Engineering Technology at Youngstown State University, I started my career as a Quality Engineer for a metal stamping company. The next step was a Manufacturing and Product Development Engineer for a composites manufacturer. I wanted another challenge so I went to a medical device OEM and worked as an R&D Development Engineer.
In order to spend more time with my young family, I left the corporate world to be a math and pre-engineering teacher at the high school level. When my children graduated from high school, I re-entered the corporate world working as a Development Engineer for a medical device company and then a ladder OEM. After a year the company gave me a choice: to move to Chicago with them or to find a new job in NE Ohio, which is when I started at Grand River Rubber.
Enjoying an evening at the beach
A process engineer’s goal, in general, is to transform raw materials into useful products, as defined by a customer’s specifications. The real-world translation covers a lot of ground. How do you describe your job to people who ask, ‘But what does a Process Engineer do?”
My job is to make equipment that reduces the physical impact on workers and at the same time increases their productivity. An example of that is high-speed gasket cutting technology and custom extrusion equipment that increases the throughput of the overall process while reducing stress and fatigue on employees.
What is some of the machinery that you use often?
A lot of my job is the design of the manufacturing machines. So, the “machine” that I use most often is computer-aided design software.
What materials do you enjoy working with the most, and why?
I’ve been around plastics my whole working career, so it’s something that I’ve enjoyed working with. The rubber used here at Grand River Rubber is very similar, with some different properties.
What are customers surprised to learn when you talk to them about their parts and/or projects? “Many people don’t realize how complex our manufacturing systems are and the amount of work that goes into producing a “simple” gasket," comments Jim
Grand River Rubber encourages employees to suggest better ways to do things. What improvement projects have you worked on in the shop? I’ve worked on improvement projects mainly in the lathe cut business unit, from extrusion all the way through cutting.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do? Creating new equipment and making the job easier for the operators.
What is an area or a specialty of Grand River Rubber that you are particularly proud of? That we can produce such a wide variety of products with many being very short runs.
How would you describe a “typical” work week? Who do you work most closely with from day to day and week to week? Depending on the status of projects, my work weeks can look very different. When I am developing new machinery, the bulk of my week is spent monitoring a current process to determine what needs to be done, then spending a couple of days to multiple weeks designing the equipment. During this phase, I also spend a lot of time talking with suppliers to spec the components. Then during the build, meetings will take place with the fabricator to go over design intent and to verify fit and function. After the tooling is received, I will work with our maintenance staff to install run, and test the equipment. After the equipment is tested, then we train the operators, and finally, production starts. Also, at any time, I can be called out to troubleshoot any issues that may arise with existing equipment.
What trends or changes are you following in the industry and/or in the NE Ohio manufacturing scene? I’d like to see more training to prepare a skilled maintenance workforce.
We would too! Grand River Rubber is hiring, and we are very eager to train those with a desire to learn and apply mechanical and problem-solving skills to help our customers meet their needs.