Roughly 80 percent of T.O. Plastic’s business is in service to the horticulture industry. The black plastic squares that your garden plants come in were likely manufactured at their facility in Clearwater, Minnesota. With the recent boom in gardening since the pandemic, and about 18.3 million new gardeners in the U.S alone, T.O. has sold out their planter orders for more than a year in advance!

Needless to say, things at T.O. have been busy. With internal sustainability projects like their new in-house resin recovery system, and the constant demand for outgoing product, HR Generalist Sara Sweeney turned again to the SciTech Internship Program, to hire a cohort of local STEM students to help them over the summer.

“We wanted to find individuals who were local to this area. That’s really important to us,” explained Engineering Manager Scott Klein. “When we find a great bunch of students like this, we want to give them the opportunity after graduation where they can work here and move back to Central Minnesota.”

Located between St. Cloud and Albertville, sourcing talent in Clearwater isn’t always easy, through SciTech however, they were able to find and hire three STEM students who were eager to gain hands-on experience in their future fields.

An intro to industry
This summer’s cohort included Mechanical Engineering Major Abdelrahman Aly, Mechanical Engineering Major River Acquard and Manufacturing and Industrial Systems Major Matthew Russek.

Thinking back on his job search at the time, Aly recalled being drawn to real-world opportunity that T.O. was offering. “When I was reading the job description, I felt this was actually what I want to do in the future and it would be a good experience for me to have,” he said. “Since this was my first internship, I wanted to get hands-on experience before graduating so I can know what I’m actually interested in.”

Once they were hired, Klein and his team took each intern’s interests into account and paired them with individual projects to assist with T.O.’s internal needs.

“They asked us for our input, which was great,” Russek said. “And going through orientation with someone else really helped. It’s nice not being the only new one. This way we can bounce our ideas off each other.”

No small feat
While at T.O. Russek helped create an inventory system for spare plugs and tooling. Working with a barcode and scanning process he helped set up an immediate software-based inventory, essentially creating a virtual warehouse for the engineers.

Acquard was assigned to a dust extractor project as well as a core extractor project. This involved redesigning a headpiece using SolidWorks. Acquard’s updated design significantly simplified the process, breaking it down to a two-part sliding mechanism.

Aly conducted preventative maintenance activities to streamline T.O.’s previous maintenance plan, creating a way to communicate between technicians what had been done and what still needed to be completed.

In the short amount of time spent at T.O. the interns made significant headway on their tasks. “They took those programs further in three weeks than we had in 10 years,” Klein confirmed.

Knowledge and Opportunity 
After their summer working at T.O. Plastics, all three interns remarked on how much their technical abilities improved, specifically their drafting skills, their understanding of the revision process and the importance of communication in a team-centric environment.

“Everyone here was flexible and helpful,” Russek said. “I got to tap into the shared experiences of the other engineers and got to see how projects are implemented. There’s lots of opportunity here.”

“It’s been a great experience,” Acquard agreed. “I appreciate all the knowledge that I’ve gained from this. Through people here, and seeing things that I’ve never seen before, I’ve gained a lot.”

“I would have never learned these things in school,” Aly said. “I love it here and I would like to come back after graduation.”