McHENRY – Prairie Ridge High School student Zack Smith got a fresh perspective on manufacturing after touring AptarGroup’s McHenry facility Friday as part of a national push to change perceptions about the industry.
“I had no idea what to expect,” said Smith, a 16-year-old from Prairie Grove. “It’s pretty cool. There’s a lot more to it than you’d think.”
AptarGroup, a global product packaging maker based in Crystal Lake, opened its doors to students for National Manufacturing Day. Across the country, over 100,000 people toured more than 1,600 manufacturing plants Friday, including President Barack Obama.
“Today’s science, technology, engineering and math graduates will power the next chapter of American production and innovation, and harnessing their potential is an economic imperative,” the president said in a proclamation.
Manufacturing Day aims to change minds about manufacturing in an effort to address the skilled labor shortage many manufacturing companies face, according to the nonprofit Manufacturing Day organization’s website. The organization is back by industry sponsors and co-producers.
Prairie Ridge High School students put on white coats, hair nets and safety goggles to see how AptarGroup’s 50,000-square-foot McHenry facility makes 900 million products a year – including the valves and over caps that go on a variety of beauty and home products such as spray-on sunscreen.
John Washabaugh, director of manufacturing at the McHenry plant, walked students through the manufacturing process and touched on everything from quality control and safety to production costs and sustainability.
“I hope they see the stigmas about manufacturing aren’t true,” Washabaugh said after showing students a one-of-a-kind manufacturing machine.
For many students, the tour did just that.
“When you think of a factory, you think it will be dirty and scary,” said Jessica Caravello, a 17-year-old Prairie Ridge student who toured the plant with students from an engineering class. “But this was modern and clean and full of machines and technology.”
Classmate John Lardino, 17, said the tour gave him “a better idea of what it’s like to work” in the industry.
Kellie Balmes, 17, said she was surprised at how much engineering and technology went into producing a 10-cent valve.
“I didn’t know how much was involved,” she said.
The McHenry County Economic Development Corp. helped arrange the tours as part of the local Manufacturing Day events.
In September, the McHenry County Economic Development Corp., with backing from local businesses, organized fields trips to the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago for more 1,200 McHenry County students.
“We’re just trying to raise the profile of our local manufacturers,” said Pam Cumpata, president of the McHenry County Economic Development Corp. “Twenty-three percent of McHenry County’s gross regional product comes from manufacturing – we want to show people that there is a lot of really cool stuff being designed and made here every single day.”