Michael McCallum got his start in the packaging and processing industries while he was studying mechanical engineering technology at Durham College. During that time, he had a unique opportunity to participate in a co-op work term at the Toronto-based packaging OEM, Plexpack. McCallum was quickly intrigued by the use of automation, pneumatics, and motors controlled by electronics and software in Plexpack’s bagging, sealing, and shrink-packaging machinery. The real-world insight McCallum gained at the OEM while still in school was crucial in leading him to his career path in industrial machine design. McCallum was recently promoted to engineering manager where he hopes to make a difference and boost innovation in regard to sustainability, data acquisition, and efficiency. But he’s not done learning. While working at Plexpack for the past 11 years, he has also completed an electrical engineering fundamentals program at Humber College, he’s been involved in PMMI’s Leadership Development Program, PMMI’s risk assessment course, and he is currently completing the robotics and embedded systems program at Ryerson University.
Since you have joined Plexpack, has it been everything you had hoped for in a career?
My time at Plexpack has been quite exciting. I have moved through a few positions starting as a mechanical designer where I was responsible for customizations to standardized equipment. During my time in this position, I found the controls end of machine design to be something I wanted to pursue further. So, I started taking night courses in electrical and software engineering. In a few years, I was the senior controls engineer at Plexpack responsible for all machinery, electrical, and software systems design. It was in this position that I found what I was most interested in as a career, bringing a team of capable engineers together to conceptualize and design automated processes.
Now that you have found your place at Plexpack, what do you love most about your position?
The most fascinating part of my job is speaking with our customers to better understand the real challenges they face in their industries. With this inside knowledge, we can target and improve the processes an entire industry uses to process and package their goods. Being at the forefront of industry-specific innovation and providing value-added solutions to our customers is the best part of my job. And I help Plexpack innovate by staying informed and knowledgeable on new trends we are seeing in our industry as well as the broader automation industry in general. I cannot think of a time in the last 10 years where I have not been involved in some form of continuing education, and this has really allowed me to expand my expertise.
What are some technology innovations that you see revolutionizing the industry in the coming years?
One of the key trends we have been watching and working on is the collection and use of machine data to provide our customers with a scientific approach to process improvement. Whether it is one of our small bag sealers or large automatic wrapping machines, our customers expect feedback from our equipment to drive their production analysis. By utilizing capable control components, such as the B&R Industrial Automation C70 controller, and open communication protocols such as OPC UA or MQTT, we can integrate with a variety of material requirements planning (MRP) systems that collect and analyze our machine data automatically. By providing a means of performance measurement through data analytics, our customers can easily see how we are helping them meet their goals while providing us with valuable insight on how to improve our products. Another thing that really intrigues me about the packaging and processing industries is that there is always room for improvement. Whether it is a financially- or environmentally-driven process change, the fact remains that we must innovate to stay competitive in this industry. I think the biggest driver for change in the coming years will be environmental as our customers target packaging and processing technologies that are eco-friendly. Machine efficiency and sustainable packaging materials will be center stage.
Since you are interested in learning different aspects of machine design, how has Plexpack supported you?
Plexpack has supported me and other employees through financial assistance for continued education, in-house training programs, and by providing a challenging work environment that demands on-going skill development. Plexpack has also deployed many of the PMMI educational resources for its employees such as the train-the-trainer program, risk assessment workshop, and executive leadership program.
And as a rising star in your organization, what is next?
In the short term, I hope that as Plexpack’s new engineering manager I can use my skill set and experience to modernize the manufacturing processes we use to build our machinery, as well as drive innovation into our machine design philosophy. I see many areas within the organization that can be targeted for improvement, and I am excited to help lead us in a new direction. In the longer term, I hope to be a business owner myself as I think there are still a lot of problems people face on a day-to-day basis that need to be solved, and these challenges provide great opportunity for inventors and entrepreneurs alike.