Wayne Hertlein: SPE's 2004 Mold Designer of the Year

Since he was a tyke this industry expert has been immersed in the moldmaking industry—and has a lifetime of awards and achievements to show for it.
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Wayne Hertlein—senior tooling engineer for Troy, MI-based Collins & Aikman Global Tooling Company and recipient of the Mold Designer of the Year 2004 Award from SPE's Moldmaking and Mold Design Division—was destined to spend his life in the moldmaking industry from a very young age.

Born in Chicago, Hertlein recalls that as a child he enjoyed making things and taking them apart to see how they worked. "My uncle made me a tool box when I was about six years old," he says. "He would give me wood whenever we went to visit him and I would sit there and saw, cut and hammer all day long. I still have that tool box."

In addition, Hertlein's father was a machinist. "We always had tools around the house," he comments. "I started to take apart everything that I could get my hands on and then see if I could make them work again. So, my father gave me my first micrometer and taught me how to read it when I was about nine."

Setting Up Shop

Hertlein's passion for everything tool eventually overlapped into his education. As an average student he was bored easily and subsequently got into trouble. He then turned himself around in the eighth grade when he took his first shop class. "Shop really sparked my interest," he enthuses. "I was able to go to school and make things." Shop turned out to be Hertlein's first exposure in making something out of plastics.

His love for shop continued throughout high school. "I had some great instructors that really encouraged me to excel," Hertlein recalls. "In my junior year of high school, one of my instructors told me about a contest held every year at Northern Illinois University. I designed and built a small working cannon from scratch, entered it into the contest, and won a blue ribbon and trophy for my classification."

This was Hertlein's first of many awards received for designing and building something. A year later, he entered the contest again, this time designing and building an EDM. He found the electrical plans in a Popular Science magazine and used an old coolant tank and pump for the base and tank of the machine. He then welded up a C frame to hold the cross slide that he got from an old lathe for the downward travel. "It worked," he says. "It wasn't fast, but you could burn details into a piece of steel." He ended up winning a blue ribbon and trophy for that EDM. When he graduated from high school that same year, he was named the Industrial Art Student of the year. It was then he realized he wanted to design things for a living.

That marked the beginning of Hertlein's foray into the moldmaking industry. "I went and interviewed at a number of shops and everyone wanted someone with experience," he notes. "I could not figure out how I was going to get experience if I couldn't get a job."

Enter Armin Tool & Manufacturing (South Elgin, IL)—a producer of high-volume, high-tolerance injection molds—who took him on as an apprentice while he attended the Tool & Die Institute in Park Ridge, IL. Armin Tool owner Art Stoll became Hertlein's first mentor. "Art made sure that his apprentices were always thinking about the task at hand," Hertlein remembers. "He would stop by while you were working and always wanted to know what your speeds and feeds were, what type of material you were cutting, what type of cutter that you were using, etc. I am forever grateful for that opportunity."

Expanding His Horizons

As Hertlein became more educated about the building of molds during the day and mold theory in the evenings, he realized he needed to know more about mold materials. So he began to attend Elgin Community College in the evening for plastics classes. For three years, he attended the Tool & Die Institute for two nights a week as well as Elgin Community College for two nights a week.

Upon graduation from the Tool & Die Institute in 1979, Hertlein received the Moldmaker Apprentice of the Year in addition to a perfect attendance award. "The next couple of years I continued with my plastics classes and was promoted to a junior moldmaker," he says. "After I served the next two years as a junior moldmaker, I received my papers from the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Labor as a journeyman moldmaker in 1981."

He also became a member of SPE and SME that same year, and remains in both organizations (see Associations Sidebar, page 29). Upon completion of his internship, he decided to once again broaden his moldmaking horizons by getting back to basics at Tri Par Die and Mold (Schaumburg, IL). He also finished his four-year option at the Tool & Die Institute to become a certified mold designer.

Engineer Extraordinaire

In July of 1984, Hertlein was given his first opportunity to become an engineer—at Bilcor Plastics, Inc. (Hillsdale, MI)—venturing out of the Chicagoland area for the first time. "I had seen a number of tooling engineers that would come into the shops where I worked who would direct what they wanted to have done to the molds. I would watch and see what they would decide, then see if I felt it would work," he notes.

At that time, he had not yet earned a degree, but was working to complete it—when he seized his next opportunity at a major automotive supplier. After he was there for a year, the company declared Chapter 11—leaving him uncertain about his future. "I wasn't sure if I should go back to the bench or keep working as an engineer," he comments. "I ended up getting a job in Vicksburg, MI at a prototype molding company called Triple S Plastics as a tooling and processing engineer. I learned so much about different types of materials and processes at that company."

In August 1987, he finished his A.A.S. Degree in Plastics Technologies at Kalamazoo Valley Community College—graduating with honors with a 4.0 in his major and a 3.92 overall. During that time, he was laid off and soon landed a job as a mold designer for a large plastics mold shop in Kalamazoo that specialized in high precision connector molds called Mol-Bee. "After about two years, the division manager asked me if I would like to do cost estimating of the molds," Hertlein states. "I figured it would be a great learning experience."

His next job assignment would take him to Toledo, OH, as an engineering manager of Peerless Molded Plastics, Inc., a plastics molding company. He returned to school again to complete a certificate in Basic Export Practices since manufacturing had begun to venture overseas. He then decided to make a move to the Detroit area and work for a "fast-growing company work-ing in close tolerance and cutting-edge technologies" called Cardell Corp. Then, he transferred his credits to Lawrence Technological University (Southfield, MI). "I am currently a senior there and will finish up my BSET degree, hopefully before I retire," he says. "Even though I only have eight classes left, getting the time to finish is always an issue."

Then, Hertlein ended up at his current job—senior tooling engineer with Collins & Aikman Global Tooling Company, where his responsibilities include main-taining automotive interior and exterior tooling programs.

Commitment to Excellence

Winners of the SPE Mold Designer of the Year Award choose a technical school they wish to donate their winnings to (see Mold Designer Sidebar, page 30). Hertlein chose to take this one step further by using his winnings to establish the Henry Tschappat Memorial Leadership Award Endowment Fund of the Ferris Foundation in Tschappat's honor.

"Mr. Tschappat came to Ferris State College in 1982 as the Program Director and a Professor of the Plastics Engineering Technology program in the College of Technology," Hertlein notes. "He was committed to providing students with opportunities to develop the skills and abilities of a polymer professional as they mastered the academic content of their program. This award recognizes Mr. Tschappat's contributions to his students and the importance of professionalism and scholarship in the development of future leaders in the plastics industry."

Hertlein raised additional monies for the scholarship through private and corporate sponsorship. To date, there has been a total of more than $6,000 raised. "My initial goal is to raise $10,000," he states. "The more money the principle fund has the more money it can generate and can be given away to the students."

Although Hertlein has spent a lifetime committed to all aspects of moldmaking and continues to give back to the industry that has given him so many years of fulfillment, there are still avenues he'd like to explore. He plans to continue lecturing at conferences around the world and would like to look into becoming published in trade magazines and perhaps books. And, he seems to be on a never-ending quest to sharpen his skills.

"I'd like to attend all three modules of the Master Mold Certification Series at RJG Inc. (Traverse City, MI)," he notes. Clearly, the sky holds no limits for this expert industry veteran who promises to continue his work in the industry he has grown to love.